Dark Surprises

night skyUnexpected events renew respect.

As Marilyn walked into the kitchen, she noticed Duane’s ghastly, white face. He held up his finger, wrapped in a paper towel, blood oozing from the cut. “I’ve cut my finger nearly off,” he says. “I was fixing dinner. You hafta take me to the hospital.”

The time is 7:30 p.m. on a weeknight. Twilight.

“Now, Duane, how did this happen? Calm down. Get in the car. No, you can’t drive. How bad is it?” she says. “I’m sure the nearest Emergency Room is two miles away, near Walnut and Shiloh. It’s a Baylor facility.” She tries to reach the correct 911 operator to reassure it’s the closest location. As she drives her voice becomes louder and squeakier. When they arrive, the sign on the ambulance entrance says to enter through the front door. Which door? There are several doors.

They dash around three sides of the building and through the third door into the stark, white waiting room. Marilyn rushes to the receptionist to register him. Duane crowds behind her, talking over her head to the receptionist. “I need to see the doctor right now!” The little lady, with a soft, calm manner, says, “There are three ahead of you and only one doctor on duty. Those three have chest pains. Please, sit down, sir.”

“Let’s go to Plano, Marilyn. I can’t wait.” Marilyn, married to this man for forty-five years, knows him. He’s not about to sit still in this reception area. They return to the car and head for Plano. The blood pours down his hand. “Hold it up,” she says, as she maneuvers through the traffic. A thirty-minute, fifteen-mile drive ensues to the Baylor Heart Hospital.

Only one woman sits in the large, well-lit reception area, awaiting a relative or friend. A sweet, young woman in a smock ushers Duane to a private, room, which smells of antiseptics. The friendly, trim, forty-something nurse practitioner, forty-some woman charms him. They joke about his ability to cut broccoli while cooking. She glues his finger together (literally). She supplies instructions for self-treatment, suggesting he visit his personal physician the next day.They head home by 9:00 p.m.

On the road, the couple talks about the irony of him cutting himself as he considers himself an expert with a knife. He doesn’t want her to cut apples or chop celery. Often, he says to her, “You are an accident waiting to happen with a knife.” They are both relieved he doesn’t need his finger amputated or sewn together.

She thinks to herself, I’m doing well in this emergency. He seems to be okay. I’m glad he isn’t driving. His driving sucks. I’m glad I took this crazy, old man over thirty miles to Plano to appease him. As they approach a curve on a two-lane road about a mile from their home, she whacks the curb on a curve. Darkness prevails on this narrow road. He yells, “Drive over the curb. Get out of the road.” She does as he says, parking the car with two flat tires in the grass by the road. The road has no street lights. By this time, the Milky Way twinkles overhead, but no moon shines.

Duane decides to walk home to let the dog out and return in his vehicle but he fails to communicate why he leaves. AAA is on the way. Marilyn worries about his asthma or he might fall while walking through a nearby field on the way to their home. The cars whiz past her car on the two-lane road. Fear grabs her. She calls the local police to explain the accident and her concern about her senior-citizen-husband-with-breathing problems. A police cruiser arrives with a fire truck and an emergency vehicle with flashing red lights. Traffic backs up a mile. The big, burly, soft-spoken officer directs the vehicles to return to the fire station. The officer receives a call from another officer. Duane’s face registers surprise as he walks near their house. “Yes, I’m fine. I need to get my car. AAA should arrive shortly where my wife is waiting.”

The officer with Marilyn asks if she needs a ride. “No,” she replies. “I reached a neighbor who is on his way to take me home as soon as the tow truck arrives.” The officer leaves as the barefoot neighbor arrives in his car. Another anxious moment for Marilyn as she’s sure snakes and critters abound at the dark weeds. No snakes attacked. Duane pulls in behind the neighbor to await the tow truck while the neighbor provides the ride home. Duane doesn’t say much until later.

The crisis lacked humor when it occurred. When Duane arrives at home from following the tow truck to the tire store, he asked why she ran into the curb. She had no answers, other than carelessness or nerves. He didn’t yell at her about stupidity but expressed concern. Her reactions mirrored his: she thought he might fall or become out of breath. Neither attacked, which sometimes happens in families.

As Marilyn and Duane discussed the events of that dark night in the coming weeks, laughter ensues. She still complains about his driving. Several weeks later she felt he would be safe enough to cut lettuce. No one died, and Duane’s finger healed with no complications. They grasped the incongruity with a new appreciation for each other.

Looking back, the lessons learned are important for us. Sometimes what bothers us most are the things which we should examine in ourselves. Marilyn drives with more care, and Duane no longer hassles her as she chops vegetables. When we criticize others, we need to take a good look at our own liabilities. If we learn from experience the world can be a better, safer place. The irony helped increase patience and fewer complaints for this senior couple. They are thankful for the people who touched their lives that night and grateful for each other.

Fiction, based on a true story. Thank you, Caron, for assisting with the article.