Blood and Water (part 1)
The clatter of a pot hitting the floor rang out from our apartment’s small kitchen.
“Mom, do you need help?” I asked from the living room. There was no answer.
“Mom, you ok?” I called.
“Mom?!” Panic started to lace my voice.
I hurled myself around the half wall separating the two rooms to see my mom trying to stand on shaky legs while leaning on the counter, water and pasta strewn around her, “Mom what happened?”
“Just a little dizzy, it’s fine.” I could see her legs tremble as her balance seemed to fail.
“Has this been going on for a while?” I asked, concerned, as I helped her to one of our two kitchen chairs.
“No,” she said breathlessly. Mom had a pretty fair complexion, but even for a white woman she looked pale.
“I’m fine, I just need to catch my breath. No need to worry Hailey,” A wet coughing fit bent her over. When she came up I could clearly see dark globular blood on her lips. I took her hand and opened it to see more blood.
A lot more blood.
The threads of panic that had settled in my chest suddenly exploded into massive coils of rope that seemed to constrict around me. “We are going to the hospital now.”
After gathering the few critical essential such as keys, purses, and phones I had to half carry Mom out of the apartment as she insisted she did not need to go to the hospital. By the time we reached the bottom of the stairs I was almost completely carrying her as her legs weakened by the step. Halfway down the long hallway that led to the parking lot Mom’s legs gave out completely and she collapsed to the floor. My heart was beating at a frantic pace as I scooped her into my arms.
As a former gymnast Mom was not a large person, but because I shared her build, neither was I. The weight was not the problem. In fact, I could probably lift a dozen or more people her size with little notice, but with my arms full I was forced to kick the security doors open to get out of the building. The last door sheared off its hinges as I kicked it in my haste. The double lock bolts ripped clear from the frame and door sailed into the parking lot, the glass exploding from the crash landing.
Just as I began to head for the car a black and white police SUV bounced across the curb and into the parking lot with its full lights on. It screeched to a stop in front of me as the driver screamed at me out the window, “Hailey, get Momma in the car!”
I froze for a moment in shock at seeing my sister Helen. “What the hell are you doing here?” I shouted back.
Helen was not willing to wait for my shock to wear off. She practically flew from the driver’s seat and around the car to open the rear passenger door, “I’ll tell you later. How is Momma?”
Helen helped me get Mom buckled into the rear passenger seat, as I told her about the blood, “She seems to be drifting in and out of consciousness. I don’t think she is breathing very well,” I added as I shut the door.
Helen had taken after her mom with a lean build and standing more than a head taller than me. Like me, Helen had also inherited our Dad’s strength. So when she took hold of my shoulder to haul me around the car I found my feet leaving the ground until I was forcefully stuffed into the back seat with Mom. Jumping into the driver’s seat Helen jammed the gas pedal and we tore out of the parking lot leaving tire tracks in our haste.
Helen tossed a medic’s bag into the back seat “You still remember the field training Dad gave us?” She shouted over the sound of wailing tires and sirens as she drifted the police cruiser around a corner onto the main street.
“Ya” was all I managed to get out as a bump in the road sent me bouncing across the seat. I took the better part of discretion and strapped myself into the middle seat next to Mom.
“Good there should be a mask and emergency air tank in the bag, get Momma set up. Set the flow to two liters per minute, I’ll let you know if you need to adjust it.”
Mom began to cough, causing the ropes of panic in me to tighten. To me, Mom’s strength would always surpass my own. When my gym teacher said I was too pretty to take a weight lifting class it was Mom who put the fear of God into him. When a security guard spotted a lone black girl in a gaggle of white women and demanded to know where my parents were Mom had declared with pride that I was her daughter and he had better take his hands off me. The night our house was set on fire it wasn’t one of the hulking guards that burst through the door to save my sister and me, it was Mom. Burned, blood-soaked, shotgun-wielding Mom who carried us out of the escape tunnel to safety. Seeing her in this weekend state tore me up inside. She had been strong for me more times than I could count. I would be strong for her now. With those thoughts driving me, I tore into the bag retrieving the mask and tank from the tangle of other first-aid supplies and hooked Mom up to the mask and O2 tank.
Helen took the on-ramp at almost double the speed limit and showed no signs of slowing as she slalomed through the other cars. With the O2 flowing, it seemed as if Mom’s breathing was starting to ease. This eased the steel cords of panic in my chest enough for my brain to process the last few minutes.
“Helen,” I asked accusingly, “where did you get the car?” My eyes bore into the back of her head. The first exit for the hospital flew by in my peripherals.
“It’s not the real thing, it’s a mock I use for business, so don’t worry it’s mine and it’s clean,” She snapped at me.
“Your business has never been clean,” I shot back at her as I notest the second exit for the ER shooting by, “Hold on you missed the exit, we need to turn arou…”
“We are going to my private doctor,” A note of determination in her voice.
My panic turned to anger, “One of your mob doctors, you know Mom would never consent to this!” I shouted at her, reaching for her shoulder.
An electric jolt shot through my arm as I touched her, “Hailey don’t. I’ll be damned if I leave Mom’s life to some fourth-rate, strung out ER quack!
I have the best people in the world on my payroll and access to equipment that they could only dream of. If Momma has a problem with it I will be much happier to hear her complaints than her eulogy. If you try to stop me from doing everything I can to save her by God I will put you in a coma right next to her and have my people patch you up to.” I couldn’t tell if Hailey was making a threat or a declaration of love. In this family, they probably aren’t mutually exclusive.
My heart skipped a beat in the momentary weightlessness of the SUV descending the off-ramp. Helen ducked on to the shoulder to get around the line held at the light and threaded the needle between the last car and the light post. A few quick turns and sprints through what looked like an industrial area finally brought us to a halt outside what was advertised as a medical supply company.
Three nurses and a gurney were already waiting for us and opened the door almost before the car was fully stopped. In a moment the staff had mom on the gurney and rolled her through the loading bay door into the depths of the building, leaving Helen and myself alone out front.
I felt my sister take my hand as we both stood there. The panic and fear began to wash over me and tears began to fall freely from my eyes. My big sister hugged me with the bone-crushing strength only we could stand. I squeezed back just as hard as I felt my sister’s tears dampening my shoulder.