I got the call as I was walking back to work after lunch last Tuesday.
" It's Pat. Have you heard about Richard's wife?"
My friends and I are at the age when stuff happens. I stopped dead in my tracks in front of the Courthouse.
Turns out that Jan was at UAMS in the ICU. She came down with flu like symptoms earlier in the week. She kept getting worse. Last Monday she was too weak to walk so they called the ambulance. Double-pneumonia.
When I got there the situation had deteriorated even further. She was sedated and on a ventilator. She had gone septic which had caused her kidneys to stop working. So they had started her on dialysis. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Neither could her husband.
" How can a person be perfectly healthy earlier in the week and now THIS?" he asked, gesturing at the person behind the glass. " I mean, I would understand it if a car accident caused this but a cold or flu? I can't believe this!" I looked over his shoulder at the figure of their daughter Ann Marie curled up in a ball at a chair beside her mother's bed. Red eyes. Blank expression. Poor baby.
At that moment my phone buzzed. It was maximum girlfriend emeritus LS. I stepped back into the waiting room.
"Is Richard with you now?" she asked.
" No. And hello to you as well."
" Don't talk. Listen."
OK. This ought to be good.
" My friend Angie? You remember?"
" She was admitted over there 3 weeks ago with the same symptoms. They treated her they same way they are treating Jan. Angie died last night."
" Jesus. I'm so sorry. What....."
"Something called BOOP." She is from North Little Rock. She pronounced it "Beeeeewp."
"I don't know but you better hope Jan doesn't have it. I just wanted to call you and tell you that you need to keep your eyes open wide. Because things can get ugly real fast."
I looked it up on the Internet when I got home. BOOP stands for Broncholitis Obliterans with Organizing Pneumonia. Jesus. I will never think of Betty Boop in the same way again.
I have known Richard and his family for 20 some odd years. Richard, Pat, Rick and I used to play doubles every Sunday. I played competitively back in those days. The only time I had fun playing tennis was on Sunday with the guys. Jan would never come watch us play having had sufficient juvenalia on the job with the Kindergarten class.
I remembered all of the Saturday nights at my house after the Razorback games down the street, drinking beer and laughing. One night some sorority type showed up while we were all there looking for their son Martin. I asked her how she found my house. She said she asked a cop doing traffic control if he knew where I lived. Damned if he didn't know. Richard allowed as how the cop must've been a member of the Vice Squad who was moonlighting at the Razorback game.
I sang at Ann Marie's wedding. It is typical for there to be some rough spots in the planning of any wedding and Ann Marie's was no different. Predictably, Richard got sideways with the caterer. I happened to be standing there at the reception hall when he was threatening to fire them a week before the ceremony. "Mrs. P" as she was always referred to asked me if she could speak to her husband in private. "Yes Ma'am" I muttered as I sprinted to the door.
The caterer was not fired.
Such a fine family. Such good friends. Such happy memories.
Now this. Of all damn things.
We take good fortune as a given. We assume that if we live in a certain way in certain parts of town that are somehow immune to the trouble that besets everybody else. The most happy tunes are whistled in the dark. The old hymn says God "lends us breath." You don't get to keep what is loaned. We forget that. Or at least we do until a loved one goes down.
The word from the hospital today is guardedly hopeful. Her lungs are clearing. Her blood pressure is increasing. Betty Boop's name has not been mentioned. The doctors want to start weaning her off the sedation in order to see if she can breathe on her own. That, and they need to start talking to their patient. Right now, the telemetry and the lab work is doing her talking for her. She would hate that. Mrs. P is a talker and nobody puts words in her mouth. Fire the caterer huh? We'll just see about THAT.
I'll praise my God who lends me me breath. And I look forward to the day when Mrs. P catches hers again.