We left this morning for Hospital City. This time, we are driving our own minivan. We don't have to drive ourselves; our local Shrine Temple runs a fleet of vans, driven by volunteers that shuttle children and parents to and from the Hospitals. These vans run six days a week; they never leave for Hospital City empty. We have chosen to drive ourselves this time because of the possibility that we may have to spend a rare, extra night in Hospital City. Plus, with the need to take the wheelchair along, it will just be easier for us to travel with our own vehicle this time.
We left our city in the morning via the smooth and elegant expressways, but spent much of the day on "blue highways" and rural backroads. The path we trace is as direct as is possible; because we don't consider it to be a pleasure trip, we don't worry about scenic by-ways or opportunities to stop at historical landmarks. We will cross the same river twice as we drive towards the Hospital, slide through gentle mountain passes, glide over flatlands and prairies. The shade of the old trees as they arch over the country roads creates a welcome respite from the sun; it is like flying down a great, green tunnel. The sky is summer-white hot; the sun so bright that it washes all the blue from the sky. There has been enough rain that everything is green and lush, but it is the hard, brilliant green of late summer and Binney & Smith, not the soft hopeful, tender hues of spring, or the dried up rusty, tired palette of fall. Back onto the expressway for the last 30 miles into the city, the billboards are a jarring reminder of civilization.
Once in the city, we take refuge at a small local hotel. Other families that will be going to the Hospital in the morning are here also, we naturally gravitate together. Vans full of children, marked with the name of the Shrine Temple that transports them, will later form rows on the sticky black asphalt of the parking lot. This is "home away from home" for us; we know this neighborhood almost as well as we know our own at home. The Shriners have reserved our room here, just as they have for all of these children and their families. Each family has it's own room, to help preserve their privacy and dignity. The Shriners have a saying "We have one price for treatment at our Hospitals... FREE". They aren't kidding. Aside from our meals (the theory being that you have to eat wherever your are) we will have no other out-of-pocket expense for any of our trips. Had we not had the Hospital, Twinkle would have passed her lifetime maximum on our insurance many years ago.
Sometimes we head out in the evening just to escape the hotel - we go to the mall, the local W-M, or an ice cream parlor. Anything to avoid another evening trapped in another generic hotel room. On a hot summer night like this, we will find everyone at the hotel pool. The kids splash and play until they are dragged reluctantly out of the water, and back to their hotel rooms.
In the morning, we will rise early - much earlier than at home. We will dress, and I will put everything back into the van. We won't eat the continental breakfast at the hotel, but will cruise through the still-quiet city streets to the Hospital. We will be there before 7:00 am, and will check in at the Clinic desk, then head over across the cavernous Common Room to the Cafeteria for breakfast. This is where our day will really start - with hugs and hellos from The Cafeteria Ladies. Those ladies are not only excellent cooks, but more importantly, they have known Twinks since she was just a baby - they are our friends. We hug, we catch up on stories of grandbabies and graduations, we eat breakfast as the room slowly fills with other patients, other parents, and Shriners.
At 8:00 am, when the Clinic "officially" opens for business, we will be there, ready and waiting, hoping that the Doctor will be able to help Twink with her pain.
If all goes as we hope it will, we will be home late Wednesday night, with a "new and improved" Twinkle.