Two days after his admission back into Candler, I received an early-morning call from my brother telling me he was having trouble breathing (I drove the one-to-one-and-a-half-to-sometimes-two-hour drive to Savannah twice a day, so I was a fair distance away). The night before, after coming back to our childhood home, I began a frantic cleaning ritual that would continue throughout the following weeks. I started with his room, pulling furniture away from the walls, wiping down baseboards, dusting furniture, sweeping and mopping the hardwood floor. Now, I can tell you that this was my way of coping with what I could not control. Then, I only saw it as doing my sisterly duty, preparing his room for what I believed would be his return home the following afternoon.
Because of my hard work, I had slept in a little; when the call came, I should have been on the road already. I told him I'd be there as quickly as I could, then beat myself up on the way to Savannah for having taken that little bit of time for myself. To sleep in an extra half hour. Why would I do that? Wouldn't I have plenty of time when this was all over?
After arriving at Candler, a nurse informed me that Van's O2 had dropped to 86 (typically, you want to see oxygen at
somewhere between 96 - 100). After administering oxygen, the number returned to normal, but I suspected that staying on oxygen would now be the norm. She also told me that they had ordered a chest X-ray and an EKG but before those would happen they would take him downstairs to have his J-tube replaced. I had barely gotten into his room good and we'd said our good mornings before the gurney pushed through the door and he was taken downstairs.
"Every day," I wrote in my journal as I waited, "is a question mark ... until it is a period."
By the end of that day it was evident that my brother was not going home. His heart rate had elevated, the x-ray showed fluid on his lungs and, as I observed in my journal, "he just seems to be getting weaker." So, I drove home alone. And, wouldn't you know it, I slipped into a left land that forced me to take a wrong turn. I ended up driving through a little blink in the road, Guyton. Of course, I knew how to get back home from Guyton--I'd grown up in this area, I knew these roads like the back of my hand--but it was certainly the long way around the block. Still, the drive was lovely. Peaceful. And it gave me plenty of time to think.
Finally, I made it home, washed two loads of clothes, then dusted the living room. My intent was to also vac and mop as well, but exhaustion had come to roost.
The next day, following the now-familiar whoosh of the door's opening, a new hospitalist stepped into Room 689. From the moment she dipped her hands into her lab coat pockets and introduced herself (we learned later that she was affectionately called "Dr. Gee"), I felt a rapport with her. Something about her that I couldn't quite put my finger on ... to be more specific, it was something about her jewelry. Her earrings. I also appreciated her "let's not beat around the bush" attitude.
"This will now be the way of it," she told us. "One thing after another. Mr. Purvis, your lungs will continue to fill with fluid and we will drain them and they will fill again and we will drain them again. And then one thing after the other with shut down."
My brother nodded. He didn't have to like the message, but he liked the messenger as much as I, and he also understood what she was saying. Death, which had been swooping and hovering around us, drew closer. My brother's race, as the Apostle Paul, had so eloquently said it, was coming to an end; the finish line tape waved in the near distance. We could almost hear the cheers of a crowd of angels. We could almost taste the wine from the victory cup.
"You wouldn't happen to have a playbook, would you?" I asked her, hoping to return a ray of light back into the room. She returned my smile, leaned her head crowned with dark curls to one side, and quipped, "Wouldn't that be nice?"
Later, I received a call from my cousin Nancy who'd always had a particularly special relationship with Van. She had gone by to see him, she told me, and was sorry to have missed me. "I'm heartbroken at his condition," she told me. "And I wish there was something I could do to help or something I could say to change this."
"You get me," I told her. "And you understand that Van is driving this bus. No one else. Just Van and God."
We had to get up early. Very early. We--Clare, her mum, dad, and I--were catching a flight from Belfast, Northern Ireland to Edinburgh, Scotland and, in flight, we would see the sun come up. That's how early it was.
We made it to the Belfast airport in that gray cloak of darkness that comes as dawn nears, and, by some stroke of luck, made it through security, Clare most of all. She was the one we worried about, her having that dangerous-looking blow dryer in her carry-on. The rest of us carried little to nothing, so Diane (Clare's mum) and I were surprised when we were practically frisked before being allowed near the gates.
In flight, we were served a light breakfast with a cup of hot tea, which astonished me seeing as we'd only be in the air about 30 to 45 minutes. But the Irish are efficient, I'll give them that. Better though, was that I had the window seat and experienced the splendor of the sun coming up from beneath the clouds, which gave them the appearance of liquid gold spilled on top of whipped marshmallows.
As soon as we landed and departed the plane, I wanted to pinch myself. I was in Scotland. Scotland. It wasn't enough that I had visited the land of my Irish forefathers and foremothers, now I was in Scotland, also the land of my forefathers and foremothers. And (drum roll here), I was in the "homeland" of Eric Liddell, who I'd studied and written about in The Final Race. Tomorrow, we planned a trip to the Eric Liddell Centre, but for now, our focus was to get to our hotel.
Getting through the airport only took a few minutes (we'd only brought carry-on luggage), and then we made it to the Edinburgh Trams, bought our tickets, climbed aboard and
headed into the heart of the city's "newtown."
My eyes couldn't take it in fast enough or well enough. The medieval gray structures that spoke of another era, the blur of faces heading to work or to their own vacation destinations, and the vibrancy of a city coming awake after the end of a long autumn's night. When we came to our stop, the four of us hopped off as if we did this every Monday and Thursday, then walked along a sidewalk lined by shops and cafes with colorful awnings. Upper windows boasted flower boxes bursting in bloom and fragrance.
We swam through a crowd like salmon until we found Angels Share Hotel. As traffic cantered past us we stepped into a diagonal crosswalk then entered the tasteful opulence of the hotel's lobby. The air outside was crisp and inviting; inside we were met by charm and warmth. The painted walls were nearly hidden by portraits and framed photos of famous Scots. I glanced around as Clare gave our information to the receptionist whose lilt tickled my ear, and then I let out a little cheer. As "fate" would have it, I stood directly below an impressive black and white of Eric Liddell (also known as The Flying Scotsman) crossing the finish line, his head back, his chest bowed.
Our rooms were not ready (nor would they be until later in the afternoon), but the hotel agreed to store our luggage until later. Feeling a bit hungry (something I cannot explain seeing as we'd had breakfast on the plane) and in need of a cup of coffee or tea, we all decided that before descending into the world called Edinburgh, we would have a bite to eat. Inviting aromas from the hotel's restaurant drew us like pups to a bowl of milk, so we followed our noses past additional portraits of Scots until we found the restaurant, which was beyond breathtaking with its tufted leather seats, pressed tin ceilings, and fat chandeliers dripping prisms of light that reflected brilliantly off the patina of the furnishings.
I wanted to drink it all in for as long as I could. As my eyes scanned the length of the room, and the world beyond the windows, I wanted time to stop so I could bury myself in the moment. I also wanted to hurry up and get outside and find my way to the most prominent of all the landmarks in Edinburgh--it's castle. And, even though this day had only just begun, truly, I wanted it to never end, because right here, right now, there were no question marks.
There were no periods.
There were only ellipses ... and I intended to dance between each one of the dots.
Clare, her mum Diane, and her father (on the other side of the aisle) in flight to Edinburgh.
After landing and making our way through the airport, we stopped long enough to pose with the U and R of "Edinburgh."
The opulent restaurant at The Angels Share Hotel in Edinburgh.