Monday, February 18, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Five

After Sissy is sure that her email made it out to her family telling them that everything is OK despite the hardships they have faced, she sits down and plans her strategy.

Sissy knows from the public health inspectors and from Barry Jr.’s visit yesterday that whatever it is that her family had has also swept through the neighborhood. She also knows that for whatever reason she is either immune or very resistant to it. If she hasn’t caught it while nursing her family for the last couple of weeks she believes that she is unlikely to get it. But there is no need to be foolish about it either.

First she gathers together some basic PPE – a couple of masks, several pairs of medical gloves, a portable bottle of hand sanitizer, and a small bottle of aromatic oil in case smells are too much for her to handle. She ties back her hair with a bandana to keep it from flying around and getting into stuff. She puts on Scott’s work jacket and over her shoes she puts on some rubber work boots that will be easy to sanitize when she gets back.

Into the inside pockets of the jacket she puts several ziploc bags that are "care packages." In these are serving sizes of instant rice, packages of powdered broth, some homemade ORS mix, and a package of dried instant chicken noodle soup. She made these packages up before the pandemic just in case someone came to her door. Well, she will take them door-to-door instead.
Sissy plots her route through the neighborhood, leaves a note for Scott for when he wakes from his nap and tells Rose and James that she will be gone no longer than ninety minutes.

Her first stop is Mrs. Linden’s house. Mrs. Linden is 78 years young. Although the pandemic has taken its toll on her, she is still a determined and community-minded woman. She is burning some trash and talking to another of the older ladies of the neighborhood when Sissy walks up. They are trying to organize a potluck but are not sure how it will work. After a few minutes of talking the three of them come up with a "Stone Soup" dinner.

"Stone soup? Oh yes, like the story. The children used to love that one at the library story hour. Everyone brings a single ingredient. All is thrown together and then everyone eats the result. You wind up getting far more than what you originally put in."

Sissy says she will bring over a commercial-sized can of chopped tomatoes (which she had bought with the intention of re-canning it into salsa, but never got around to) and some of the garlic and root vegetables from her garden.

"Jonesie still has several of those huge pots from his wife’s restaurant. I’m sure he let us use them." Mrs. Linden mentions.

Sissy asks if they have heard of anyone in the neighborhood that is in particularly bad straights. They say all the houses in the neighborhood with kids got the virus. It is so sad, but two of the children from the cross street house "where that family lives that wouldn’t help in the garden but still tried to claim a share" died last week. Their mother said she just didn’t know what to do for them. "That bum those kids called a father couldn’t even be bothered to bury the bodies; he just sat around glaring. Jonesie and the mother did all the digging and laid out their little bodies. The coroner said it would be at least a week before they could send someone out and the mother just couldn’t deal with the idea of the bodies staying in the house that long."

"That special needs boy that lived with the Anderson’s one street behind me died. You know he had that really bad asthma. They think that the virus turned into pneumonia and his lungs just filled with fluid and he strangled on it."

"I heard Nann Cooksey say that the red headed teenage girl around the corner, the one that used to dress so trashy and ran away a couple times and final came back pregnant, has nearly died and the baby she was carrying was stillborn. "

"One of the widow ladies had a stroke. She hasn’t been in the neighborhood long so I don’t know her myself but Jonesie does. She was the one that kept pretty much to herself and wouldn’t have said boo to a goose. Well, she’s alive but real weak on her left side. Goodness knows what would happen to her if Barbara and Helen weren’t looking after her. Jonesie feels sorry for her because her family hasn’t tried to do a thing for her. Not even call. Can you imagine?"

"Alice Cleary has gotten word that her nephew that worked for TECO has died. A piece of heavy equipment fell on his legs and shattered them. The infection wasn’t caught in time and it went to his heart. Called peritonitis or pericarditus never can remember which is which. Herman used up the last of his hearing aid batteries and missed some of what she was saying."

"Oh, and Barry’s oldest granddaughter is real bad off."

That last piece of information settles it for Sissy. The next stop she is going to make is Barry’s house.

When she gets there Barry Jr. is sitting on the porch with his head in his hands. Its obvious he is under a great deal of emotional strain. It took her several tries to get his attention. And when he looks up the tracks of recent tears are plainly visible on his face. Its unnerving to see such a big, strong man reduced to such helplessness.

Everyone in their house has suffered through the virus to one degree or another. Barry Jr. and Serena, his stepmother, have been the first to recover. His dad Barry is on the mend but moving slow because his leg has gotten stiff from being in bed so long. Anne, Barry Jr.’s wife, is exhausted from caring for the girls. The two youngest girls have greatly improved though they still sleep a lot.

The oldest girl is in pathetic shape. She is deeply unconscious and her color is very bad. Her heart beat is erratic. The little girl is badly dehydrated. Barry said the ORS he got from Sissy is the first thing she has kept down in days. But now that she is unconscious they don’t know how they are going to get anything into her.

"Well, I brought more. Do you have an eyedropper? Try giving it to her with that, a drop at a time to keep her from gagging. Don’t let up until you get a cup of liquid down her. If she continues to keep that down, keep going. It’ll probably take days, but she needs to be up to at least 9 to 10 cups of fluid to help flush her system and deal with the other effects of dehydration. Once she is awake, don’t give her anything but clear liquids until it is obvious she is going to be able to keep it down. It took nearly a week before the first of mine could keep anything but clear liquids down, or without it causing a bought of diarrhea. If you have any cocoa butter or light lotion in the house you could try rubbing her down to deal with the dry skin. And I’ve got a couple of packs of honey with me. Try using it on her cracked lips, just be very sparing. You want the honey’s healing effect, you aren’t trying to tempt her to lick her lips."

She tells Serena and Anne about the Stone Soup plan that is being put together and then promises to come back later.

"I’ll bring some liniment for Barry’s leg."

"Your husband never mentioned you being a nurse."

"I’m not. I never even played one on TV." It was Sissy’s poorest attempt at humor ever, but at least everyone tried a half-hearted smile.

"Then where did you learn all of this?"

"I was a sick kid growing up so some of it I have personal experience with. My mom and dad had to try a bunch of different stuff with me when I would get ill. But a lot of this I learned from things that I read before the pandemic like Home Care for Pandemic Flu by the American Red Cross, a Bird Flu and You poster that was put out by the National Security Health Policy Center, and Preparing for the Coming Influenza Pandemic by Dr. Gratton Woodson. There was even a DVD that was put together by some older ladies, but I never managed to get a copy. It was based on the Woodson book."

The stuff Sissy has read is very basic but is specifically written to address caring for people outside of a hospital setting. Basic is about all you have at that point. As she was leaving Barry asked if Scott is planning on a run. It turns out that both men think they’ll be able to make a run by the end of the week. Barry Jr. volunteers to ride with them to help as he is still on leave from the Sheriff’s department.

One her way back to her house, Sissy stops by the Denson’s home and leaves a care package after finding out their only child, a 19-year-old home from college, has also been very sick.

The Cox family has also been down except for the 14-year-old son who has been taking care of everyone. They live across the street from Mr. Jones who has been stopping by to check on things. She leaves two care packages here and stays to show the boy how to fix the powdered ORS and broth. She says she or one of the other ladies in the neighborhood will be by in the afternoon to see if his mom needs anything. The boy is pathetically grateful. Sissy can easily imagine how hard it would have been for a 14-year-old boy to violate the modesty barriers to care for his mom. Her son would have been traumatized by that alone, much less the rest of what the boy has been faced with.

On the way home, and truthfully she is more tired from just this bit of walking than she thinks she should be, Sissy thinks about what she has seen. She is more determined than ever to see her family through the pandemic. She has tried to be as optimistic as she can for Barry Jr., but his daughter is really bad off. The little girl needs to be on an IV drip and who knows what else. To be honest, the little girl might even have brain damage or something from the dehydration. She guesses they will know more when – and if – the little girl regains consciousness.

For now, Sissy has reached her own limits and is glad to reach her own front door. She barely has the energy left to care for her own family, much less trying to do for everyone else as well.

As James opens the back door for her she asks, "Everyone else still asleep?"

"No. Everyone but Dad and Johnnie are awake. Johnnie was awake and hungry for once. Dad got him to eat some Chicken-n-Stars soup and then they both fell back to sleep."

"Did you dad eat?"

"Yes ma’am. We all ate the soup you left in the crockpot. We left some for you."

"Thank you sweetie. Who started the washing machine?"

"Rose dumped a load in. Sarah and Bekah are folding the stuff you brought in from the clothesline this morning. I tried to hang this stuff out but every time I have lift my arms over my head for very long I start feeling funny."

"I’ll take care of the wet laundry if you will do me a favor and dig out that big bottle of lineament from the linen closet."

"The one that smells so bad it burns your nose hairs?"

"That’s the one," Sissy laughs. "I’m going to run it back by Barry’s house. His leg is acting up."

"You don’t have to run. I’m sure Mr. Barry won’t mind if you walk."

"Oh brother, you must be feeling better if you’re trying to crack bad jokes. Tell Rose I’m going to make a big pile of biscuits and gravy when I get back if she’ll put my big mixing bowl and the Bisquick on the counter for me."

As Sissy takes the clothes outside, she can’t help but reflect on how grateful she is that she raised her children to be industrious and self-reliant. With few exceptions she’s always been able to count on them to help around the house without being constantly told what they need to do. It certainly makes these trying times easier than they would have been otherwise.

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