Aharon reaches his father and Miriam and tells them about Ima’s condition.
* * *
When Aharon saw Miriam rushing down the hallway his relief was palpable. It wasn’t that he thought Miriam was particularly competent — he was just glad not to be alone. He flinched at the sight of Zalman trailing after her, although Aharon knew that out of the three of them Zalman was the best in a crisis.
“What’s going on?” he said now. Miriam’s face was wet with tears.
“I’m not sure. I’m waiting for the doctor,” replied Aharon.
“Where is he?” Zalman demanded.
Aharon debated whether to duel with Zalman, but he had no strength for it. He sat down again and turned to his sister.
“You okay?” he asked.
“What happened?” she sobbed. “Where’s Abba? Why did they only call you and not me?”
“Don’t take it personally,” said Aharon. “The EMT called me because he knew me. I learned with him in beis medrash.”
Miriam nodded, still sniffling but pulling herself together. Zalman stood tensely by, ready to do battle, while Miriam sank down into the chair near Aharon.
“What are we going to do?” she wailed. “Ima can’t be sick.”
“They told me in the ER she was almost niftar,” he said.
“Aharon, for heaven’s sake,” Zalman scolded. Ever since the accident he’d been more solicitous than before, more attentive, and more protective. He hated to block his wife off from her family, but they were not the ones who had to live with her when her feelings got hurt. It seemed safer and better for all of them if they kept their distance from the mother ship.
“Did you call Tzippy and Sruli?” asked Miriam.
“What are they going to do here?” Aharon said, his words clipped. “They’re just going to drive us crazy.”
Miriam sat with her bag clutched tightly on her lap. “Zalman, can I have the phone, please?”
Instead of giving it to her, Zalman dialed the house. Tzippy picked up.
“Huh, long time no hear from,” she said to Zalman.
“Tzippy, your mother’s in the hospital, Memorial. Please find Sruli and come right away.”
“What? No, she told me she’d be home this afternoon.”
“What are you saying?” said Zalman. “Do you think she planned to get sick?”
“Why are you calling me?” asked Tzippy. “Where’s Miriam? Is Aharon there?”
“They’re here. Aharon’s the one who got the call. We’ll tell you more when you get here.”
She was about to say, “Who put you in charge?” but Zalman had hung up.
The three of them sank into a worried silence. The beeps and alarms were sealed behind the glass, and provided a dim noise.
“Stop that,” Miriam said.
“Stop what?” Aharon asked.
“Bouncing your knee up and down like that. It’s making me nervous.”
Aharon glared at her, but stopped. Miriam took out a Tehillim and tried to say some, but she kept losing her concentration.
The wait continued, tense and still silent.
Tzippy showed up a short while later, with a tray of coffee. They reached for them as Tzippy took in her surroundings.
“If all that happened is that Ima passed out, why is she in the ICU?” she asked.
Aharon breathed heavily. “No one knows. Feigenbaum — the EMT — told me that her vital signs were poor.” He paused a moment and looked at his sister. “What exactly are vital signs?” he asked.
Zalman turned away and rolled his eyes so Aharon couldn’t see him. Miriam turned to face him. “We learned it in first aid. Temperature, blood pressure, pulse and respiratory rate. That’s how many breaths a person takes per minute.”
“Oh,” Aharon nodded. “Well, one or all of those things is poor.”
The head nurse came over to them then. “Family Fishman, correct?” They nodded like obedient school children.
“You can see your mother now, but very briefly.”
“But how is she?” asked Tzippy. “What’s happening to her?”
The head nurse looked at the adult children who surrounded her, paused and took a deep breath. Then she began. “The organs of the body, the liver, the kidneys, the pancreas — they all help keep the body going, and if they aren’t working then the body doesn’t work either. Her organs are failing. That’s all we know for now.”
“Is there anything we could do?” said Miriam.
The nurse nodded toward the sefer Tehillim Miriam held. “You could pray,” she said. She opened the door to the ICU and waved them in. “Five minutes,” she said. “No longer.”
They crowded around their mother’s bed until Zalman told them to stand back.
“Hey,” said Aharon. “You mind waiting outside? This is a family matter.”
“He’s family,” said Miriam, but this time, Zalman understood. “I’ll be right outside.”
Just then Aharon spotted a white-coated figure in the anteroom and dashed out, leaving Miriam and Tzippy standing beside their mother’s bed.
“I read that people can still hear you when they’re in a coma,” said Tzippy.
“She’s not in a coma,” Miriam snapped. “She’s fine. She’ll be fine.”
A nurse was checking Hindy’s IV line, and she nodded softly and smiled. The two women looked so lost and helpless.
There was suddenly a commotion as the doctor hurried in holding a sheaf of papers in his hand. “Nurse,” he barked, “Get the stomach pump right away!”
The nurse leaped into action. “The stomach pump,” she echoed and hurriedly left to get it. Aharon was holding his hand in front of his eyes, shaking his head back and forth. He’d heard what the doctor had said, but he couldn’t believe it. There was no way his mother could be suffering from an overdose.
To be continued . . .