Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Nine: "Wayfaring Strangers" (Pt.5)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 10th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As our sojourn in South Carolina continues my wife and I head into a deep downward spiral which begins with my unexpected headache. And then the dominoes fall . . .

The Downward Spiral

It was after these accumulated events that our downward spiral began. Just like a domino falls, first one then another, and then another, that’s kind of how it started for us that October until looking back we just sort of had to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and look up at the heavens to see where all the rain was pouring from into our lives, because periodically from time to time I started to get the feeling that somebody was really pissed at us.

The headache started on a Tuesday morning about halfway through my second class, of that I’m certain. It was a couple weeks after Mr. Jones' classroom observation turned botched instruction on irrational numbers, I’m thinking perhaps third week of the month. There was a teacher’s meeting scheduled for after school that afternoon, and as the morning wore on and as the headache grew worse, I started to fear that this was going to be something I wasn’t able to control.

By the time lunch period rolled around I couldn’t eat, but since we teachers had to do lunch duty with our class, I still sat with mine in the lunchroom, and they could tell I wasn’t feeling well, and so they cut me some slack with the noise. They also knew if I wasn’t eating something was out of kilter.

By the time I got back to the room after lunch the headache had grown to almost unbearable proportions, and I’d finally developed a fairly pronounced temperature along with it. The only problem was that I knew there was absolutely no way to get a substitute teacher to cover my last three classes on that short notice, so I was stuck. I informed my incoming students (and they could easily tell by my face) that I did not feel at all well, that they were to treat their period as a free period and do homework or talk quietly I didn’t care which, but it would be quiet, because if it wasn’t when I recovered I would exact vengeance from whomever misbehaved, and I was taking names! And with that I laid my head down on my desk and vegetated for each of the last three classes that afternoon until the final bell rang. And each class was good. They knew something was terribly wrong.

As soon as school let out, I immediately went to the office and asked Mr. Jones to be excused from the teacher’s meeting that afternoon. He started to object, but then he noticed my face and my eyes, and so he reached over and put his hand to my forehead. I believe he burned it.

“Go on, get outta here!” He fairly well spat out the words.

I asked to use the office phone. He nodded. I called Nancy at the academy which was located right across the street from our doctor’s office. I explained what was going on with me, and I asked her to meet me at the doctor’s in five minutes.

Allendale had only two doctors who shared an office, and as usual the office was crowded to almost overflowing when we walked in a few minutes later. I walked up to reception and explained my predicament, and the nurse told me not to worry as she wrote my name down. Doc Warren would work me in.

The air conditioning was blowing nice and cold that afternoon, and it felt good on my hot head and shoulders as we sat there waiting to be called. After about only fifteen minutes, a nurse called me back and handed me a glass cup asking for a urine sample. After I provided this to her, I returned to the waiting area.

After about another ten minutes in the waiting area I began to notice that one by one the patients were being called to the receptionist, and they began leaving the office until there was no one left but Nancy, Cubby, and me. It seems they were all being rescheduled for another day, and we were about to get a firsthand lesson in how emergency medicine worked in a small town.

I was taken back into an examining room and put up on the table, but just before the doctor could get there the nurse told me that I had a fever of 104.5, and that was after sitting in the cold air conditioning for fifteen minutes. It may have been a tad higher prior to that. Then Doc Warren quickly entered, a tall, broad-shouldered middle-aged gentleman with dark brown hair, and he started looking and poking and prodding, asking pertinent questions. Then he started moving my neck . . . my very stiff neck. My stiff neck which as the afternoon had worn on was getting to the point of becoming almost immobile side-to-side, and cement up-to-down. And it was then that the dreaded words escaped into the air: Eastern Equine Encephalitis.

He could not be sure, of course. Only a possibility, but all the symptoms were there, and it was the right time of the year. That’s why they had chased everyone from his waiting area. I needed a lumbar puncture to tell for sure. To do that, I needed to go to the ER. However, I was now going to get that lesson in small town emergency medicine.

Allendale actually had a hospital, one which it shared with Fairfax County way out on the southeast side kind of in between the two counties, quite new actually. It was a one story affair, and what it lacked in staff it made up for in cleanliness, neatness, and earnestness. It’s ER was not staffed 24-hours Monday through Friday, and Doc Warren knew this, and he was about to accompany me out there to perform my lumbar puncture himself. On the weekends, the ER was manned by whatever medic they could get to come over from Parris Island (the marine base) about 50 or so miles away.

Doc Warren asked Nancy to get me to the car, and he told us how to get to the hospital making arrangements to rendezvous again in a few minutes. Since we were going right by Roger and Georgie’s we stopped quickly, and Nancy ran Cubby in to drop him off. Thank God for family!

We pulled into the hospital just after Doc Warren to find him unlocking the door to the ER, and so we followed him inside. While the good Doc scrubbed, one nurse helped me change while the other nurse, they actually had two, led Nancy up front to get me checked in. Doc Warren reappeared in the examining room, and I was placed on a gurney and taken into another room nearby where he got me rolled over onto my left side and rolled up into a ball. He explained that he would give me a little local anesthetic in the area where he would put the needle, and after doing so he did a lumbar puncture with relative ease like he’d done a thousand of them. Who knows, perhaps he had. It was like butter. He was good.

The nurse wheeled me out of the ER and into a room and then the real waiting began. I was one sick puppy. They tried giving me some chicken broth . Nope. Couldn’t keep it down. A geyser. Straight up and everywhere! Okay, perhaps a little water maybe. Nope that didn’t work either when they tried it a little while later. Another geyser! But they needed to bring my fever down. They were extremely worried. I was still running over 104, and though my vitals were strong, my brain wasn’t going to able to tolerate this kind of heat very much longer before I started losing precious brain cells. Encephalitis was deadly serious stuff, we all knew that. It was written on the wind down here, and the doctor didn’t even need to explain it to me. It had been whispered to us in dark, hushed tones from among the first moments we’d rolled into town. Watch that you don't get bitten by a tick.

And then I thought, was I actually dying? I certainly couldn’t feel any worse.

Every hour or two they took my temperature. 104.4 . . . 104.3 . . . then back up to 104.4 . . . then down to 104.2 . . . back up to 104.3. It was erratic those first 24 hours despite all the antibiotics they were pumping into me. And then finally . . . a little light. 103.9 . . . and it would remain below 104 in the 103’s and kept slowly dropping, and the doctor knew the therapy was working. It was only then that both he and his partner came into my hospital room and told Nancy and me together that the results had been negative for Encephalitis. On the one hand that was a good thing, but on the other the bad part of it was that they were fighting an unknown enemy, and thus all they could do was simply throw the most powerful antibiotics of the day at it and pray that it worked. The fact that I’m still here to write about this testifies that their course did.

My fever would finally drop below 100 to 99.8 late Friday morning, and I was allowed to go home for the weekend and return to school the following Monday. But before I did, the evening before, Thursday, I had finally been feeling better enough to lie there in my hospital room alone and do some serious soul searching. The hospital was pitifully quiet since there were only three of us patients in the entire place. A good place for quiet contemplation.

It was October 1978 and I was 27 ½ years old, and I needed to take an inventory. Up to that point in time I’d fallen from the back of a moving car under mysterious circumstances, been tied like a prisoner to a clothes pole and left to bake in the afternoon sun for awhile in our backyard, been broken of being left-handed, had my two front teeth knocked out in front of dozens of horrified onlookers at a potluck, and all of that before the age of five and at the hands of my own mother. I’d survived all of her harangues verbal and otherwise, her beatings large and small including the mother-of-all beatings to become a man, a man with a physical and emotional attraction to other men who was married to a wonderful woman who could have passable sex with her whom I loved dearly and who at the very least was my best friend, and who was the mother of my child and had nearly died giving him life, this child whom I loved dearly after burying his earlier brother now knowing he would have no others, and as I lay there in that hospital bed with tears streaming down my cheeks having just escaped death from what was being described as a fever of unknown origin I felt totally abandoned by God for the first time in my life, and I could understand Jesus saying at his death as recorded in Mark chapter 15, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” But I held no answers, only questions which would persist, and the furrows in my brow would grow with time and my hair would get gray very fast . . . what precious little was left of it.

And It Doesn't Get Any Better

The hits just kept on coming.

I’d been out of the hospital perhaps three weeks when the old Comet threw a rod and died right in the middle of the road. I suppose it had been inevitable at some point. She was just an old junker getting us around, and she finally took her last breath and gave up.

I was able to get a loan from the local bank and purchased what I believed to be decent used car, a six year old Ford Gran Torino with low mileage. But after only one month we found ourselves on our way to Augusta, Georgia for a Saturday shopping outing with Nancy at the wheel when it suddenly went limp in her hands just before we’d gotten to the bomb plant. The vehicle veered left off the road coming to rest on its roof. Thank God for seatbelts. As we crawled out of the car, all of us safe and sound with just scratches and bruises, I found myself looking to the heavens wondering if I’d been abandoned by my guardian angel. What I failed to see at the time is that the angel was trying to tell me something . . . a lot of things actually.

An ambulance appeared shortly almost out of nowhere. A passing motorist with a CB must have radioed it in, and we found ourselves back at the hospital ER I’d been in so very recently, although this being a Saturday the kind medic from the marine base assured us that we were all okay, and a friend gave us a lift home. Carless again.

And then the deep funk really started setting in. The insurance adjuster went out to the wreck site, and, of course, it was totaled. But having been through one of these rollovers before I was pretty sure what he was going to find underneath. It turned out to be broken ball joints. The car had never been serviced properly by its prior owner, and the one thing I’d neglected to do was get it checked out by a mechanic when I bought it. It looked like a good deal and the old lady was really nice, and, well, you know . . . I got took. And it almost cost us our lives. And I felt really stupid. Stoopid!

The insurance company paid the bank loan, but we still didn’t have a car, and so I swallowed my pride and called back home to my dad and asked to borrow a small down payment so I could buy a decent newer vehicle from a respectable dealer. He agreed. I borrowed Roger’s car and went over to Beaufort, and we bought a year old Toyota demo station wagon with 600 miles on it. That car would prove to be one of the best cars we would ever have for the next nine years and 107,000 miles. No more messing around!

But the damage was done. We were spiritually sick. And my love affair with South Carolina, the seacoast, and Allendale such as it were was drawing to a close.

The Malaise and The Only Cure

The second semester began in 1979 and even though we had a new car we weren’t making many meetings at the Kingdom Hall up in Barnwell. I’d never been made a ministerial servant there. It’s not that they didn’t want to; it’s just that we missed so many meetings. We didn’t have a lot of friends there, and found ourselves close to only two families in particular, and that just wasn’t like us. We were really gregarious, but not here. Something was really wrong with us here. Looking back on it, I can honestly assess that we were not spiritually sound, but I wasn’t in a frame of mind to fix it, and nobody in the congregation stepped up to help us fix it either, so there it is. Nancy and I just floundered. What happens when you flounder? You eventually fall down. And that’s where we were. Very often during this last year in Allendale . . . off and on . . . flat on our faces, picking ourselves up dusting ourselves off, carrying on.

We’d gone through my serious illness in the hospital with the FUO; nobody from the congregation had visited or helped. We’d gone through the accident and the loss of our vehicle; same result. ALONE. At some point you start wondering where are your real friends when you’re in need. Dear God, I’m asking these people for help and they’re not hearing me. Back home they would be hearing me.
And so we began to think a lot about returning home . . . We really did miss all our friends in the Leslie Congregation.

About halfway through the second semester we placed a phone call to Nancy’s mom and dad up in Union County to bounce the idea off them. Funny you should ask they said. Dale and Polly were tossing the idea out loud that they might like to move up to Michigan. And so the idea was given birth for a tandem move.

I announced to Mr. Jones that I’d be leaving at the end of the year. No love lost there. However, my colleagues both white and black were sad to see me go, and I would indeed miss them. They were a good group of teachers all trying their very best under difficult circumstances.

At the end of the school year between the old beer truck and one small U-Haul trailer, two households relocated North, one from Allendale County, and the other from Union County. And with that, we who had come to feel like wayfaring strangers traveling through a world of woe in South Carolina put an end to it all and drove toward the light of Michigan with hope in our hearts that something, anything might spring in our favor at last.

(In the next installment, Chapter 10 finds us back home again in Michigan, back in the bosom of our friends, but temporarily living with kin and seeking new digs and a job. Here we go again. What's old is new again!)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Fever, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Memory, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, Sickness, Sicknesses And Diseases, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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