Partly Taken Road Trip Recap

I decided this morning I should make a record of our recent trip to Texas and back, if for no other reason than to jog my memory at some point in the future when I ask, “What year did we make that trip to Houston and Corpus Christi?”

We had long planned to drive to Corpus Christi to attend a July 26 launch party for an anthology of authors with connections to Corpus Christi. Our itinerary, which was to be extremely flexible, was to include a stop at my brother’s house fifteen mile outside of Huntsville and a visit with my niece in Houston. From there, we would go to Corpus Christi and after a couple of days would meander back northward, possibly through Central Texas and to Dallas, where we’d stay a day or two with friends.

Those plans changed when my brother was rushed to the hospital in Huntsville, then transferred to Methodist Hospital in Houston for treatment for an abdominal aortic aneurysm. After a couple of days in the hospital, they sent him home for a few days until he could be scheduled for surgery on Tuesday, July 24.

We decided to drive to Houston on July 24. We arrived at the hospital around four o’clock in the afternoon, where we met my niece in the cardiac surgery family waiting room. She told us that his surgery had been completed around 2:30 and he had been taken to the cardiac ICU, but not long afterward he had been taken back into surgery due to internal bleeding. We waited and waited and waited with only one or two “updates” that indicated he was still in surgery and that the doctors were trying to stabilize him. Finally, around 8:30 (I think), the surgeon came out to give us an update. During the initial surgery, he had removed my brother’s spleen because it was in the way of the surgery required to repair the aneurysm.  It had become apparent during my brother’s short stay in the cardiac ICU that something was terribly wrong, so he was taken back into surgery. The doctors opened him up again and searched for the source of the internal bleeding, while giving him transfusions of more blood.

The sutures used to close the wound had apparently failed when my brother’s blood pressure spiked. After they found the source, the surgical team closed the wound and monitored my brother’s status for quite some time. The second surgical intervention lasted several hours, perhaps even longer than the first one. The doctor said my brother had been stabilized and would be taken to ICU again shortly. Soon, another staff member came out and told us we should be able to go to ICU in fifteen minutes or so. That came and went and we decided it was time to go in, but when we entered, we learned it would be another ten minutes. Finally, we were allowed to go in. My brother was in a section of the ICU that had around fix or seven beds. He was hooked up to all manner of tubes and wires and an incredibly array of medical apparatus. He was marginally aware we were there, but he went in and out. The anesthesia was still in control of his consciousness. Finally, we left for the night. My niece stopped on the way home and bought an assortment of wonderful tacos from a place called El Rey.

The next morning, we went in to see my brother again. He was still marginally conscious and still had a breathing tube in, so he could not talk, but he was aware of our presence and squeezed our hands when we squeezed his. We left for Corpus Christi after noon and got as far as El Campo before we stopped for lunch at Mikeska’s Bar-B-Q. Despite the signs claiming the place had BBQ that was famous all over Texas, we thought the food was on the very low end of mediocre, lousy enough that we’ll make a point to never again stop at any place claiming to serve BBQ under the Mikeska name.

We got to Corpus Christi around 4:30, maybe a bit earlier, and checked in to our motel, which is in an industrial area a good fifteen minutes from downtown. We decided to go exploring, so we drove up Leopard Street to Padre Island Drive and, from there, to a shopping area where South Padre Island Drive intersects with South Staples Street. We had a target in mind: my wife brought two sacks full of books that she had planned to sell at Half-Price Books in Houston, but she learned online that there was one in Corpus, so she decided that was the place to go. We did. She sold half of her books for $10.50 and left the rest of them, which the company would not buy, to be given away to libraries or schools or other such place in need of books. From there, we slid over to a Chinese restaurant called Taiwan for dinner. I had an acceptable meal of Chinese food and my wife had a Filipino dish called Pinakbet. She liked it. I thought it was fine, too.

The next morning, we had breakfast at the motel, then went out wandering. We cruised Ocean Drive, then headed to Padre Island. For lunch, we headed downtown, where we ate at Water Street Oyster Bar. I liked whatever it was I ate, but I don’t recall just what I ordered.

After a bit of a rest back at the motel, we headed out to Hogemeyer’s Barbecue Barn, the site of the launch party. We had assumed that the light hors d’ouevres and refreshments would reflect the type of restaurant where the event was held, but we discovered that the owners of the restaurant simply let the event organizer use the space. The organizers brought in some appetizers including sandwiches and hummus. Interesting mix.  We met a few people, then sat down to nibble. Soon, the readings began. The organizer announced that the readings would be in alphabetical order, but that soon proved not to be the case. I wanted to read, but did not know the plan, so I just sat and listened as a number of people, apparently selected by the organizer in advance, read their pieces. Finally, I motioned that I’d like to read. So I did. But I only had three minutes, so I couldn’t even begin to read the entire story. I decided to start in mid-story, possibly making it to the end; I didn’t. I was alerted that time’s up before I finished. Oh, well.  The evening was soured a bit when I opened the anthology to see the editor’s comments under the heading “Forward.”

The event ended by eight o’clock and I was still hungry. We stopped at a convenience store and I bought a bag of chips and a six-pack of beer to top off the night.

We left for Houston the next morning, Friday, expecting to go to my niece’s house and then to the hospital. As we were making our way there, she called and asked if we’d be willing to meet her and her husband at their favorite Mexican place, Teotihuacan.  Well of course! So we made our way there, using our GPS and good sense to guide us. I had intended to buy lunch, but Ignacio beat me to the punch as he was heading out the door to go back to work.

We then went in to see my brother, who was still in ICU. He was more aware and alert than he had been a couple of days earlier, but still in a fog. It was a bit difficult to know when he was fully conscious of what was going on around him and when he was hallucinating or confusing dreams with reality. But we communicated. By then, his breathing tube had been removed, so he could speak, but his voice was very weak and feeble. Clearly, though, he wanted out of ICU. He hated the noise and the constant activity around him and the other patients, but he knew he had to stay until he was well enough to be moved to a private room. On Saturday afternoon, July 28, he got into his room. He was quite happy to be out of ICU, though he was still very weak. I told him I would go back to Houston when he gets out of the hospital and will stay with him at his daughter’s house until he is able to get by without my help.

We hit the road moderately early the next morning, reaching Texarkana around 1:00 p.m., when very strong thunderstorms whipped through the area. We couldn’t see well enough to keep driving, so we pulled into a gas station/convenience store and bought some fried chicken and a jalapeño for lunch (to accompany the Scoops version of Fritos and jalapeño bean dip we’d bought along the way). After the rain slacked off a bit, we hit the road again and make it home about three hours later.

Since we’ve been home, my niece has been sending us updates on my brother’s progress. At this stage, we have no idea when he might be released from the hospital. The medical team is trying to get his insurance company to authorize time in in-patient rehab, but we don’t know the status as of yet. Last night, when I called my brother, he said he expected to be in the hospital for another week or two, followed by in-patient rehab, but that may or may not be based on good information. He’s still not completely free of having fuzzy thoughts and confusion; last night he said he had been on the phone with someone trying to sell him insurance when I called earlier and got a busy signal. Somehow, I think it’s unlikely that an insurance salesman called his hospital room to try to sell insurance. But there you go. That’s the story as it stands.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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