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The last leaf

Grace abounds during a parent’s hospital stay

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The pestilence angel, no respecter of persons vaxxed or unvaxxed, winged her way to the right address, didn’t knock first, and unpacked her assorted wares: fever, congestion, fatigue, joint aches, and head pains. My father, 97, got a double portion.

As God is wont to do, He allowed the deep magic its mischief and did not hinder it, instead sending at once an emissary of the deeper magic to counteract it. You are familiar with “Quick, paint this blood on your lintel and sit tight till the plague over Egypt blows over.”

Dr. Rita is a fellow church member in our largish congregation, a mere face in the hall to me. She appeared on the doorstep unsummoned and carrying a duffel bag with oxygen canister inside. She entered a blizzard of germ warfare (my husband and I were also positive), sat down, and took my Dad’s hand for over an hour.

We phoned his physician, and when a five-day treatment in the hospital was prescribed, I saw it coming: What COVID would not accomplish, loneliness would. Sure enough, it wasn’t 24 hours before the floor nurse called bright and early in the morning, sounding like the sorry kidnappers in O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief” begging their hostage’s father to take the boy back—they would pay!

He was inconsolable. Where was he? Where was I? No visitors allowed, I explained, especially daughters with full-blown covid.

He was inconsolable, feeling “deserted,” he said. Where was he? Where was I? No visitors allowed, I explained, especially daughters with full-blown COVID. You’ll have to stick it out. Christians know that “for God a day is as a thousand years,” and this is also true of my father.

Later, Rita phones and says she’s chatting with my father in his hospital room and would I like to do FaceTime with him. It worked like a charm and reminded me of the story Anne Lamott tells in Operating Instructions of her friend whose 2-year-old locked himself in his room in a rented condo on Lake Tahoe where the rooms are especially dark because it’s a casino town and people want to sleep in all day after gambling all night. And after trying everything else—like keys that she knows don’t work—Mom gets the idea to slide her fingers under the door and somehow gets her son to do the same. It calms him down till he’s freed, and Lamott ends the story by saying about the strategy, “It isn’t enough, and it is.”

The next day Dr. Rita texts: “I can go over around 6 today if that is helpful.” And she does.

But that still leaves three days.

So next day, when Dr. Rita isn’t on the schedule to work at the hospital, there she is again sitting bedside with my father. And now she’s doing FaceTime with all my children and my brother in Florida. And she gets this idea to move him to a different room where he has a window, and she texts me: “If anyone wanted to wave from outside they can come over, I will get him to the window.” And she sends me the scene of the street from outside his sixth-story window and I find the exact spot, and we wave and I pantomime hugs and dancing on the sidewalk.

Which reminds me of another O. Henry story called “The Last Leaf” that is about a pneumonia epidemic, oddly enough. In this tale an older artist saves the life of a younger artist who has contracted the disease, by giving her the will to live. He knows his bedridden friend is convinced that when the last leaf falls outside her window, she will die. So the elder painter, who has never made it big in the art world, paints the masterpiece of his life before his own death, of pneumonia—a realistic autumn leaf on the wall outside his friend’s room.

It is the thinnest of threads connecting to reality, but it is enough. The sick man recovers. As does my father. And once again the deep magic proves no match for the deeper magic.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.


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