When I was 5 years old, I had the worst asthma attack to date in early Winter. I remember Dad carrying me to his truck as I grasped what air I could steal from the crisp night. Dad settled me in the front seat of that cold cab and wrapped his jacket around me like a blanket. I remember curling on the seat like a puppy, half asleep and dazed and jerking back and forth with the truck on our way to St. Elizabeth’s, my lungs gasping for air in the crack of the seat cushions and Dad’s strong hand patting my back and rubbing my shoulders. As an ornery boy and the family’s black sheep, Dad’s soothing was more alien to me than it probably should have been. I was becoming familiar to the battle of filling lungs, but I was not used to Dad being so kind. I can remember feeling calmed.
Dad parked at the Emergency Room entrance in the back. I remember the gloomy lamps spilling over us and the rows and rows of dark cars as Dad carried me in his massive arms. I don’t know how events unfolded once inside the ER, but somehow I ended up in an oxygen tent on some other wing where I clearly recall watching the nurses build the tent around me and seeing through the thick plastic my mother sitting in a chair next to the door, her hands clasped on her lap and smiling at me.
Sometime, Mom must have arrived at St. Elizabeth’s to take Dad’s place.
I vaguely remember my crying fits. I do remember the exhaustion from them and my temper cooling as I had transitioned from anger to pleading -- a strategy I thought better to employ. All I wanted her to do was to come to the tent. I needed her to then reach down and open the thick, vertical zipper bisecting the side of the tent that the nurses used to tend to me. Finally, I needed her to grab me and take me back home. If Mom ever did come to the tent, then I don’t recall. My memory of her at that moment was only this: Mom sitting on a chair by the door; smiling at me. At some point, Mom must have told me that she was not going to leave me; that she was going to stay the rest of the night. I don’t remember the conversation, but I can clearly remember the promise.
I must have fallen asleep peacefully thinking as long as Mom was there on the other side of my plastic barrier, then the worst that could ever happen was if she left. When I woke up and discovered that she did leave, I must have decided to do the same.
From the inside of the tent, I could see the large, oblong zipper handle through the gap at the end of the zipper. I opened the gap wider and stuck my hand through and simply unzipped myself from my plastic prison. I found my red lunch pail (candy from the hospital) and I’m pretty sure I put on my shoes. I then opened the door and took a left down the hall for the nearest exit to my home on Connie Drive!
I didn’t get far. I remember walking down the shiny corridor and heading towards the end of the hallway (to a room where I had gotten my pail of goods) when a tall nurse wearing white stockings came around the corner and stared right at me - slowing her pace to take in what she was witnessing and even bending down to my level to get a good look. She called out to me and started to run towards me, but I was too quick. I opened a door on my left and hid in the Ladies restroom!
Somewhere in the logs of the Catholic Hospitals of America and in the memories of nurses and nuns the antics of Randall Scott Wireman are recorded and recalled, respectively (and regretfully).
I was either carried, dragged, or thrown back to my tent. I remember the nurses, perhaps six of them, not only checking their gerryrigged zipper but also the areas where the tent met the bed searching for gaps that I could breach. Eventually, through the plastic, sitting on a chair next to the door, I could see Mom. She may or may not have been smiling - maybe it's best.
Today, St. Elizabeth’s of Lafayette has been handed over to another Saint, though my asthma has decided to stay with me and, quite possibly, to die with me. We are inseparable. So are the memories associated with our infamous battles; the weekly and biweekly clinic visits for allergy shots until I was 17, the lonely hours spent indoors while the rest of the world played like Earthlings under the sun and in the autumn woods and on fallen snow. Eventually, asthma and I would spend more of our time outdoors like Earthlings; asthma would just steal a few hours here and there and tell me when it was time to head home and get back to residing alone in our lonely space, together.
Yet, the memory of St. Elizabeth’s is most definitive. Looking back, I - and so clearly I do -- see my beautiful mother and her dark brown hair, her Irish brown eyes, her bright red lipstick; and, yes...smiling. She must have been terrified. I realize now that she was smiling for me.
I can clearly see my father, too, from that night. I can feel his mighty hand patting my back. I can feel his jacket around me. If the jacket was blue and had a thin, red lining; if it’s white patch read Lafayette Frame & Alignment in red, cursive letters -- I do not recall. Yet, I can feel his jacket and his concern and his love. Even if I had died that night on my way to St. Elizabeth’s, I was in the safest hands in all the world.
My struggles with asthma is and was by no means unique. Millions have similar memories, I am certain. Still, I have been writing a story - a Western story - from time to time with characters personifying my parents love and also providing a starring role for my nemesis. I have written about the story before (and yes; I am current writing more chapters -- would be nice to finish it). Please see an earlier Prologue draft here: B Street, Virginia City, Nevada. The date when I entered St. Elizabeth's was, at first, a guess. But later, my mom confirmed it with a letter, of all things, my Grandma Rose had written to her sister, Cal, in England that described my escape attempt. I wonder what Aunt Cal thought of her young American great grandson.
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