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ECHO HILL STUDIOS
ARTIST: ANN KAHL


I I I

The Challange

Two years ago, Mr. Smith had driven along the Krick's Hotel Road around Hallowe'en, and had found himself face to face with a wall. He slowed down just barely in time to escape crashing into it. Someone had pulled up a bunch of cornstalks, and placed them across the road, standing straight up on their mudball roots. Mr. Smith pulled around them and continued on his way.

About twenty yards farther on was another row. Again he pulled around it, this time having to use the ditch.

Now he remembered that night. But tonight, Mr. Smith felt differently. His life had been going better. Things seemed to be falling into place, even when it had seemed painfully obvious they couldn't. Yes, Mr. Smith was feeling very good tonight as, at about the same time of year, he drove along the Krick's Hotel Road. And there ahead of him, looming out of the dark, was a wall. He slowed down. He stopped. He got out of the car. He stood before one of the corn stalks and touched it. Then he parted two of them and stepped through. There was nothing on the other side except dark road ahead. He lifted four of the cornstalks and tossed them into the field. Then he got back into his car, and eased through. He drove on.

Sure enough, up ahead loomed another row of cornstalks. He stopped his car and got out. This time he looked at his car as though he were measuring something. He moved closer and looked through the cornstalk wall. The road up ahead was clear. He could see far enough to know that lights would warn him in time if another car approached. He got back in.

Then he backed up. He kept backing until he had backed through the path he had made in the first row of cornstalks. He backed up enough to get a good running start. He positioned his foot on the accelerator and checked for lights ahead. Except for the row of cornstalks fifty feet ahead of him, the road was black.

He stepped down on the accelerator and held the wheel straight. The wall was coming fast. He ducked and shut his eyes as he felt the car crash through. It was like plunging through a paper drumhead. He kept going. This time his eyes stayed open, and he didn't duck. He watched the second wall speeding toward him. There was no side path with which to skirt it. Nothing but barrier, and then the rush.

On the other side, a little way up the road, he stopped his car. His heart was pounding, his head was spinning and he knew he was alive---more alive than he had ever been before.

Mr. Smith opened his glove compartment and removed his flashlight. He got out of his car and inspected it. It was slightly scratched. Then he got in and carefully backed up. He backed to the first row of cornstalks and stopped and got out again. He walked to the side of the road and found the four cornstalks he had tossed into the field. He replaced them across the road. Then he turned around and drove carefully home.

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HOSPICE

On a crisp October day, several yers ago, she had her first hospice patient. Hospice hadn't arrived in the county as yet, so this was something of an experiment. Her supervisor at the V.N.A. assigned her to a woman she herself had done some caring for five years or so ago. The supervisor spoke of what beautiful people these were.
"If there is anything you need," she said, " they will be sure you get it.."

At ten o'clock Monday morning she arrived at the house. A nurse was already there, to show her what to do. On the bed was the patient; a once pretty, now beautiful woman, with almost no hair. They greeted each other. Her eyes were a clear blue, her nose beautifully shaped and her mouth full of warm expression. Her skin was like porcelain.

Now, the husband and the nurse lifted her and sat her up in a gingerly way, and she stood, in her hospital gown, with its undignified back opening, holding herself up with one hand in her husband's belt buckle.
From bed to commode, from commode to wheelchair, it was a long, difficult trip. During the stop on the commode, the dressings were removed and replaced, and during the process the hospice worker had to leave the room, pretending she'd left her car in gear. The cancer was like make-up in a horror movie.

By the end of the morning she loved her.
The next day she took her one of her own children's baby blankets. It was wool and warmed the patient's legs as her other robes couldn't.

For a few mornings, after the bath, they watched game shows on television together and had tea. After that the husband always had two cups ready for their tea. but television became boring as the days passed, and the pain became worse. There were too many drugs; too many side effects.

The County didn't have hospice yet, but she told the husband about the books she had read, mostly Kubler-Ross, and about the Brompton Mixture, and he asked her how to get it. She suggested he ask the head of the hospice planning committee, and he asked if she could have her call him. She did, and with three doctors consulting, they got the Brompton Mixture.

Within two days the difference was amazing. A natural bowel movement resulted from the removal of one side effect of all those pills, and that in itself was enough to raise one's hopes. Also, apparently restrictions of blood circulation had been coming about as a result of the pills, because there was a change from almost constant deep chill, to a problem of keeping "My Lady's", as she called her, covers on, and a complete re-evaluation of what the temperature should be in the house.

Also, the pain was under better control, partly because the patient felt herself to be in better control of decisions and the process of administering the medication.

But something had happened at a hospital during a visit other than the last of several short stays, that repeated itself in the course of the latest visit and these first days home. "My Lady" had been placed in a room with a vaporizer, knowing that she had caught cold from them in the past. She had asked to have it removed, but perhaps it had been forgotten. It stayed on all night, and the next morning she had pneumonia.

Now it had happened again, and they had no sooner gotten her comfortable and feeling a sort of new lease on life than a rattling sound began in her chest. In the meantime, her legs had given out on a bed to wheelchair trip, and she had fallen. The weakness was growing, and there was nothing left with which to fight pneumonia. There was clarity, gratitude, and great appreciation and love; just not the strength for a new battle.

By now the time she spent with them had changed from two hours to four hours in the morning, and she had begged off afternoon work for the Home Health Agency so she could go back to her patient each evening. This came about in answer to the husband's reaction to the fall. He was caught in a sea of despairing that he could continue to keep her from an institutional situation. They worked it out together, and after that she saw his strength grow. In fact, within two days of the Brompton's Mixture she saw another great change from despair to confidence take place in him.

But when the lungs began to rasp and the energy to draw the congestion out of them waned, a great gasping began one night, and the next day her patient was no longer at home.
Officially, she had lost her patient. But each day she went to the hospital. The husband ranged their son, himself and her throughout the day so "My Lady" was seldom alone. She was running down and it was difficult to communicate. We mostly just sat quietly holding hands, watching to see if water was needed, or coughing and spitting, or her face wiped off. Everything was peaceful .

On Thanksgiving Day her husband called to say no need to come today, his sweetie had died that morning.

The next day she went to see him, and the next, until the relatives came. Two of her own daughters, at two different times, waiting outside in the car for her, were greeted by him and cried with him. Her youngest said, after meeting him, "Now I know angels exist."

The next Tuesday she went to the church. The husband said, "I knew you'd show up."

She sat by herself, but while the coffin was borne down the aisle, the young son's hand touched her shoulder as he passed by.


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(continue to "A LUNAR MONTH IN GREECE"




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