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Sweet Al: Please, pull the plug!

The conversation came up between my daughter and I. We had heard a report that the parents of a young girl wouldn’t pull the plug. Their daughter was brain dead and she was being kept alive on a machine. The hospital didn’t have room to keep her, so they moved her to a special room where she remained hooked up. Her parents couldn’t let her go.

I said to Allison, “They should just let her go and be with Jesus. She’s trapped. Don’t do that to me.”

“I know.”

“No, I’m serious. Let me tell you now. You know how your daddy is? He gets really sentimental. You’re going to have to be the one. Your dad would have me on a machine for years caught between heaven and earth, visiting me every day, bringing me flowers and crying over me. He’ll listen to you, he always does. If he can’t pull the plug, just go over and pull it for him.”

That conversation happened probably fifteen days before I got sick. After seven days with that wicked virus, I found myself lying in the ER for five hours. If I could’ve, I would’ve pulled my own plug.

I realized we’re not as tough as we sound. Al had a cold three days before. He went to bed and slept. He was no problem. He didn’t need any care. I went on about my business.

Now I’m sick. He became the caregiver he was destined for. He became my loyal companion. He busily sang and whistled as he folded clothes and fluffed up my pillow. He said, “I could have been a good caregiver.”

“Yes you are, Honey.”

He squared the pillow and put it in the pillowcase perfectly. He made the bed and turned down the sheet for me to get back into the bed. He changed the bedding four or five times that week and had the washer going all the time. I woke up in deep cold sweats with germs flying all over, but he didn’t leave my side.

He folded his nice, soft, white handkerchiefs and stacked them on my nightstand. He’d draw my bath every morning, light a couple of candles and help me into a bubble bath. He’d spray the room with disinfectant. He’d give me medicine, which my daughter dropped off for me.

A couple of years before, when I got a new bedspread with shams, I showed him to grow the flowers upward. Now I was sitting in the chair watching him make the bed, turning the sham one way, and then another way, trying to figure out how the flowers were supposed to be. My heart leaped for joy just looking at the beautiful heart of this man who has been my life partner.

Over the years, the kids made their dad promise not to wash their clothes when they came home. He’d put their sweaters in the dryer, and wash darks and lights together. He ruined their clothes, but all with good intentions of being a good dad and wanting to help.

So, when I told him, “I’m too sick to care, just wash them anyway you want, darks with lights.” I just made my Sweet Al a happy man.

Communication became a strain. I couldn’t talk over a whisper. If I said anything, he’d say, “Huh?”

“Nothing.”

“No tell me.”

“It hurts too much to talk.”

“It’s okay; I’ll listen.”

Our daughter came over and I’d lip something to her, then she’d tell her dad. I said to him, “You’re going to have to learn to read my lips.”

“What did you say? Tell me again.”

“I can’t. It hurts too much.”

I called Allison about the fourth day and said in a low voice, “It hurts too much to talk, just listen. Your dad is giving me all this stuff. He doesn’t have his glasses on and he can’t find them. Should I be concerned? I don’t feel great.”

“Oh you’ll be fine. Don’t worry about it.”

I said to Al, “I’m not taking another pill until I see the bottle and read the instructions.”

I slept for days. I was in a deep sleep when I heard a gong. I thought it was resurrection morning. I couldn’t remember if Jesus said he’d come back with a big bell or on a white horse, but all of a sudden it didn’t matter. I knew the bell was tolling for me.

I looked up to see Al standing at the end of our bed with a six-pound cowbell from outside. He was smiling. He was afraid he wouldn’t hear me if I needed something. He had it figured out.

“Honey, I can’t hear you when you talk. I’m going to put this on the bed next to you on this towel, and when I’m out of the room if you need anything, just ring it.”

I looked at it. “Al, it’s so heavy I can’t pick it up.” This guy thinks with his heart; it might not make sense, but I’ve always known where his heart is. It’s always full of love for me.

Then Al’s brother called every day from Albuquerque, reporting another person died because of this virus, flu bug and cold. I had been seven days on home remedies, and I wasn’t getting better, but worse.

Then Al got sentimental, “I love you too much to let anything happen to you. My brother said to take you to the doctor. You can’t fool around with this stuff.”

And you know, if his brother says it, my Sweet Al is going to do it.

“I don’t have a doctor.”

“We’ll just get in the car and I’ll drive from one doctors’ offices to another until we find someone who will see you and give you a prescription.”

“In a few quiet words, I said, “No, you’re not going to drive me all over town looking like this.”

“But my brother keeps calling and telling me the death rate is rising. It’s now up to six.”

“The only place I’m going is to the emergency room.” And that’s how I ended up in the ER.

Next week’s article, it’s been almost 21 days, and I’m getting better. This cough is brutal. I got hold of the cough medicine and drank it all in one day. You can’t imagine how funny I can be while writing under the influence.

Final Brushstroke: I don’t think I’m as tough as I think I am. One thing for certain, life goes on and everyone is too busy to stop. If you’re really blessed, you’ll have a Sweet Al who’ll take great joy in taking care of you. He’s been put to the test and he hasn’t wavered at all. No, there’s no way my Sweet Al could pull the plug.

Readers’ comments

Send your comments to betty@bettyslade.com.

“Dear Ms. Slade,

“As a part-time Archuleta County residents (soon to be full-time, we hope), my wife and I just read the 16 January issue of The Pagosa SUN.

“I must tell you that the column, I’m Looking Forward, My Sweet Al’s Looking Backward, really struck a chord with us both. Please know that you are not alone with your elderly car nut.

“Please tell Al that he has a kindred spirit presently residing in NJ.

“Also please tell him that, although Ford did indeed come out with the V-8 in 1932, it was the famous flathead. Ford went to overhead valves in 1954, so they had an OHV V-8 one year before Chevy did.

“Al is lucky that you did not throw away his James Dean jacket. My black ‘leather’ from those days got tossed! However, I still have my car from high school. Best regards,Vic Lucariello.”

Artist’s quote

“Silent gratitude isn’t very much to anyone.” — Gertrude Stein

This story was posted on February 13, 2014.