Kidney stones will always remind me of the week Ronald Reagan died.
President Reagan’s body lay in state at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, before being flown to Washington D.C. for his funeral. We lived just a half hour from the library, and the naval base where the party was departing was just ten minutes away. The route planned for the motorcade from the library to the base went right by our neighborhood.
Naturally, I dressed up the boys — we had just three boys then — in their finest red, white, and blue, purchased American flags, and told them all about how they should be respectful and quiet when the Big Black Car with the Very Important Man went by.
At the same time, my husband was in the air on his way to Florida. He was a very expensive courier for his company that week. He had to go to Orlando, pick up a part, turn around, and head back to California. It was a long ordeal, but he was only on the ground on the East coast for five hours.
During that time that he was on the ground in Florida, I began to have a bad backache. This was not unusual for me, since I was a nursing mother of a four-month-old with two other toddlers to take care of. I spent a large part of my day bending over or crawling on the floor. But as the day went on, it got pretty bad.
I called David and told him that I wasn’t sure what was going on, but maybe I needed to see the doctor. I knew everyone at our church was getting ready for the annual Father’s Day campout in Yosemite, and I hated to bother anyone, so maybe I would wait until he got back and go in the next day. He boarded his plane and took off, bound for a stopover in Denver.
When he got off the plane in Denver, he had a voicemail from a very tearful wife, saying I didn’t know what was happening, but I had to call somebody and go to the hospital. I didn’t know who I would call, but I had to do something.
He called me back repeatedly during his layover and got no answer. He of course imagined the best possible scenario: me, lying in a pool of my own blood, with our three small children weeping over my lifeless body.
The truth was not nearly so shocking: I had called a friend, she had taken me to the ER, and I had turned off my cell phone because in those days hospitals were pretty vigilant about keeping cell phones off inside their doors. Oops.
I had called a friend who I didn’t know really well, but she ended up being the perfect fit. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was a former firefighter who had EMT skills under her belt. By the time she arrived, I had lost the ability to make any decisions. She took my doctor’s office to task over the phone for putting me off, and then called someone to come get my two older kids. She packed Andrew into his car seat carrier, put together some bottles for him, and off we went to the hospital.
As we sat in the waiting room, she kept telling me to be louder. When I am hurting, I get very quiet and pale. She told me I’d better start screaming or we were never going to get seen. I didn’t do it, but the suggestion made me laugh. When sitting became unbearable, she went to the desk and asked if it was alright if I laid on the floor in the waiting room. Not surprisingly, the nurses decided that they could find a bed for me after all.
An hour later, I was on Demerol (read: high as a kite) and Andrew was full and happily resting in his car seat. Remember poor David, up in the air, thinking I’m dead?
By the time he hit the ground in LA, I had passed the stone, been discharged from the ER, stopped at Trader Joe’s for a snack, and was back home with our other two kids. My friend stayed until David came home, just so she could corroborate my story about JUST HOW BAD IT HAD BEEN.
It was a very intense few hours for all of us, except for Cameron and Ben, who got to hang out at their friends’ house while they got ready for camping.
We missed the funeral procession. I will always be a little sad about that.