In our family, flying was the norm. While most people get in cars to go visit their folks, we hopped in a plane. There were small ones at our disposal that didn’t take a lot of fuel. As a matter of fact, one day DH had come home and told me I’d never guess what had happened that day. That was true so he told me. The plane he’d rented to take me up for the first time was hangared at the airport. I asked him how he could be sure and he said the “N” number matched. He had all of his log books and looked it up to prove it. Then he took me to the airport and, sure enough, there was the plane. When we went to see about his father, we flew. A relative met us and took us to the hospital.
The sight of Grandpa hooked up to all those tubes and hoses scared DD. She pulled away when he spoke to her. His hand where the blood poisoning orginated was swathed in bandages and kept elevated by being tied to an IV pole. We didn’t take her into his room again. Part of the time he was lucid but there were other times he saw people who weren’t there. He said, “Tommie, look at your boys! The little one is on his tricycle! Oh, he fell off! How cute!” Then he saw a meadow at the foot of a mountain with a waterfall and commented on its beauty. We didn’t know if the medication caused his hallucinations or if the fever was to blame.
His condition continued to worsen. A roll-away bed was brought in so a family member could be with him night and day. My mother-in-law (he called her “Doll”) had been staying most of the time and was exhausted. She was familiar with the hospital since she’d worked there as charge nurse on the night shift since “retiring” from a hospital in North Carolina several years before. The Director of Nursing gave her all the nights off she needed under the circumstances.
The decision was made that DH would stay that night and I was to drive “Doll” and DD home. It was a frigid late afternoon in January, 1986, and spitting snow.
We started out in Grandpa’s white ’67 Chevy Impala. As we neared the bottom of the mountain, the snow got heavier. Once again, I prayed and told myself, “Don’t slow down. Don’t slow down.” I wasn’t going fast but I knew it was important to keep my speed steady. We soldiered on and were doing fine until we got to the side road that led to the house. The car started sliding and “Doll” was either too out of it to notice or she trusted my driving. I remembered how to steer to get out of a slide and made it into the little lane. When we got to the house, “Doll” had me pull up to the walk in front and park instead of taking the car into the driveway. I breathed a prayer of thanks that God had protected us.
After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to go face the day at the hospital. I’d taken DD’s pencils and paper. Ever since she was a very small child, she preferred those to a lot of her toys. She could entertain herself for hours with drawing and telling herself and anyone who would listen stories about her pictures. She had her Christmas doll that went with her everywhere. It had painted on eyes and when her aunt asked her what the baby did at night, she solemnly answered, “She looks at the dark.”
The doctors would go in daily and debride the necrotic tissue then the therapist would come in and put the hand in a small whirlpool. One day, someone put Betadine in the water and bubbles were everywhere—even in the drawer of the bedside table. The situation was not without its humor.
Grandpa started getting combative. He was having fewer and fewer moments when he was “at” himself. “Doll” was trying to get him to quit fighting having his hand tied to the IV pole when he took his free hand, made it into a fist and let her have it, full in the face. Her glasses flew off and I expected her to be upset but she knew he wasn’t himself. She laughed and said he’d probably wanted to do that for years.
There were the three brothers taking turns staying at night and “Doll” was by his side every day. It was an uphill battle and the doctors and staff were doing everything they could.
Finally, the fever broke. His eyes took on a look of intelligence rather than the wild expression they’d had for so long. The corner had been turned and he was able to understand what was going on. It was time for us to go home.
My birthday was coming up and DH wanted to do something nice for me. I was going to be 42 years old. We decided we’d go to my favorite restaurant for my birthday dinner. It was on the other side of the river and, of course, we flew. The people DH was flying for kept a vehicle at the airport. When we landed, we took it to the restaurant. I remember I had a wine spritzer to drink but I don’t remember what else I had. DH had tipped them off that it was my birthday. The waitress brought me a cupcake with a candle.
It was late afternoon when we headed back. We often liked to go up and watch the sun set and that day was no different. DH let DD take the controls and we “slipped and slid” all over the sky. He took care she didn’t do anything too out of the ordinary but it surely wasn’t coordinated flying.
By the time we got back to the airport, it was dark. The plane bounced on the runway on touchdown and that was unacceptable as far as DH was concerned. He added power and started around to try it again. That’s when I spied a police cruiser in one of the hangar stalls. I don’t know if they were just checking out the place or if they were waiting for us. At any rate, when we came back and landed, they were gone.
We went to the house after DH tied the plane down and secured the place until the next morning.
A few days later, Grandpa was discharged from the hospital. The doctor said he’d have to have a skin graft to close the gap on his hand. My brother-in-law wanted him to go to North Carolina so the surgery could take place at the hospital where he was administrator. It would be a long, hard trip by car so DH suggested he could take him there by plane. Grandpa had always maintained that he’d never fly until Jesus comes and then he’d fly up to heaven. He’d say, “If man were meant to fly, God would have given him wings” and DH would counter, “If man were meant to stay on the ground, God would have given him roots.” To everyone’s surprise (and DH’s delight) he agreed to the flight.
DH was careful to explain everything and Grandpa was thrilled with the whole process. Later, he told us the people in the control tower kept track of them the whole time. Things on the ground looked so small and it didn’t seem possible they were going so fast. He could go on for hours about how wonderful his trip was. I believe he could finally relate to DH’s love of flying.
The log book is an essential part of every pilot’s record keeping. It chronicles when he (she) has flown, where, how long it took, and any notes pertinent to the flight. The entry for that flight was one DH thought he would never make. It proved to be his last.