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The next health emergency gave us no warning. Thankfully, I wasn’t working at the group home on an early March morning when Beth woke up very ill. I drove her directly to the emergency room at St. Vincent in Toledo. I cut time off the hour drive, despite the morning rush hour.
A doctor quickly admitted her to intensive care.
After numerous tests, Beth acquired the diagnosis of peritonitis, a dangerous infection. The urologist who performed her bladder surgery told us they found extra fluid in the abdomen. The small bladder tear along a surgery seam would heal on its own if they kept the bladder empty.
The nurses also monitored her closely for sepsis—an even more frightening and potentially fatal condition. With it, the immune system went awry, spreading inflammation that could lead to organ damage, septic shock, and death. I learned later that sepsis is one of the leading causes of death for quadriplegics.
I stayed glued to Beth’s side in intensive care. I shared her alarm with the persistent high fever and strong abdominal pain, especially since she had limited sensation in her trunk. She never asked to look at her homework in the hospital and I never suggested it. I was polite but very involved with the medical staff. And I could be a little demanding at the nurse’s station when Beth needed something. With my sick daughter, I put on a brave face to reassure and comfort. Even though we both were frightened through the first days in intensive care with no improvement.
To keep things running at the group home, I made quick phone calls in the hallway where I met a dad soothing a baby with a failing heart, a mom entertaining her toddler with a brain tumor, and a grandma weeping about a terminal diagnosis. I didn’t share the details of those encounters with Beth. She very gradually felt better and her vitals improved.
When I drove her home after a scary week in the hospital, she didn’t feel invincible, so John Mayer sang her favorite song by himself from the CD player. We arrived in Tiffin bone-tired with strong antibiotics.
And a new perspective.
No longer a question, Beth and I wholeheartedly agreed that the seven hundred miles between Tiffin, Ohio and Harvard was definitely much too far for us to be separated in the fall. She made the decision to live in a dorm her freshman year while I stayed off-campus. We’d be in the same city, but I wouldn’t be her personal care assistant. I’d help set up her dorm room and be there for transition support. That was fine with me.
There was no way I could drop her off at a dorm in Massachusetts and return to Ohio.
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