On the way to the hospital for my husband’s hip replacement, I rode shotgun as he worked the clutch and gas. A move first rehearsed on his ‘62 blue Chevy, then Ford Escort, Subaru wagon, red Honda Civic, silver Civic and black Civic. A skill so natural he never dreamed he would lose it.
I read a book in the waiting room, confident he would be home in 48 hours to walk without a limp, swing a leg over his bike and play 18 holes. But when he was transferred to a private room, events happened fast and time sounded like a tape played too slow as doctors rushed in and nurses took blood pressure readings as if they couldn’t believe the ones they already had. Without warning, physician assistants released the brake on his bed, swiveled fast, and sprinted to ICU where there were cords and machines and coolers of unmatched blood that could save a life but couldn’t repair what massive blood loss had already ravaged (kidney failure, intestinal obstruction, compartment syndrome). And there I was, never imagining months in a hospital, or dialysis, or a colostomy bag, or a leg sliced open in three places to remove black tissue until 90% of the calf’s muscle was gone. Or that my husband would never again depress a clutch.
While he lay in ICU, the doctors’ words said it was a one in 400 mistake to nick a vessel and flood the retroperitoneum with blood, but that everything would be fine. Their faces told me it would be a miracle if he lived.
Three months later, at home, therapists adjusted his leg brace and taught him how to maneuver railings and handrails and grab bars, and how to eat regular food, and how to stop crying. And then one day he said he wanted to drive again, so I pedaled the clutch to a dealership where we sold the ’03 Civic with a dent in the door from our daughter’s mishap and 120,000 miles from trips to swim meets and orchestra concerts. We bought an SUV with that new car smell that didn’t remind us of anything, but had only two pedals.
We left our rusted Honda on the lot, and Joel drove the new model, complete with blue laminated wheelchair logo. In the trunk we placed snow shovels and window scrapers and road salt, and in the glove box, insurance cards and emergency numbers. Because we couldn’t know when a snowstorm or river flood or flat tire or overheated engine or other unexpected catastrophe would take us by surprise and change our entire course.
Nancy Jorgensen is a Wisconsin writer and musician. Her 2019 memoir, “Go, Gwen, Go: A Family’s Journey to Olympic Gold,” was published by Meyer & Meyer Sport. Her choral education books are published by Hal Leonard Corporation and Lorenz Corporation. Other works appear at Prime Number Magazine, Cagibi, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, CHEAP POP, Brevity blog and elsewhere.