Today is December 15th in the year of our Lord 2017. It is 9:30 of the morning. Thirty-eight years ago while on the evening shift at McLeod Hospital in Florence, SC, I received a phone call.
“Pharmacy,” I said.
“Rick?” came the voice on the other end.
“Yes, how can I help?”
“Rick, it’s your mother. We just took Sandi to the hospital. The baby is coming.”
“Wait! That’s not supposed to happen yet. I’m working. That’s Saturday when I’m… Wait! What? Now? The baby’s coming now?”
I looked around frantically for my tech as mom spoke again.
“Yes. Sandi started having contractions. Her doctor told us to bring her into St Francis. She’s here now. Your dad and I are waiting in the hallway for news.”
“OK! OK! I’m coming! I have to call Don. I have another hour on my shift. I’ll get there as soon as I can!”
“Calm down, Rick. She’s in good hands. Please be careful on the road.”
“I will! I will! See you soon!”
I threw the phone back into its cradle and looked for my tech. She came out of the safe.
“I’m going to have a baby!” I shouted at her.
“Shouldn’t you be in the ER then!? That’s a medical miracle! No medical costs for you! I can see it now…” She was going to continue her comedy routine but I cut her short.
“Yeah! Yeah! Funny girl. I gotta call Don!”
She laughed at me. Handing me the phone she said, “I just did. He’s on the line.” She chuckled at me.
“Hello, Don!” I shouted into the phone.
“Whoa! You don’t need to shout. What’s wrong?”
“Sandi’s having a baby! Right now! While we speak!” My voice was still in the shouting zone.
“It sounds like you won’t be in any condition to dispense meds. What if I come down and finish your shift and you can head to Charleston.” Don was a very understanding boss. He wondered why my wife had to go to Charleston to have the baby when I worked in the main hospital here in Florence. I explained it to him. Sandi had become attached to her doctors in the low country. Both her obstetrician and Derek’s pediatrician had her full trust. Since we came to Florence midway into the pregnancy she did not want to find new doctors. The ones she had were the only ones she would deal with she had told me. It was her stipulation about the move to mid-state. Her second was to return to Charleston in the ninth month to stay with my parents until the time arrived. And, now, the time had arrived. We were separated by 140 miles.
I rushed to get orders done until Don arrived. My tech kept watching over me. She caught a couple of errors in my filling of those orders.
“Calm down, Rick. You need to double check your orders. See what this says and what you put there?”
“Oh, man… Thank you for catching that. I’m kinda discombobulated.”
“It hardly shows, Rick. Why don’t you sit down until Don gets here? I can handle this for the next few minutes.” She smiled then moved to the shelves to pick the meds ordered.
“Change! I’ll need change for the parking meter! Do you have any quarters?” I searched my pockets. Nothing. I pulled out my wallet. Two bucks.
“How am I going to park?!” I was getting hysterical.
Don strolled through the door while I was in the midst of my craziness.
“What’s going on?” he said smiling. “Are you still here?”
“Yeah. Waitin’ on you and tryin’ to get change.”
“What do you need change for?” He frowned while digging into his pockets.
“The parking meters! I need change for the parking meters outside the hospital!” My voice rose with each syllable.
My eyes must have opened wider with each sound coming from my mouth. Don looked at me grabbing my shoulders.
“Calm down, Rick. Sit for a moment. Get yourself together. Here’s all the change I have. Three dimes and four quarters. And a couple of nickels. They might work. You have a long drive ahead of you. So calm it down.” His hands pushed on my shoulders firmly keeping me in the chair.
“OK. OK. I’m better. But I gotta go! I should leave now.”
Don took my elbow, lifting me from the chair. I was in a dream by that point. I still need more change. That thought kept running through my head as I floated toward the door.
“Hey, Rick!” Don shouted at me.
“Huh?” I mumbled turning at the door.
“Congratulations!” he said. “Drive carefully. You’ll want to be alive to see your new baby boy.”
I smiled. “Thanks. I will.” The next thing I knew I was in my ’69 MGB heading out of Florence.
There was a store lit up on the side of the road. I slammed on brakes and ran inside.
“Hey. I need change. All I have is two dollars. Could I get change? I’m having a baby!” It all came out in a rush.
His smile was brighter than the lights in the store.
“Congratulations,” he said. “I think I can manage two dollars’ worth of change. Boy or girl?”
“Is it a boy or a girl? Or do you know yet?” He handed me my change.
“Oh, it’s another boy,” I said.
“Well that sounds grand. You look a little disappointed.” His smile became less bright.
“Well, we have a boy. We were hoping for a girl but the sonogram said otherwise. The lady with the doohickey on my wife’s belly pointed to the screen and said,
‘Yup. There it is. The telltale sign it’s a boy.’ She pointed at the screen. ‘See that little tiny thing sticking up there. That means it’s a boy.’
“I was really wanting a girl. You know, one of each to round out the family. But as long as he is healthy, that’s what really matters.”
“That’s right,” said the man behind the counter. “Congratulations and good luck.”
“Thanks.” And I was off.
There was no traffic on the back roads. I believe my MG tooled those roads faster than ever before. A trip that usually took us 2 and a half hours was only little over 1 hour that early morning.
I arrived in Charleston around 1 or 1:30 in the morning. I came to a screeching halt along the sidewalk just outside the back entrance to the hospital. The streets were void of parked cars. I rushed to the meter coins in hand. On the meter it said after midnight parking is free. I couldn’t believe it so I slammed all my quarters into the slot. I got change for these damned meters and I’m going to use it, I thought to myself.
I ran to the stairs. As I started up, the doors opened. It was Sandi’s physician. He smiled at me.
“Hello, Mr. Croucher.” His smile was broad for so early in the morning.
“Yes. You have a fine healthy baby.”
“She’s doing well. A little tired, perhaps but well.”
“Is it a boy or a girl?”
“That’s something I think your wife should tell you,” he said. “Go on in. She needs to see you.”
“OK, doctor. Thank you.”
His smile was broadening into a grin.
“Congratulations,” he said walking down the steps.
Up I went. I found the stairwell and ran up to the second floor. My parents were there. We hugged and I asked how Sandi was. They were all smiles. Before they could speak the nurse looked out from the room.
“Is that your son?” She asked my parents.
“That’s the proud poppa,” said mom.
“Come in, poppa,” said the nurse. She was all smiles too.
I saw my wife lying in the bed her hair draped over the pillow. I ran over to her and kissed her.
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. I have a surprise for you,” she said.
“I know. You had the baby.”
“Yes, I did. I had a baby. And you know what?”
I must have looked bewildered because she laughed.
“Yes, she. We have a daughter.” Both our faces beamed the broadest smiles possible. Our hug was the lovingest hug we ever experienced. No two parents were happier or prouder.
“When can I see her?”
“They are cleaning her up now. Should be back in a minute.”
The nurse came through the door not too long after. She presented our little girl to Sandi. The blanket covered her face.
She pulled the blanket back. There asleep in her arms lay the identical image of my mother-in-law in miniature. Except her nose was purple and green.
“They broke her nose!” I shouted.
“They did not,” Sandi said.
“She looks like your mother in miniature.”
“She does not!” Sandi said. But she looked at her again with a twinge of recognition.
“Don’t you want to hold your daughter?” Sandi said lifting her toward me.
“Yes. Can I.”
“Of course you can.” The nurse took her and placed her in my arms. Sandi lay back on the pillow smiling as she nodded off.
“Well, hello little girl. I’ve waited for you for a long time. You have made your daddy a very happy man. I’m so sorry they broke your nose but I’m sure it will heal just right. You are going to outgrow your grandmere’s looks and become the most beautiful young lady in the world. I promise you that.”
She opened her eyes and smiled. The mother-in-law looks vanished and the inner beauty shown through. Of course that moment was ruined for me by the nurse waiting to take her back.
“Oh, look. She’s passing gas.”