Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Beauty at the Taco Bell

 

My mom called me a couple of weeks ago frantic and nearly hysterical. My 78-year-old father, who had been in the hospital because of a blood clot, had become dehydrated and malnourished. He was delirious, reliving days in Vietnam, yelling orders to troops, lashing out in terror at unseen enemies. I told my mother to do whatever was possible to get him out of there and take him to another hospital where he would get better care.

She hired a private ambulance service and had him transported to a hospital two hours away. I got in my car and traveled four hours from Charlotte to the coast, hoping that by the time I got there, my dad would be stabilized.

I wasn’t prepared for what I found. My Marine father, once vibrant, in command, and full of life, wasn’t himself. Lying in the bed was a man I didn’t recognize. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes swollen, his hair tangled, his skin a pale gray; he seemed unable to catch his breath, and he kept pulling oxygen tubes away from his nose. Worse was the wild look in his eyes as they darted from one point to another, seeing things only he could see.

I hurried to his bedside. He turned as I touched his shoulder.

“Denise,” he said slowly, as if he were trying to remember something from long ago.

I took his hand and held it.

“Hi, Dad,” I managed. He lifted his head to give me a kiss. His lips were cracked with drool crusted in the corners. I didn’t hesitate for a second and kissed him.

“How are you?” I asked.

“The reports need to be filed, and then we need to get out of here,” he said with a strained voice as he pointed to something in the far corner of the room. “There’s the patrol … we need to find it and take care of business.” He squeezed my hand, his eyes wide. He motioned for me to come closer. “Not many make it out of the foxhole,” he whispered.

“We’ll get out, Dad; don’t worry,” I whispered back. He nodded and started pulling at his IV.

My mom told him to stop, but he didn’t listen. He kept trying to grab the tube. I moved his hand away, and he started fumbling with the blanket that was draped over him. He seemed to be looking for something.

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“My jacket …. the button,” he said. He was getting agitated.

I lifted the blanket and pretended to find the button on his imaginary jacket. “Here it is,” I said.

He smiled and reached to take it. “Thank you.” He looked at the invisible button between his fingers, let out a slow breath, and turned away, talking to someone about getting men off the flight deck.

“He’s at least calmer now,” my mom said as she sank into a chair. She glanced at our hands and smiled. “It’s because you’re here.”

I tried to talk to him, but he didn’t seem to know I was there any longer even though he was still holding my hand—so tightly my fingers were turning purple.

I remembered a time when I was young, when my dad taught me to swim. He didn’t do it like most dads. There were no water wings, no shallow end of the swimming pool. My dad took me to the beach on the Marine Corps base, put me on a boogie board, pulled me out just beyond the waves, and told me to get off. “Sink or swim,” he said.

I was terrified, but I obeyed. I gasped for air as I flailed in the water, desperately trying to feel the sand beneath my toes as the tide fell. From a few feet away, my dad yelled at me to kick my legs. But I couldn’t. I was too weak. Too afraid. I was going to drown. The tide lifted, filling my mouth and nose with water. I tried to kick, but the tide rolled over me. Just as I went under, I felt my dad grab hold of my hand.

“You can do it,” he said. He held me at arm’s length so I could kick. The tide rose, and salt stung my eyes, but I wasn’t afraid any longer. My dad was there. He wouldn’t let me drown. He wouldn’t let me go.

As I stood beside my dad’s hospital bed, the scent of salt in the ocean air and the crash of the waves faded, replaced by the bitter smell of ammonia and the woosh and beeps of hospital machines. I held on to his hand, leaned over, and kissed his cheek. “You can do it,” I whispered.

Two days later, I had to leave to go back home. For the next couple of weeks, doctors worked on my dad, evaluating him and making a plan for recovery. My mom stayed with him, going back home only when she needed supplies. She was tired, and the stress was taking its toll.

Saturday, I left Charlotte to go see him again. As I made my way across the bleakness of Eastern North Carolina, passing cotton fields, rows of pine trees, and camouflage trucks with dead bucks strapped to the front bumper, I tried to distract myself from the worry. I shuffled through my IPod. I talked to friends on the phone. I listened to the news. But my heart was heavy. Would my dad recognize me? Would he ever be strong enough to go home? Would we ever walk along the beach again and watch sunlight dance on the waves?

Around lunchtime, I stopped at a Taco Bell in Scotland County. I ordered a large Diet Coke and a crunchy taco and pulled around to the first window. I took too wide of a turn and had to back up. An older African-American woman was at the window; she smiled warmly as she watched me. When I tried to right the car, I ran up against the curb.

“Sorry,” I said awkwardly through the open window.

She laughed kindly, “Don’t worry about it, baby girl. You just take your time.”

I finally maneuvered my car up to the window and shook my head. “I’m really sorry about that. I’ve been traveling awhile. Guess I’m distracted.”

“Where’re you coming from?” she asked.

“Charlotte,” I said. “I’m going to visit my dad in the hospital in Wilmington.”

She leaned against the ledge, her brow knitted with concern. “Why is he in the hospital?”

I briefly told her, my voice cracking at times.

“What’s his name so I can pray for him?” she asked.

“Don,” I managed.

She nodded. “And what’s yours?”

“Denise,” I said, sniffing back the tears.

She looked down at me from the Taco Bell window, the smell of spicy ground beef wafting into my car, her face glowing with reassurance and conviction.

“Dry those pretty eyes, baby girl,” she said. “It’s going to be all right.”

Instinctively, I reached up and took her hand. It was chapped and warm and strong. She closed her other hand on top of mine and held it tight. 

I looked up at her, the dark circles under her shining eyes, the gray strands in her curly hair, the wrinkles around her mouth from years of smiles. I was stunned by her beauty, by her love, and as I drove away, the tension in my chest unclenched, the fear released.

When I walked into the hospital, I found my father sitting up, his eyes bright, his skin full of color.

“Denise!” he said, his smile big. He held open his arms for me to come to him.

I hurried over and gave him a hug and a kiss. He pulled me close, his white beard tickling my cheek. “It’s good to see you, darling,” he said.

Tears streamed down my face, the taste of saltwater on my lips. “It’s always good to see you, Dad.” Always.

There are 73 comments.

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  1. Merina Smith Inactive

    Lovely story, Denise. I hope your Dad continues to improve and can soon leave the hospital. That would be a wonderful Thanksgiving indeed!

    • #1
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:36 AM PST
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  2. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    Merina Smith: Lovely story, Denise. I hope your Dad continues to improve and can soon leave the hospital. That would be a wonderful Thanksgiving indeed! · 1 minute ago

    Thank you so much, Merina. That is my hope too. I will definitely be home for Thanksgiving, as will all my children. There’s nothing like having family to lift you up.

    • #2
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:39 AM PST
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  3. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    A wonderful story, indeed. And it hits close to home as my own dad is 74 and in declining health.

    • #3
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:40 AM PST
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  4. Skyler Coolidge

    Wiping tears from my eyes. . . . 

    Thank you, DC. 

    • #4
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:41 AM PST
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  5. Lash LaRoche Inactive

    I’ll be seeng him in 5 days when I drive down to San Antonio for Thanksgiving.

    • #5
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:41 AM PST
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  6. Rachel Lu Contributor

    Thanks for that, Denise. It’s so lovely in these times to find people still not afraid to say, “I’ll pray for you.” It’s also funny because there was a woman very much like you describe working at the Taco Bell near my grad school apartment. Just exploding with warmth and maternal kindness, like she really, deeply cared about every person who came to buy a 99-cent taco from her. Amazing.

    • #6
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:49 AM PST
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  7. Great Ghost of Gödel Inactive

    For some reason, I don’t seem to be able to read the rest of the posts this morning. Sudden onset vision problems, you know.

    Denise, seriously: you’re one of the finest essayists I know. (Sorry for the bloodless way that sounds.) If you aren’t writing a collection, please let me strongly suggest you do so. Where can I pre-order it?

    That said: I’ll add a prayer of thanksgiving for you and your father to my lengthy list this season. Thanks so much for that uplifting story!

    • #7
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:50 AM PST
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  8. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    Rachel Lu: Thanks for that, Denise. It’s so lovely in these times to find people still not afraid to say, “I’ll pray for you.” It’s also funny because there was a woman very much like you describe working at the Taco Bell near my grad school apartment. Just exploding with warmth and maternal kindness, like she really, deeply cared about every person who came to buy a 99-cent taco from her. Amazing. · 2 minutes ago

    Completely unafraid. I know what you mean about people like this. There’s a very similar woman who works at a toll booth to the parking garage where I work, and she is always loving and engaging. She seems to care about every one of us who comes through the gate. These people are the best of human nature. I wish I could be more like them.

    • #8
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:54 AM PST
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  9. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    Paul Snively: For some reason, I don’t seem to be able to read the rest of the posts this morning. Sudden onset vision problems, you know.

    Denise, seriously: you’re one of the finest essayists I know. (Sorry for the bloodless way that sounds.) If you aren’t writing a collection, please let me strongly suggest you do so. Where can I pre-order it?

    That said: I’ll add a prayer of thanksgiving for you and your father to my lengthy list this season. Thanks so much for that uplifting story! · 4 minutes ago

    Thank you, Paul. I do hope he can come home for Thanksgiving. And thank you for the kind words about my writing. You are such a wonderful encouragement!

    • #9
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:55 AM PST
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  10. Dave Carter Podcaster

    Deeply moving post, my friend, and it touches my heart precisely because it comes from yours. We’re on similar roads right now, and your journey helps give strength for mine. Thank you. You, your Dad, and your family are in my prayers.

    • #10
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:56 AM PST
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  11. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    PsychLynne: Denise:

    Tears streamed down my face, the taste of saltwater on my lips.

    This is what was happening to me at the end of your essay. I agree with Paul, your writing is beautiful and a gift to those who read it. There should definitely be a collection.

    I will think of your family this Thanksgiving as we drive to see my 80 year old mother. My father and sister are celebrating where there are no more tears of sadness. · in 3 minutes

    Now you have me crying. We’re all going to have to pass around the virtual box of Kleenex. Thank you, Lynne.

    • #11
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:57 AM PST
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  12. PsychLynne Inactive

    Denise:

    Tears streamed down my face, the taste of saltwater on my lips.

    This is what was happening to me at the end of your essay. I agree with Paul, your writing is beautiful and a gift to those who read it. There should definitely be a collection.

    I will think of your family this Thanksgiving as we drive to see my 80 year old mother. My father and sister are celebrating where there are no more tears of sadness.

    • #12
    • November 18, 2013, at 7:59 AM PST
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  13. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    Mike LaRoche: I’ll be seeng him in 5 days when I drive down to San Antonio for Thanksgiving. · 17 minutes ago

    I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with him. I know you will.

    • #13
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:01 AM PST
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  14. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    PsychLynne: Ok, that was my heart talking. Here is my head talking:

    For the next hospitalization (though I hope there are not any):

    On the patient history report that your father suffered from a delirium episode in his previous hospitalization. The problem with delirium is that once you’ve had an episode, you’re at risk for another, and elderly and pediatric patients are more at risk. While this was, based on your story, due to the poor care he received, the risk is something you’ll want to have your mother communicate to his providers.

    Delirium is often under-treated or undiagnosed, especially early in it’s course, it’s hard on the body, the brain and the family. · in 3 minutes

    I’ve heard that. I also read that it can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s. Is that true? We definitely have a long road ahead of us. I will take your advice and make sure his healthcare providers understand what’s going on.

    • #14
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:03 AM PST
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  15. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    The King Prawn: Those who enjoy Denise’s writing should get a meet up she attends. She’s even more warm, engaging, and lovely in person.

    Thank you for turning a hose on my cynicism this morning. You’ve eclipsed the sunrise on my Monday morning with an even purer light. · in 2 minutes

    Just keep me away from Barak Obama. I don’t know if I can be so warm with him around. :)

    Thanks, KP. I hope you make it to Michigan. It will be great to see you again!

    • #15
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:05 AM PST
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  16. PsychLynne Inactive

    Ok, that was my heart talking. Here is my head talking:

    For the next hospitalization (though I hope there are not any):

    On the patient history report that your father suffered from a delirium episode in his previous hospitalization. The problem with delirium is that once you’ve had an episode, you’re at risk for another, and elderly and pediatric patients are more at risk. While this was, based on your story, due to the poor care he received, the risk is something you’ll want to have your mother communicate to his providers.

    Delirium is often under-treated or undiagnosed, especially early in it’s course, it’s hard on the body, the brain and the family.

    • #16
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:05 AM PST
    • Like
  17. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Those who enjoy Denise’s writing should get a meet up she attends. She’s even more warm, engaging, and lovely in person.

    Thank you for turning a hose on my cynicism this morning. You’ve eclipsed the sunrise on my Monday morning with an even purer light.

    • #17
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:05 AM PST
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  18. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    The Ricochet gremlins are back. My comments keep going up before the original posts. Sorry about that PsychLynne and KP.

    • #18
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:06 AM PST
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  19. genferei Member
    genfereiJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    D.C. McAllister We’re all going to have to pass around the virtual box of Kleenex.

    Send it this way. Bit of dust in the office…

    • #19
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:10 AM PST
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  20. Dave Carter Podcaster
    D.C. McAllister: The Ricochet gremlins are back. My comments keep going up before the original posts. Sorry about that. · 7 minutes ago

    I thought you were just psychiatric like that.

    • #20
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:14 AM PST
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  21. Cow Girl Thatcher

    God bless your whole family. It’s such a difficult time in our lives when our parents start needing our care. The flip-flop from being in their care is a painful transition. But there is one small brightness: When my mother was dying, it seemed like a blessing to be able to care for her after all that she had done in our lives for us. Cherish every moment that you have with your parents.

    • #21
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:27 AM PST
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  22. DocJay Inactive

    Isn’t it wonderful how the kindnesses in life can be so uplifting. Beauty personified. I’m glad your daddy is improving.

    • #22
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:28 AM PST
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  23. John Park Member

    Thank you, D.C., for your remarkable and simultaneously heart-wrenching and heart-warming post. Mrs.jpark and I will keep you, your Dad, and the rest of your family in our prayers.

    • #23
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:31 AM PST
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  24. Fricosis Guy Listener

    Our Sunday School lesson was Daniel being betrayed and sealed in with the lions. Your story reminds us that prayer has power even today.

    BTW, I hope your kids can take advantage of this chance to visit with their granddad while he’s still the man they remember.

    • #24
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:35 AM PST
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  25. Statistician1 Inactive

    Thank you for sharing, and we wish you and your family the very best. Take care.

    • #25
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:36 AM PST
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  26. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    Here’s a pic with my Dad when he was home from deployment in 1968. Thought I’d share it with you. This wasn’t the day of the swim lesson though–that came a few years later when I’d ditched the bonnet. :)dad-beach.jpg

    • #26
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:40 AM PST
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  27. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister

    On a more political note, I’m afraid if we move to more socialized healthcare, these kinds of scenarios of poor quality of care will become even more common. We’ve got to put an end to Obamacare–especially for our elderly.

    • #27
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:42 AM PST
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  28. cdor Member
    cdorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I wish you and your Dad and Mom the best. God bless you all.

    • #28
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:49 AM PST
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  29. drlorentz Member
    drlorentzJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    D.C. McAllister: Here’s a pic with my Dad when he was home from deployment in 1968. Thought I’d share it with you. This wasn’t the day of the swim lesson though–that came a few years later when I’d ditched the bonnet. :)

    Stop it, Denise. You’re getting me all misty-eyed.

    You truly are a gifted writer. Your essays are the best perks of Ricochet membership. As others already urged, publish an anthology already!

    Here’s hoping your dad is back to full strength soon.

    • #29
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:50 AM PST
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  30. Prowler Inactive

    You are one of the many reasons I read Ricochet.

    • #30
    • November 18, 2013, at 8:54 AM PST
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