82: No Questions Asked

82: No Questions Asked

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

No Questions Asked

God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.

~Jewish Proverb

My mom had reluctantly agreed to accompany Dad and us kids on a weekend camping trip in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country when I was ten years old. We were lucky to rent a raised wooden tent platform during that rainy spring weekend. That put us safe and dry three feet off the damp ground. Dad supervised as my three siblings and I erected the tent. Then we all piled back into our station wagon for a day of sightseeing.

There wasn’t much to see, as the rain had closed most of the local historic sites. We did stop at an Amish farm that advertised tours of the barn, petting the animals, and a snack of homemade donuts and fresh milk. Mom stayed outside in the drizzle while my father accompanied us into the barns. When we told Mom that we had petted the cows she insisted we wash our hands before eating our still warm, cinnamon-sugar donuts. Her caution may have been well founded, but by the time we washed our hands our warm donuts had gone cold.

It was not a great start to our trip, but we thought that Mom was overreacting when she woke us the next morning an hour before dawn. “George,” she informed my father, “we have to go, now.”

“Is something wrong?” my father asked groggily. “Are the kids okay? Are you okay? Can we leave later, after breakfast?”

“No,” she insisted. “We have to leave now.” We immediately decamped, carting our sleeping bags and army cots to the car. The tent, much heavier now that the canvas was wet from hours of rain, was the last item to be carried by all hands to the car. We dumped it onto the open rear deck with a mighty crash. It took a second or two for us to realize that the crashing sound came not from dropping the tent into the car but from the huge tree that inexplicably fell over and crushed the tent platform we had vacated moments before. We stared aghast at the carnage, and then at my nonplussed mother. Without any visible reaction, she said, “Get in the car, kids.”

The following summer witnessed another display of Mom’s uncanny maternal instincts. I remember Mom carrying me into our doctor’s office because I was too weak to walk. I’m told that the doctor’s diagnosis was “just a summer virus.” That off-the-cuff assessment did not satisfy Mom’s instincts whatsoever. She brought me to a medical laboratory and coolly instructed the technician to draw and analyze a specimen of my blood. He demurred, rightfully claiming he could not do so without a physician’s orders. But he had never been confronted by my mother’s will. He did as he was told, no further questions asked.

My blood specimen was quickly drawn and analyzed. The technician returned to instruct Mom to take me immediately to the nearest emergency room. Within a few hours my abdomen was opened and the ruptured appendix was removed. Subsequently I spent a hot summer convalescing and bored, but alive. No one asked how she knew. She just did.

Two decades later I was working as a registered nurse in the same emergency room that I had passed through as a critically ill eleven-year-old. Working double shifts was never a hardship because my profession was my true calling. Because I was proficient and professional I was often assigned to instruct newbie nurses, and sometimes physicians, in the arts and procedures of that chaotic setting.

One winter afternoon, at the change of shifts after my first eight hours, an ambulance arrived without prior notice with a patient in full cardiac arrest. I directed the EMTs to bring the patient into our “crash room” and called out a hospital-wide page to assemble the “code blue” team. Within seconds a crowd of clinicians of all types surrounded the stretcher, each carrying out his or her task. A young resident physician stepped close to the patient, a defibrillator paddle in each hand. She badly misplaced them on the patient’s chest, which resulted in electrical burns but no restoration of the patient’s heart rhythm.

I cursed under my breath with frustration. “Give me the paddles. Charge me up. Everyone step back from the stretcher,” I ordered. I’d performed this life-saving procedure many times; I knew exactly how to effectively and safely carry it out. Unfortunately for me, the resident did not. She wanted to see how it was done so she stepped up close — too close — as I pulled the defibrillator’s trigger. In that instant she mistakenly pushed me against the stretcher’s metal railing.

Several things happened simultaneously. I became the unlucky recipient of 360 painful joules of electricity that bolted up my arms, made my eardrums tingle, and stopped my heart. The patient, who had not received the second electrical shock, died. And my mother, vacationing with my father in Florida, turned to him and said frantically, “Call Tommy, he’s in the ER, something’s wrong!” He did as he was told but he couldn’t get through to anyone because the pandemonium in that emergency room reached new levels as the staff worked to save one of its own, me.

Late in her life I let my curiosity get the better of me. “Hey, Mom,” I asked, “How did you do that? How’d you always know when something was going wrong?”

“It’s not my job to wonder how or why, Tommy,” she replied with a coy shrug. “It’s just my job to do it.” No further questions asked, none answered.

~Thom Schwarz

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