remembering a moment

Sometimes when I write, food doesn’t take center stage.

Sometimes, food is in the wings, waiting for the right time to enter the story. And, at times, it never enters.

I’ve just wrapped up a 6-week creative writing class, and this class has been just what I needed at this time in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to branch out from my usual professional writing (at work) and food writing (in this space). I’ve written a little fiction even, and I’ve explored some hidden corners in that right-brain side of my head that doesn’t see as much daylight as it should.

I’m sharing a piece with you today, a moment remembered from the past, from last fall. I wrote it last week when I was in Austin, sitting at my hotel room desk with only the sound of the tapping of the keyboard to keep me company. When I was nearly finished writing it, I ordered room service. A glass of champagne and a slice of chocolate cake.

Food is glaringly absent from this memory, as it should be.

*    *    *    *    *    *

My birthday was tomorrow, Wednesday. On Thursday, Sam and I were to fly to Manhattan for a long weekend, in theory to celebrate my birthday, but really, that was just an excuse to get away. We were to have dinner that Friday night at Gramercy Tavern.

Instead of packing, I was in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit at the hospital I work in. But instead of wearing my usual professional, “Attending Physician” attire, I was dressed in jeans and sneakers. I was there as a family member of a patient. I was there as the daughter, the daughter who also happened to be a doctor.

The night before, Dad had fallen. It seems so trivial – just a fall, a simple fall. But my father, a large man – maybe 5’10” and 270 pounds – landed hard. The back of a straight backed wooden chair, positioned just so, broke his fall when it caught him squarely in the rib cage. The impact fractured five ribs, in multiple places each, driving one of those ribs into his right lung.

Now, I stood by his side, holding his hand carefully so as to not disturb the bandages protecting the IV and the arterial line in his wrist. My father looked confused and uncomfortable, his face covered by a clear plastic mask attached to the oxygen tubing. He struggled to breathe, and the forced intake of air with each breath caused a sharp wheeze, as if he were trying to breathe through a plastic straw. Dad had stridor, that awful
harbinger of a narrowed airway that often leads to complete respiratory failure.

The respiratory therapist, Eric, a cocky young man who, despite the arrogance he exuded, seemed to know what he was doing hovered on the opposite side of the hospital bed, positioned between my father and the beeping electronic monitor that gave continual readings of my fathers vital signs.

“I think I’m going to have to get intubation kit,” Eric said to me in a quiet voice. He was trying not to alarm my father. “I’m also going to bring a ventilator in.”

Eric left, and in less than a minute, the surgical chief resident entered the room and moved directly to my father’s side. I moved out of the way so that the surgeon could listen to my Dad’s chest with his stethoscope and inspect the chest tube protruding from my dad’s collapsed lung. The surgeon looked up from my father, meeting my eyes.

I cut him off, before he could say anything. “Just do what you have to do,” I said.

He nodded and left the room. I could hear him calling for the crash cart.

“Dad,” I said, moving close to my father again, leaning in close to speak in his ear. “Dad, the doctors are going to try to help you breathe better, okay?”

He looked at me, not understanding, but unable to talk because he was so out of breath.

“I’ll be right here,” I said. “And I’ll be here when you wake up. I promise.”

He nodded. A calmness took over his face.

“I love you. It will be okay, it really will.”

But I wasn’t sure about that. I had a strong feeling that I had just lied to my father, and I would never forgive myself for it.


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12 Responses to “remembering a moment”

  1. 1
    Brian @ A Thought For Food — March 31, 2012 @ 10:44 am

    Such a heartfelt piece, MJ. This moment will always be with you and I appreciate you sharing it with us.

    Hugs and kisses,

  2. 2
    DessertForTwo — March 31, 2012 @ 10:46 am

    Wow, MJ. I remember you telling us about all of this going on, but then to read the words about how you felt is just so touching. So heartfelt. You are so talented at writing (and many, many, many other things, too!)

    Sending love,

  3. 3
    Maya@Foodiva's Kitchen — March 31, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    Such beautiful writing, MJ. I am reading about this memory for the first time, and it touched my heart deeply. If that was my father, I would’ve said the same thing and I would’ve wanted it to be really okay, too.

  4. 4
    SMITH BITES — March 31, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

    i understand all too well MJ – although i’m not a doctor, my sister is a surgical RN and we took turns caring for my father for 18 months before he passed away. hard place to be when this kind of awful happens to those we love; glad you can write about it – even more glad you choose to share here (((hugs)))

  5. 5
    Jennifer west — March 31, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

    Now that my eyes have stopped watering I can comment… You are an awesome person, a compassionate doctor and a loving daughter. Your father is very lucky to have such a wonderful guardian angel….

  6. 6
    Fran in Texas — March 31, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

    That was heartbreakingly beautiful, truly eloquent. And everything the others said.

  7. 7
    Macaroni Mama — March 31, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

    Excellent writing, Merry Jennifer. For so long you took on the responsibility for attending to your father’s needs in a calm, professional voice that none of the rest of us could. Thank you.

  8. 8
    Tobias @ T and Tea Cake — March 31, 2012 @ 5:47 pm


    I am not familiar with your blog for too long, so the outcome is unknown to me.
    All I can say it that it must have been a very difficult moment for you and I admire the strength you had for staying so calm.

    The writing is spot on! I like the detail you’ve put into describing the medical instruments (given your profession, you surely know what you are writing about) and you achieve to deliver that feeling of numbness these kind of moments tend to be surrounded by. Wish you the best.

  9. 9
    Noble Pig - Cathy — April 2, 2012 @ 1:27 am

    Very touching and wonderfully written.

  10. 10
    Deb — April 3, 2012 @ 11:58 am

    Lyrical and elegantly written. Thanks for sharing a private time with us, there are moments of tender magic even in times of facing the unknown.

  11. 11
    Paula — April 5, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

    The photograph is as poignant as the words that accompany it. Your comforting words to you father were not a lie. They were an expression, a prayer of hope and one that you have to hang on to. For you, for him.

  12. 12
    Di — April 5, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

    All things will be ok when there’s love. I said “I love you Daddy”. He said “I love you too.” He lapsed into a coma and was gone two days later. That was 25 years ago. The love remembered and the love still there makes me ok today and I know wherever he is, he’s ok too. You will be ok, Merry. It’s a beautiful piece and a wonderful tribute to a daughter’s love for her dad.

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