From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul


The best time to make friends is before you need them.

Ethel Barrymore

Every minute of the upcoming week was already planned. Just as soon as I returned from dropping off Summer, Emerald, Jesse and their friends at the church campout on a Tillamook beach, it was time to start preparing the house and yard for next weekend’s Realtor tour.

Even with help from my eldest and youngest sons, the chore list was daunting. Every growing thing in the garden was indulging in some vegetative height contest. The lawn was a field, the bushes had merged into the surrounding forest and paths had disappeared months earlier. The house wasn’t much better. Between school schedules and the weekly five hundred miles to get everyone to various lessons and appointments, the time budgeted for housekeeping shrank from little to nearly none.

Still, this was the last chance to sell the house or face foreclosure, so we intended to vanquish clutter and shrubbery in the next few days and make the place irresistible.

A scant three hours after making the four-hour roundtrip, the phone rang. Jesse was sick, and the trip leader was worried because he seemed to be getting hotter very quickly. Hoping it was just tired excitement, I asked to talk to him. “Mom, I really don’t feel good,” he whispered. “I’m on my way,” I told him.

Hollering for my teenage son to pour the pot of espresso I’d made into a Thermos, I pulled on a clean shirt, grabbed keys, purse and Thermos, and headed back.

Jesse was burning up by the time I pulled into the camp at ten that night. Retracing the curvy coastal mountain road, I wondered whether it would be better to stop in some small town to get help. But no, there wouldn’t be a hospital, and we’d have to wait for an ambulance or helicopter. The Suburban clung to the road, tires protesting every curve taken too fast. In the middle seat, Jesse slumped sideways, burning and unresponsive.

The emergency room attendant came out to the car, took one look at him and called for a gurney. They sped past admitting and through the self-locking doors of the operating room, leaving me at reception, fumbling for an insurance card.

Within minutes Jesse was hooked up to an IV, antibiotics and hydrating fluids flowing into his veins. The surgeon arrived ten minutes later, shucking her coat without coming to a stop, explaining, as I ran alongside her, “His appendix may have already ruptured. I’ll talk to you as soon as I get out.” With a clang, the doors swung closed behind her, too.

It was 1:15 in the morning. The waiting room outside the operating room was empty.

Finally, the doors opened again, and the surgeon, looking as exhausted as I felt, emerged. Yes, Jesse would be okay, but he would need to stay in the hospital for several days. I would be allowed to stay in his room.

The sun was already starting to rise in the sky when Jesse was wheeled into a room. I sat beside him, watching the light grow outside, waiting for him to wake up.

By seven he was awake and, although subdued, already noticeably improved. The tightness around my heart eased. And when he wondered if he could have ice cream for breakfast, the fear began to release its hold.

Within the hour, the doctor came. Everything looked good. Jesse got a smile from the nurse when he asked for ice cream, although he had to be content with liquids and Jell-O for a few more hours.

As he settled back to sleep, my mind, freed from serious concerns, began to review all that still waited to be done at home. And, who would bring the girls home? Before I could work myself up into a full panic, the door opened and a member of our church arrived, armed with balloons for Jesse and lattes and muffins for us.

When she left, the strain and sleepless hours kicked in, and I curled up on the cot next to Jesse’s bed. Just as I drifted off, I silently asked the universe to please take care of everything that needed to be done. “Please, God, take care of the details for me. I’m so tired.”

By afternoon, the phone began to ring, and people started calling to check on the patient and offer assistance. Someone notified the trip coordinators in Tillamook, and another parent brought the girls home.

Summer and Emerald arrived at the hospital late that afternoon, just in time for another of my friends to whisk them off, along with their little brother, Larkin, for pizza and ice cream. Friends appeared seemingly out of nowhere to provide rides, run errands and entertain Jesse long enough for me to shower and change.

The handful of days in the hospital went by quickly, thanks to Jesse’s rapid recovery and the constant support of friends and neighbors.

On Friday, Jesse was discharged and we headed home. I realized with horror that I’d forgotten to cancel the next day’s open house, and I began making a mental list of everything I’d need to do to catch up on a week’s absence.

As we pulled into our driveway, it took a minute to register what was happening. Cars were parked everywhere.

Gardening equipment and buckets were stacked in the carport. From the surrounding garden rose the buzz of weed whackers, brush trimmers and voices, lots of voices.

Momentarily, the din ceased, and friends came over to greet Jesse before returning to their work. In the house, the noise level was lower, but the activity level similar. The children of friends were working with my kids, cleaning the stove, scouring burners, sweeping, vacuuming and organizing cupboards.

After Jesse was settled in on the sofa with juice and a book, I wandered in and out, tired and overwhelmed. Everywhere I turned, a familiar, often grimy, face smiled at me, and grass-covered, dusty arms reached out to hug me.

With a rush of grateful tears, I remembered my sleepy request for help. The universe had responded, placing the details safely into the loving hands of friends.

Lizanne Southgate

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