A NOTE FROM PENNY: Happy birthday today (Aug. 10) to my brother-in-law Norman, who's 51. I was going to write a column about him, but this one from August 2009 seems hard to beat ... at least for my limited talents ... so why reinvent the wheel?
I didn’t pack any extra underwear, but I had my rosary in hand as I set the cruise control and wished I had the guts to drive more than 72 miles per hour in a 65-mph zone on the interstate.
We didn’t know much at that point. My brother-in-law Norman collapsed while running with several other guys. He stopped breathing. He was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
My sister Kim sounded pretty calm on the phone as she made what must have been the longest 45-minute drive of her life from her house to the hospital. She got a call and she didn’t know much about what was happening to her husband, who’s only 43.
She just wanted to let someone in the family know, she said. The kids (Daniel, 9, Isabel, 7, and Olivia, 5) were with a friend.
Another friend was meeting her at the emergency room. She’d call me when she could. No, I didn’t need to come down right away.
But my co-workers covered for me and I headed toward Belleville. Better to be on the way and not needed than vice versa, I reasoned.
I felt a little guilty being on the cellphone while driving. I didn’t take the time to use my bluetooth headset. But I had important calls to make. I became the information distributor; Kim would call me, then I’d call everyone else.
My sister Val, who is a nurse, called me from her workplace in the ER and asked if I thought she should head toward Belleville. I told her that in these situations, if I want to go, I go. Plus, her medical knowledge would be a great help.
She went home, packed a bag, and started out.
Our other sister, Hilary, needed to stay home with the kids and couldn’t leave. Mom’s MS doesn’t allow her to travel much, so she stayed near the phone.
I tried to concentrate on driving quickly but safely. Going 72 mph felt like going 10 mph. I cursed fluently at slow vehicles that blocked my way.
I wondered where Kim would decide to bury Norman if he died.
No no no no. I didn’t want to think like that. I wouldn’t let myself.
I felt guilty for not praying more for other people, other families, who go through these kinds of things. We all, unfortunately, have to go through such emergencies at some point, and usually more than once, with our families.
Sometimes, all you can do is pray.
I started dredging up memories of Norman. He and Kim met when they were both active duty in the U.S. Air Force in Dover, Del. He’s a great mechanic. He and I have motorcycles in common — except he’s confident and talented as a rider and a mechanic, while I always feel like I’m fumbling and dorky…
…well, not just regarding motorcycles, in my case, but that’s another topic.
When Val and her husband Jerry got married, someone forgot to bring Jerry’s wedding ring to the church initially (I can’t even remember if it was Norman or whom; that’s how fast memories fade, I guess). Norman and I drove back to the house to find the ring; Val was not walking down that aisle until that ring was ready.
Val was pretty frustrated about it. Norman just laughed as if it was a good part of a funny sitcom. He chuckled the whole way to the house and back to the church (the ring was in its case in one of the cars’ glove compartments).
I thought about what a good dad Norman is, like all my brothers-in-law. He’s a big strong guy, and it always touched my heart to see him, when each of the kids was born, holding his and Kim’s newest baby. His big tanned hands would cradle that little one, cupping the tiny head in his palm.
He did diaper duty, he walked them when they were fussy, he put them in backpacks and took them out in the yard, hiking, biking. He and Kim have an active and busy family.
I remembered Norman holding my dad’s hand by his bedside a few hours before Dad died, and the contrast of Norman’s tanned, healthy looking hands versus Dad’s pale, weakened form. Norman choked up and couldn’t say what he wanted to Dad. Here was this big tough guy trying to express what Dad meant to him. That’s the kind of thing that makes me love Norman even more.
Oh, but he’s rotten! He’s smarted off to me, and I’ve cursed back at him. Sometimes he thinks he knows everything.
I ran into a fierce thunderstorm northeast of Collinsville but kept driving as fast as I felt was safe. Kim called again and gave me phone numbers and an update. I tried to swallow my anxiety, wishing I could get to the hospital faster. That was a long, long 2 1/2-hour drive.
Norman’s back up and walking around now. He had blockages in his arteries that caused his heart to go into V-fib, and the guys he was with saved his life. He’s on the mend, a little better each day.
“Did they have to cut him open?” a wide-eyed and dramatic Isabel asked Sunday night when I got to the house to tuck them into bed. Nothing like that, I assured her. “They didn’t even cut him just a little?” she asked.
Holding my hand as we walked after school Monday afternoon, Olivia, excited about her first days in kindergarten, was quiet a minute, then said suddenly, “I don’t want my daddy to die.” I assured her he wouldn’t.
He almost did. I like to think that I do pretty well at not taking life for granted — always trying to appreciate the good people around me and how lucky I am. I guess it’s never possible to be too appreciative of what life’s all about.
My sister Val told me about the conversation that Norman and a buddy had Tuesday. They speculated about which of his friends used the AED to shock him. That saved his life. It sounds to me like Norman is getting back to normal, considering what he said then.
“I’m gonna have to buy that guy a cup of coffee.”