i love you so much
The sun moved into late afternoon, casting shadows at a 45 degree angle. We walked past a tourist taking a smart-picture of her boyfriend next to the "i love you so much," scrawled on the side of Jo's Coffee, South Congress. Tamara ordered a Chai Latte and I ordered a small cappuccino.
"Are you sure you don't want a large?" Tamara asked. "After all, we're two childless, middle-aged people on the town."
"I don't know. I'm too old for that much caffeine this late."
"But, we might stay out as long as nine or ten. Get the large."
"Ok, I'll have the large," I said.
I snagged a table. Tamara hovered around the order window waiting for our drinks. I was happily people watching when my phone buzzed on the table. The caller's phone number flashed on the screen. It had a 414 prefix: Austin Independent School District. It could only be a call from Savannah's school. With great trepidation, I picked up. It was Savannah's assistant principal.
Tamara came to the table. I said, "Savannah's had another seizure on the bus. The assistant principal is going to talk to the bus crew."
I gave Tamara the phone and she paced to the sidewalk. She would take charge of the situation. She is the true genius at negotiating with the school. She calmly, but sternly explained that we were on a date night, the first we'd had in a long time. We were staying downtown. Savannah was fine. She has long seizures all the time. I had talked to the nurse at the neurologist's office. He'd get back to us on Monday with new orders. This bus crew is overly nervous. We just went through this the day before. Couldn't they send Savannah home where an attendant was waiting? Did they have to ruin our one night out?
THURSDAY (the day before)
Tamara and I have jobs that intersect in a couple of places, so from time to time we are in the same meetings. On Thursday, while in one of those meetings, my phone buzzed. The number on the phone had the 414 prefix that only brings bad news. I dashed for the door and took the call in the hall.
It was Savannah's principal. Savannah had had a 20 minute seizure on the bus and they had pulled over at Anderson and Burnett, awaiting the arrival of EMS. "No. If they give her to EMS, it will take hours, if not all night to get her out of the hospital."
"I know, I'm sorry," the principal said. "If you can get there in time, you can try to get them to release her into your custody. I'll try to delay them. I'm headed over there to meet you."
I ran back to the meeting room, grabbed my stuff, and planned with Tamara in the hall. I would dash home to get the wheelchair van while Tamara went to the bus to negotiate for Savannah's release. (We should be hostage negotiators... we have a lot of experience with it.)
While driving, my phone rang. It was school police. They were about to load her in the ambulance. "I'm two minutes away. Tell them to stop." I changed course and headed straight for the bus. I had to get there before it was too late.
I pulled up to the corner and parked beyond the fire truck and two police cruisers. The ambulance, lights blinking was parked, back open, in front of the bus. A cluster of emergency personnel clamored around Savannah as they brought her down on the bus lift.
Just in time, I thought. Only seconds to spare. I made it.
I was wrong.
"I'm dad. You can give her to me," I said as I approached.
EMS launched into report mode, "Sir, your daughter had a seizure..."
I rolled my hand to indicate that he should speed up his story. "I know that part, yes, yes, just get to the part where I get to take her home."
"Sir, we gave her Versed. It is a powerful sedative and may compromise her breathing. She has to go to the hospital for monitoring."
"What?" I exclaimed. "Why did you do that?" I stormed, trying to maintain composure, "Shit! Why couldn't you wait for me to get here?"
The firemen closed ranks around me in defensive positions. They had suddenly realized I was not the grateful parent who was going to kiss their cheeks and hug them and weep and thank them from saving the day. On the contrary, I was pissed!
"Sir, we were just doing our jobs."
"I get it. You have protocols. But if you take her to the hospital we lose all control."
They rolled Savannah by me on one of those ambulance gurneys. She had EKG connectors and a bandage from the injection. They had tried to affix an oxygen mask, which is an absurdly stupid thing to do with her. In her spasticity, she wriggles it off and as she rubs it on her face, it makes her angry and even more agitated. I stroked her forehead and they pushed her gurney past me. "Hey, Sweetie, Its Daddy. Everything is okay."
Tamara's car pulled up. As she approached she shouted, "I'm Mom!"
The emergency responders looked to her eagerly. I shouted, "It's too late. They gave her something that apparently paralyzes her and they have to take her to the hospital."
Tamara unleashed the F-bomb on EMS. They took a step back in astonishment. She was going to be even more hostile than me. She was wearing a ridiculous shirt she'd had to wear to an event at work that day that made her look like a truck-stop waitress. She looked fierce, like a woman that could flirt with you while you ordered Buffalo wings, but would kick the crap out of you if you touched her. In that moment, I remembered how much I loved her.
EMS tried to explain the situation. She cut them off, "Don't do anything. I need to talk to my husband."
They were in trouble now. They had an organized, experienced couple. They would not be able to bully us, or peel us apart and work on us individually. They changed tactics. The EMS told us, "I'm a parent, too. I understand."
Tamara said, "If we let you take her to the hospital, we lose all control. It will be hours or the next day before we can get her out. We have a nurse at home. She'll get better care at home than at the hospital."
I said, "Ain't that the truth. Taking her home is in the best interest of this child."
The EMS said, "I understand, but we've given her Versed. She should be monitored very closely for respiratory problems."
I asked, "Why would you give her something like that? Sounds worse than the seizures."
"Sir, we had to stop the seizure," he said, trying not to sound exasperated.
"But that is normal for her. She has twenty minute seizures."
One of the cops was trying to leave, but obviously had to make an incident report. So, as we negotiated with EMS, he buzzed around like an annoying fly, first to me and then Tamara and the school principal, who had also arrived, peppering us with questions: name, spell that, age of the child...
"What's her diagnosis?" the cop asked.
"Brain injury at birth," I said.
"Traumatic brain injury?" he asked with raised eye-brow.
I stared at him. What I wanted to say, but didn't: "Is there any other kind of brain injury, dumb-ass? No, in fact, it was Gentle Brain Injury brought to her by angels on gossamer wings while cherubs sang." Instead, I said, "Yeah, whatever."
The EMS had out his electronic tablet and asked Tamara to list the litany of medications and medical complications that have been visited upon this poor child. He'd tried me earlier, but my response had been, "What is the minimum amount of information you need to complete your form?" He did not ask me again.
Tamara ran through the long list. At the end, she added in an angry tone, "... and she has a great sense of humor. She enjoys going for walks. She loves to hear stories. She's more than just her disabilities. What else do you want?"
"I'm a parent, too," the EMS said. "I understand. I'll get my commander on the phone and see what we can do, but I advise against taking her home."
"Are you saying you'll take her to the hospital against our will?"
"We can't do that ma'am," he admitted. "We have to have your consent." Tamara had him now. It was all over. All that was left was for Tamara to finalize the terms of their surrender.
"You need to pick up her sister from school," she said to me.
"Oh, yeah, we have another child," I said. I drove off confident that Tamara would have this wrapped up soon.
By the time I picked up Ruby, Tamara called to say, she had convinced EMS to drive Savannah to our house. The bus would deliver her wheelchair.
We'd spent nearly an hour in the hot parking lot arguing with EMS, but that was better than a night spent uselessly in the ER.
When Savannah finally came through our front door, she was giggling.
Tamara came up from the sidewalk and tossed my phone on our table at Jo's. "They're going to take her home."
"You're good," I said.
"Scoot over," she said, "I want to sit next to you and people watch."
"I wonder what's happening on that bus. She normally loves the ride. You know Monday is going to be a problem."
"Ugh. Let's not think about Monday right now. Let's have a nice time away from it all."
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