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We arrived at Ralph’s hospital room. I settled on a chair near the window, about five feet from his bed. An observer. Shortly after arriving, the nurse came in. “My name is Cheryl and I am your nurse today. Would you give me your name and birth date?”

“Ralph Kilter. October 4, 1951,” he said, after a few minutes. Then a wave a pain struck.  She waited till it passed.  “Feeling poorly, huh?” He nodded.

The surgeon, bald with fringes of white on each side, walked in, followed by four younger doctors/interns.

“Hello,” he said, “My name is Dr. Hyatt. You are Ralph Kilter?” Ralph nodded.

Dr. Hyatt turned to me and extended his hand, “And you are?”

“Ann, his wife.”

“Sorry to meet you under these circumstances.” He looked at me and then at Ralph. “We found a mass or tumor on CT. That is the source of all this trouble.” He paused as Ralph grimaced in pain, arching his neck. “You are going to have to have surgery this afternoon. We’re going to do an exploratory laparotomy and get that thing out of there. We’ll probably need to resection your small bowel. That will make this pain go away.”

“He needs more pain medicine.” I said. The doctor started, but stopped himself from responding. I knew that Ralph wasn’t going to get any more pain medication at this point. “See you this afternoon,” he said to Rick, then walked out the door, followed by his team.

The nurse then turned to Ralph, “I have a lot of questions for you. But first, would you like a flu shot?”

“I’m scheduled to see my doctor on Tuesday. I’m supposed to get a flu shot at that appointment.”

“But you could get a flu shot now and it would be done,” she said, smiling at Ralph.

“You should get the flu shot now. I don’t think you’re going to keep that appointment.” I had a hunch he was not going to be at this appointment on Tuesday. I had had a couple of exploratory laparotomies several years ago, and had been in the hospital for more than a week each time.

“Okay,” he said, giving into our ganging up on him.

I found myself tearing up. I have this image in my head of people being strong for their sick ones. Comforting them. Calm. Saying just the right thing in the moment of crisis.

I wasn’t that person, the one who remained calm through a storm. I was always the one who turned pale during minor emergencies with the kids. The nurses would ask if I was alright and needed to leave the room. Ralph was the calm one, the strong one.

How was my autistic daughter handling this? How about Patty? Patty and I had been texting back and forth, but I was afraid she was freaking out at home. Yet, I couldn’t call her and discuss my fears regarding Ralph in front of Ralph, I didn’t want to upset him any more than he was already.

I couldn’t help my tears, my fears. I found myself scared, alone, not able to be the comfort to Ralph that I felt I should be. And why didn’t this stupid hospital have any Kleenex…anywhere?