birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

The Color of Squash

She slept most of the day, and periodically hospital staff would come in to administer meds or wheel her off to get yet another test. They were all tight-lipped about what had been discovered or ruled out so far and said I had to wait for the doctor to get a report. When will he or she arrive?” I asked. No one seemed to know for sure. I waited from 6:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night, and, except for an hour when my sister took over my watch so that I could eat something, I stayed in the room. I never saw a doctor.

My sister and I disagreed on whether mom should stay in the hospital. She seemed to think they were holding her there unnecessarily. The lack of communication from staff only stoked this suspicion. I thought she should be thoroughly checked out—but I had seen her urine sample the day before, and I knew something was off. My sister hadn’t seen the sample, and she may have thought I was exaggerating about the dark brown color.

She was brought back from a procedure—some sort of abdominal scan—at about 7:00 pm. Her face was contorted in pain. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“While they were using the machine it seemed like they pressed too hard, and it hurts. My stomach.” She moved her hands to cover her upper right quadrant. “It hurts. I’ve got to have something for the pain.”

Her voice was thin and breaking from the agony. I called a nurse in. “Please. She needs something for pain.”

“I already ordered her an IV with pain medicine. We’re waiting for it to be delivered.”

I thanked her, and stood holding my mother’s hand for an hour, thinking medicine would arrive any minute.
She drifted in and out of consciousness, but the pained expression never left her face. Finally, the nurse came and told me that the computer system was down and the pharmacy hadn’t gotten the order. It was back up and she reordered—but they were still catching up on deliveries, so it was going to be a while before the IV arrived.

I thanked her and said, “Is there anything you can give her now? Look at her.”

“I think we have to wait for the IV.”

She left, and I sat and watched my mother trying to contend with the pain. Every muscle in her face was tight. Her eyes were squeezed shut, her mouth puckered. She was unrecognizable to me. She looked like a mask, not a human.

I stood up again and held her hand. She opened her eyes briefly, and clasped both of my hands in hers. She repeated what she had said earlier in the day: “You’ve got to get out of here. Go get the quarters from my bag. Go play the slots. You’re in Las Vegas. This is no place for you.”

I laughed. “I’ll go put some quarters in tonight when I go back to the condo. I want to make sure you get your medicine first.”

Finally, the IV arrived, and a superstar phlebotomist was summoned to find a good vein. Immediately, mom’s face relaxed, and with the pain resolved, I knew we could both get some sleep.

The next day, I arrived early and told the staff I either needed to know when the doctor would arrive or I needed someone to fill me in on what the possible diagnoses were. We had arrived at the ER a little over 48 hours before, and I hadn’t heard any report.

They seemed short-staffed, so I helped my mother into the bathroom a few times. She staggered in between me and an assistant, in amazingly good spirits for someone who had been in such monumental pain the night before. There was something that deeply concerned me, though: she was turning the color of butternut squash.

Finally, around 11 am, a doctor arrived. He looked at me first rather than at her and said, “You’re the daughter?” I nodded.

“I heard you wanted her to be discharged?”

“No, that was my sister. I just want to know what you think might be going on. What have you ruled out so far?”

“Well, to be honest, I’ve looked over results and I don’t see anything wrong. We’re thinking of letting her go at noon.”

“You’re what?” I asked. He looked surprised.

“Do you see what color she is? Also, her pee is brown, and her poop is yellow—so unless it’s Opposite Day, I don’t think you’re done with her.”

He was taken aback, but not defensive, and he stepped closer to her and with growing concern said, “Yes, I see what you mean about her color. I will order some more tests.”

He left, and my mom scolded me. She wanted to go back to the condo.


Because I Said So