My brother Mike is in the hospital. He’s fine; he had knee surgery a few days ago and is spending some time on the rehabilitation floor before heading home.
I knew Mike’s knee surgery was coming, but he wound up having it suddenly last Friday, which was a lot sooner than we thought it would happen. I didn’t get to see him Friday or Saturday because I had company, so I told Mike I’d be over Sunday afternoon, after I dropped off my girls at camp a couple of hours away.
As it turned out, camp was a lot farther away than I’d calculated, and I wound up staying and getting the girls settled a little longer than I’d anticipated. So by the time I got on the road to head out, I figured out that I wouldn’t get to the hospital to see Mike until after dark, and I still had to help Marlboro Man and our boys get ready to get up at 4:00 the next morning to ship cattle. So I called Mike to see if he’d mind if I went to see him Monday instead, and when he answered the phone, his room sounded like Sigorney Weaver’s hospital room in Working Girl, when she’s laid up with a broken leg and partying with the Swiss.
“Hey, Mikey,” I said. “I’m thinking I’ll just come over tomorrow instead. I’ve still got to get the boys’ jeans washed and…”
“I got to go,” Mike said. “John and Debbie are here!”
I drove home in utter silence.
Monday, I got up and showered, thinking I’d get some work done around the house before heading over to see Mike. Then life set in, and Marlboro Man and the boys wound up getting home earlier than I thought they would, and this and that and the other thing, and before I knew it I was calling Mike telling him I’d be over around five.
“Just come over tomorrow,” Mike said.
“Why?” I said.
“Because then you can bring me a cherry Icee.”
I guess someone had already brought him his Monday Icee. My Monday value instantly plummeted. Mike had no use for me on Monday anymore.
“Okay, fine,” I said. “Be that way.”
“I love you, sweet sweet sister,” Mike said.
“Okay, fine,” I repeated. “Be that way.”
“Oh, whatever,” Mike answered.
“See you tomorrow Mikey-Poo!” I sang.
Then I hung up the phone and didn’t exercise.
Tuesday morning, Mike called me.
“You can’t come over till after 4:00,” he said.
“How come?” I said. “I was all set to come over this morning!”
“Well, they are gonna move me to rehab,” he explained.
I had no idea what bearing that had on when I visited, but some days I’m in the frame of mind to argue with Mike and some days I’m not. Sometimes just asking for clarification will result in him yelling the explanation, and Tuesday I was in the mood just to agree. Call it summer lethargy.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll see you after 4:00 sometime.”
“And don’t forget my cherry Icee,” he said.
I felt so used.
So basically, it’s shipping season on the ranch, which means it’s difficult for me to stray too far from home. Marlboro Man is short two of his work crew since our daughters are off gallivanting around the globe (attending church camp) so he and the boys have been getting started at 4:45 every morning this week except this morning, since I told Marlboro Man last night that one more morning of getting up at 4:10 just might kill me. Actually, that’s not why we didn’t have to get up at 4:10 this morning, but I like to pretend it is. So anyway, I’ve been sticking close to home, making sure food is ready when they walk in the door so their internal engines don’t break down.
“Because when the machine breaks down, WE BREAK DOWN.”
(If you can name that movie without Googling it, you’re as big a movie freak as I am.)
So it was 7:30 pm Tuesday evening when I finally called Mike and said, “I’m on my way over!” A little over an hour later, I was pulling into the parking lot of the hospital when my phone rang. It was Mike.
“Did you get my cherry Icee?”
Dang. “Oh, shoot Mike,” I said. “I totally forgot!”
“Well, you can still go get it,” he said.
Again, my reserves were a little depleted, and I was in no position to argue. So I turned around and headed back out of the parking lot. I felt like the Icee Girl.
“And get it at Burger King,” Mike added. Evidently, cherry Icees at Burger King are superior to cherry Icees sold anywhere else in town. At least that’s what Mike would have you believe, because he basically intimated that if I showed up with an Icee from any other establishment, I might as well find myself another brother.
After driving all the way over to Burger King, waiting in the drive-thru lane because I don’t like to get out of my car if I can help it, getting Mike’s precious cherry Icee, then heading back to the hospital, it was 8:47. I took a sip of Mike’s Icee on the elevator on the way up to the third floor. I took another sip while walking to his room. I sure showed him.
When I walked into Mike’s room, it was dim and cozy and he was watching Friday Night Lights.
“Hi, Mikey!” I said. “Here’s your dang cherry Icee.”
He took it and slurped down half of it before saying, “Hello, sweet sister.”
I hugged his neck, looked at his black-and-blue knee, and fixed his socks, which were too big for his feet and were sagging at the toes. Then he picked up the wireless remote control next to his bed, which controls the lights, the bed, and the nurse station, and said, “Want to meet my nurse?”
“No, don’t buzz the nurse, Mike,” I said. “She might be taking care of another patient.”
“Oh, okay,” he said, setting down the remote. It was the first time Mike had listened to me in forty-two years.
Mike took a few more sips of his Icee as I sat back in the comfortable chair in his bed. Friday Night Lights played quietly in the background, and the comforting sounds of beeping machines and elevator chimes took me back to the days after I had my babies, when I recovered in a similarly quiet and cozy hospital room. I looked around at the flowers and balloons friends had sent Mike, remembering similar gifts I’d been sent in my post-partum days, and I began to sink deeper and deeper into the chair. I always loved those two days following childbirth. I loved the hospital room. I loved the nurses coming in and checking my vitals throughout the night. I loved the smell of my babies in the first hours of their lives. I loved taking my first shower and using that heavenly spray nozzle on certain areas of my body, and I loved not having any work to do. I could sleep here, I thought to myself as I relaxed in the chair next to Mike’s bed and began to close my eyes. Maybe someone will come take my pulse and check my legs for signs of clots. Maybe I can eat some of Mike’s blueberry muffin in the morning…
“You have to go now,” Mike suddenly announced, looking at the clock on his cell phone.
I looked at him in confusion. “What?” I asked. “Why?” But what about my vitals?
“It’s 9:00,” he explained. “Visiting hours are over.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay.” Schedules and rules are very important to Mike, and again, I was in no mood to argue.
When I got up, Mike stretched his arms toward me and we embraced in a long, warm sibling hug. I fixed his left sock again, then covered up his feet with his blanket. Then Mike kicked off the blanket and said, “I don’t want my feet covered. It’s hot.”
Then I said, “Oh, okay.”
Then he said, “Bye, sweet and lovely sister.”
Thursday Update: Mike just called. He doesn’t have a Thursday Icee plan, so it appears I’ll be heading over later today.
I suddenly feel a renewed sense of purpose in my life.
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