We arrived just before 7:00 am, as is our custom, to find the patient lot empty. No Hospital Vans from any Temples; ours was the first car in the lot.
I had a moment of panic: What if they had closed The Hospital? We approached the apparently lifeless building, wondering if we could even get in. The doors, however, slid open with hiss in the warm, damp morning air, and with a rush of relief we stepped into the lobby to sign in at the security desk.
The staff at The Hospital knows that it's a long drive home for some of the patients, and so they try to get those of us with the longest commute out the door as early in the day as is possible. The sign-in sheet is put out at 7:00 am; the Clinic begins at 8:00 am.
The Clinic is as familiar as home to us. The Waiting Rooms are spacious, and as comfortable as they can be. Twinkle has grown up playing on these floors, napping on these couches, running through these rooms.
We don't linger long here, however. Not yet. It is 7:01 am, and so we are off to see The Breakfast Ladies in The Cafeteria. It's Friday morning, so that means homemade cinnamon rolls the size of a softball, along with crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh biscuits. The coffee is a serious reminder of how close we really are to New Orleans; scalding hot with a not-too subtle kick of chicory.
The Cafeteria is empty, except for us. It is startling to see the building like this; we are not used to the preternaturally quiet hallways, the empty chairs. Staff members have begun to arrive to eat breakfast before the days work begins, but we are still the only family in the clinic.
Shortly after 8:00 am, the call comes over the intercom; Twinks runs through the still-deserted corridors to Orthotics & Prosthetics. Big J and Miss V are there waiting; we have brought along the homemade cookies we promised last time. Hugs all around, and then Big J starts the process of fitting the "raw" brace onto Twinks.
The raw brace was made on a mold of Twinks leg that was created on our last visit. The mold is wrapped in the soft, heated plastic, and shaped to create the position that The Doctor wants her foot and leg held in. Then, the mold is actually broken so that it can be removed from the raw brace without damaging it. Using an arsenal of tools that includes everything from a Dremel to a chop saw, Big J can shape the cooled plastic however he needs to. There are also special foam inserts and pads, to provide support and prevent the brace from rubbing. There is miles and miles of Velcro, in every color imaginable. And there are "transfers"; colorful patterns that let the kids customize their braces. The Twinkie picked butterflies and flowers.
Big J works swiftly and surely to fit the brace, however we soon realize that the shoes that Twinks has worn, as well as the "backup pair" that we brought with us... are too small. This is a problem; the backup pair was that very special pair of Tinkerbell shoes that we had bought just a few weeks ago.
Oh, what a terrible mother I was! I had failed to remember:
Mommy's Observations on the Availability of Shoes
- If we don't have the shoes with us, then O&P will surely want the shoes right then and there.
- If we don't have the shoes with us, then the shoes will have to be sent back to the Hospital ASAP, and we will have to wait even longer for the corrected shoe(s) and/or orthotics and/or appliances.
- We never do a good job of shopping for shoes when we are under a deadline, tired, or stressed.
We see The Doctor, briefly. He is happy with both braces. We check out of The Clinic temporarily to drive over to The Mall.
Shoe shopping is remarkably fast, given the circumstances. We are blessed with a salesman who grasped the situation in an instant, and guided us to shoes that would slip on and off easily. We quickly discovered that we had to go up an extra two sizes to accommodate the bulk of the new brace; Twinks quickly discovered the rack with the sparkly pink shoelaces...
20 minutes later, we are walking out of The Mall, having stopped across from the shoe store to get a frozen yogurt to go. Ten minutes later, we are pulling back into The Hospital parking lot. Now there are cars; there are people in the waiting rooms, there are families arriving and checking in. They are all local.
There are no Hospital Vans, remember? There are no hotel rooms for them to stay in.
We go back to O & P for a final "tweaking", one last adjustment. The moment arrives - what we have prayed for, and hoped for, and driven 10,000 miles for since January.
Twinks stands, and walks with no pain.
I want to cry; I want to lay down on the floor and just weep with relief and joy. Twinks does cry; we are standing in the middle of O & P with Big J and Miss V hugging us.
Finally we are leaving The Hospital for home. We stop for gas before we leave the city; prices are frozen in time here for all "commodities" by Executive Order of the Governor , so we pay an amazingly low $2.69 per gallon.
Back across the blue highways, over the rivers and through the swamps we go. It is the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, yet traffic is light. Twinks is sleeping in the back seat, I have time to reflect upon... everything. I am so overwhelmed that I can't even feel - I have had to shut down emotionally just to be able to drive home safely. I am afraid that if I start to cry, I won't stop.
We motor on, stopping about halfway to have a light dinner at Subway. We are still about 30 miles from our state line, but from here the drive is much easier; perhaps it is the psychological boost of being back in our home state. Suddenly, I see them coming down the road, going in the opposite direction.
The cavalry is on the move - the state National Guard is headed for New Orleans.
It is too much. I know, we all know what they are headed into. There are more than 100 vehicles in the caravan; they are full of these incredible brave men and women, going to help the victims, the survivors of Katrina. I know that there must be familiar faces within those trucks; friends and neighbors that are Guard members.
As I watch them roll in the other direction, streaming past us with headlights on, eyes forward toward their assigned job, I finally begin to cry.
I am crying for all of us; those of us lost, those of us found. I cry for the families pulled apart by the storm, I cry for those who did not survive. I cry for the babies and children who will be forever impacted by this one event. I cry for the bravery of our soldiers, our firefighters, our policemen and our EMT's as they continue to fight for the living along the shattered Gulf Coast.
I cry for my little girl, who has been so patient, so sweet, so good, even when her pain was nearly unbearable.
What happened? Did you ever stop crying? Well, I sobbed and sniffled and kept on going. We got home before 10:00 pm, and I slept until 2:00 pm the next day.
Labor Day weekend was great; for the first time in years, I just did... nothing. Nothing. I slept, I read, I enjoyed several fine meals with my family. And I took the weekend off.
After all - things were going to get back on track, right?