Friday, December 12, 2014

Chapter 14, part 1: Visit Oma

Daddy picked me up at the curb of the airport in a new BMW.  “Welcome home, Gigi,” he said, then immediately began loading my bags into the trunk.  “Hop in.  Your mother is at Walnut Manor helping Oma put up Christmas decorations in her room.  She thought maybe you’d like to join them.”

“I would, but …”  I bit my lip, unable to finish my thought.

Daddy met my eyes from across the car.  “You’re scared.  I understand.  It’s hard for me to see her like that too.”  His voice choked with emotion.  He got in the car and I followed suit.  

“Would you rather go home first?” he asked as he started the car.

“No, I might never make it over there if I chicken out now.”    

I studied Daddy as we drove to Walnut Manor in silence.  His hairline had receded more since I’d left home, and the temples were now tinged with gray.  

“Liebchen!” Oma crowed when she saw me, one half of her face breaking out in a big smile while the other stayed frozen.  She looked so fragile on her hospital bed.  Mom sat in a chair next to bed, holding Oma’s hand.

“Giselle just flew home from college, Mama,” Daddy said loudly.  “We came straight from the airport.  I’d better get home and make sure Kirsten and Ruthie aren’t killing each other.”  He kissed Mom and Oma each on the cheek and left.

“How are you feeling?” Mom asked me.  Concern furrowed her brow.

“I’m fine, Mom,” I said hurriedly.  I just wanted to forget about ever being sick.  “How’s Oma?”

“I’m …fine …too,” Oma said, straining to make herself clear.  “Talk to … me.  Elk River?”

“Elk River was everything you said it would be, Oma.  I love it there.  I’m even taking German classes.”

“Du sprichst Deutsch?” Her voice in German was clearer, more confident.  

“Ein bisschen,” I said, pinching my fingers together.  “Only a little.  It would be wonderful to practice with you.”

Mom and I continued setting out the decorations around Oma’s room as she directed, gesturing with her right arm.  Oma turned on the radio and we sang along with the Christmas carols as we worked.  Soon we were finished, and Oma’s increasingly slurred speech indicated that she needed to rest.  

Before we left, I promised to visit again soon.  I kept my word and saw her almost every day.  

Mom still campaigned for me to transfer to a school closer to home, but I wouldn’t hear of it.  I was on the road to recovery, no reason to drop out now.

Chapter 13, part 2: Gift for Ian

The heavy package was awkward in my hands.  It took longer than I expected for the special order to come in, and I was glad it arrived today, the last day before Christmas break, so I could give it to Ian.  I still hadn’t decided if I was going to give him the card with its written confession of my feelings for him.

I knocked on his door.  I had called ahead to make sure his roommate wasn’t there.

“Merry Christmas!” I said as I handed him the gift.  “And it’s kind of a thank you gift too.”

He ripped off the festive paper to reveal a piece of inspirational art with his favorite Bible verse inscribed on a placard at the bottom center of the frame.

“Wow, this is so thoughtful. Thank you.”

“No, thank you.  Without you getting me to all those appointments, and even my classes last month, I don’t know what I would have done. I wanted to—” I hesitated as I decided what to do next.  It felt so awkward to hand him a love letter and watch while he read it.  But I didn’t know if I had the nerve to say anything directly either.

“Aw, Gigi, you are so sweet.”  He gave me a quick hug and caught a glimpse of the card in my hand.  “Oh, did I miss the card? How rude of me.”

I pulled it away from him.  “Actually, I was hiding it.”

“Hiding it? Why?”

“Because it’s a little sappy and I was chickening out of giving it to you.”  I said and tried to keep the card away from his long reach.

“How bad could it be?  C’mon, just let me read it.”  He snagged the card at last and began to open it.

"I like you, Ian.”  I blurted just as he unsealed the envelope.

“What’s not to like,” he joked, assuming a body builder pose.

“No, I mean, as more than a friend.  That’s what the card says.”  I took a step toward him, putting my hand on his arm.

He stepped back. “Wow.  That is really flattering.  Wow.”  He turned beet red. “I wasn’t expecting this.  Wow.  I’m so honored that you think of me that way.”  

I looked at him expectantly.

“I do like you too, Gigi—but, um, not in that way.  I’m so sorry if I did anything to give you the wrong idea.”  

“Oh.  Sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”  I reached out my hand again.  “Can I have my card back please?  I’d rather you not read it now.  It’s too embarrassing.”

He held it out.  I snatched it and fled the room.

He caught up with me in the lobby and put a hand on my shoulder.  I felt so mortified, I couldn’t even look him in the eye.

“Gigi, you don’t need to run. You have nothing to be ashamed of.  Please, let’s stay friends and move past this?”

I smiled at him through my tears. “I’d like that.  Just give me some time.  Good thing Christmas break starts tomorrow.”  I sent up a silent prayer of thanks that Phoebe Daniels was driving me to the airport in Columbus instead of Ian.

Chapter 13, part 1: Recovery

All students returned back to campus Sunday night.  Lacey arranged to sleep on the floor in our neighbor’s room so Mom and Ruth could stay with me one more night.  Ian even stopped by to check on me.  Even through the fog of the painkillers, my heart leapt a little when I saw him.  

Pain woke me up just after dawn Monday morning.  I gingerly touched the bandage over the incision on my throat.  It was strained tight, and I could feel a hard, hot lump bulging out above it.  

I climbed down from my loft and tiptoed around Ruth’s sleeping bag to the edge of Lacey’s bed where Mom slept.  I shook her shoulder.  “Mom.  Mom!  Something’s wrong with my neck.”  Somehow hearing the edge of panic in my voice scared me even more.  I started to cry.

Mom groggily sat up in Lacey’s bed.  Somehow Ruth slept through everything.  

Mom inspected my neck and frowned.  “I’m going to call Dr. Curtis and see if we can get your followup appointment moved to earlier in the day. That angry red swelling doesn’t look good to me.”  

I sank back on the bed and wavered in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness, half listening to my mom work her way through the automated phone system at Dr. Curtis’s office.  

A stabbing pain and hot rush of liquid down my neck jolted me awake again.  My white button-front pajama top was stained greenish yellow and red.

“Mom!”  I screamed, waking Ruth.  

“What’s wrong with Giselle?” she said, and started to cry.

Mom whirled to look at me, then spoke more urgently into the phone while attempting to comfort Ruth with her free hand. “Yes, in fact, it appears as if the incision just ruptured.  Of course.  We can leave right now.”

Mom staunched the flow of blood and pus with fresh bandages, then helped me change into a clean shirt.  I stood and moved to pull off my sweatpants.

“You can just keep those on,” she said briskly.  “No one will care that you slept in them.”

“Okay, where are my shoes?”

“I have them here.  You can put them on in the car.”  A few minutes later we were speeding to Avondale.  The leafless trees that whizzed by the windows of the rental car were etched black against a heavy gray sky.  

Dr. Curtis came in, cheerful as always.  “So you had a little excitement this morning, did you?  You know, I didn’t want to frighten you, but I was secretly hoping that would happen.”

“I’d rather have known it was a possibility,” Mom said.  “Why were you hoping for this?”

“Well, yes, I am sorry.  I thought that the infection would likely build up again and would need to drain.  Now that it ruptured on its own, Giselle, you have a natural channel and we don’t have to insert a shunt.”

“So now what?” I asked.

“I have some good news,” Dr. Curtis said.  “We’ve identified the bacteria that caused all this.  It’s a relative of strep, but actually a very common environmental bacteria.   What’s unusual is that it got into your system.  I searched the literature and found that most cases of infections with this particular agent follow a surgical procedure.  Have you had any medical procedures in the past year that might relate to this?”

“Only dental surgery,” I said.

“Ah yes, your wisdom teeth, right?  That slipped my mind.  I’d be willing to bet that there was some error in cleaning the surgical equipment used to extract those teeth.  I don’t usually suggest this, but it very well could be a legitimate case of malpractice.  Worth pursuing I would think.  Yes.  But before we worry about that, let’s get you better.”

“How?” Mom asked.  “Antibiotics haven’t done anything so far. What do you recommend next?”

“Never fear, Mrs. Gottlieb.  Our friends at Ohio State didn’t just identify the bacteria at fault.  They found the right combination of newly developed antibiotics to kill it.”

“And if that doesn’t work?” I asked, needing to know the worst case scenario.

“Well, then, we may have to amputate your jaw to save your life.  But I’m confident it won’t come to that.  Three months of these two antibiotics and you’ll be fit as a fiddle.  I’ll be transferring your case to a colleague of mine.  He’s an infectious disease specialist and will take good care of you.”

We filled the prescription for the antibiotics and I took the first doses.  Side effects began on the way back to campus.  We had to pull over to the side of the road so I could vomit.    

“It’s not too late to come home with me tonight, you know,” Mom said as she cleaned off my face.  “I even checked with the Dean and he said you can finish the rest of the semester’s courses online.”

I didn’t feel quite ready to be without her, but I also didn’t want to go home and give up now that I had hope of a complete cure.  I was sure the antibiotics would work.  When this was all behind me, I knew I’d regret leaving school.  

“Mom,” I began, “I need—”

“I know.”  She gave me a hug. “You’re staying.”   

The three of us cried together when Mom and Ruth left for the airport that evening.




The side effects mostly subsided after the first few days, except for a strange metallic taste in my mouth.  Still it was obvious the antibiotics were working.  The lump shrank day by day. 

 Soon I no longer had to wear a bandage on my neck to catch the drainage.  The exercises Dr. Curtis showed me to loosen my jaw worked.  Within two weeks I was back to eating a normal college diet.  

Daddy immediately followed up on the malpractice suit and the dental surgeon settled in record time:  all expenses plus $10,000 for my pain and suffering.  I had fun dreaming about what I could do with that money, especially as Christmas approached.  A trip for me and my closest friends to Disney World?  A new car?  

It wasn’t all selfish … I also thought about what to get for Ian to express my gratitude and growing affection.  Soon I had the perfect idea.

Chapter 12, part 2: Thanksgiving Break

Late Wednesday night after almost everyone had left campus I stood at the lobby door, looking out into the falling snow for a sign of Mom.   At last headlights broke the darkness, and a small red sedan pulled up to the curb.  The doors opened and the interior light silhouetted not one, but two figures.  Elation momentarily overcame exhaustion and I ran out to them.

“Ruth!  I never expected to see you too!”  

“Blessed Redeemer has the whole week off and—”  Mom began.

“And I’m doing my state report on Ohio,” Ruth cut in. “My teacher said this can count as first-hand research.”

They followed me down the hallways of Warner to my dorm room sharing details of Ruth’s first plane ride.  Inside, Mom set her luggage on Lacey’s bed.  

“Where am I going to sleep?” Ruth whined.

“We talked about this,” Mom reminded her.  “In a sleeping bag on the floor.”

Ruth rolled her eyes.  “You didn’t tell me the floor wouldn’t have any carpet!  Why do you both get to sleep on beds?  It’s not fair!”

“You’d like to sleep on a bed,” Mom said evenly.  “It doesn’t seem fair that Giselle and I get one while you sleep on the floor.”

“Doesn’t seem fair?  No, it really truly totally is completely unfair!  Just because I’m the littlest.”

“Sounds like this is really important to you.  Do you have any other ideas?”

“We could go back home.”

“What about Giselle’s surgery tomorrow?”

“Oh, yeah.”  Ruth thought hard, then brightened with an idea.  “Could we go to a hotel?”

“Keep thinking.”

“You could let me sleep with you in the bed.”

Mom looked at the narrow twin mattress and back at Ruth.  “Any other ideas?”

“We could take turns.  You sleep on the floor first and then wake me up in the middle of the night and I’ll switch.”

“Doesn’t sound very restful.  What else?”

Ruth flopped down into my desk chair and folded her arms across her chest.  “You aren’t giving any of my ideas a chance.  If I can’t have a bed then nobody should have one!”  

“You want us all to sleep on the floor together?  Giselle, you up for that?”

“Sure, why not?” I said.  “It’d be like a family slumber party!  But I don’t know how much help I can be setting it all up.”

Mom and Ruth dragged the mattresses of the beds and onto the floor, creating a colossal spread of sheets blankets and pillows in the center of the room while I supervised.  

“What’s good to eat around here, Gigi?” Mom asked as she plumped a pillow.

“There’s a pizza place and a diner here in town, or if you want a chain restaurant, we could drive to Exeter or Avondale.  I’m not really hungry so whatever you and Ruth want is fine with me.”

“Can we order a big dessert too?” Ruth asked.

“Not tonight, sweetie.”

“But why not?”



Ruth continued pestering Mom about dessert all the way to the diner at the end of Main street.  She asked one more time as we looked over the menus.

“I believe that’s been asked and answered, Ruth.” Mom said.  “Now, would you like to order the chicken fingers or spaghetti?”

“Neither one.  I want the hamburger,” Ruth sulked.

“Fine.  A hamburger for Ruth, and Giselle, what will you be having?”

“I told you I’m not very hungry.”

“I’ll order you a bowl of chicken soup and you can eat what you like of it.  No wonder you are so sick if you’re not eating.  You need all the nourishment you can get to fight whatever this is.  Now I really wish I’d insisted on you coming home so I could take care of you.”

“Well, you’re here now,” I said.  I slowly slurped on the soup and managed to eat almost the whole bowl.  

The waitress came to clear our places.  “How about a slice of pie?”

“C’mon, can I Mom?  I’m still hungry after that hamburger.”

“Asked and answered.”

Ruth banged her fork on the table.  “That’s so stupid!  You never let me have anything!”

Mom put her hand over Ruth’s.  “You really wanted dessert tonight and are angry and disappointed you can’t have it.”

Ruth calmed down and met mom’s eyes.  “Yeah.  Sorry for yelling and saying stupid.  I really do want dessert but that was a rude reaction.  I’m ready for our slumber party. Let’s go!”

I couldn’t believe it.  What voodoo did Mom work to make Ruth go from whiny demands to apologizing so fast?  If I’d pulled the same attitudes as Ruth when I was nine, I’d have probably gotten a spanking or at least sent to bed without any dinner.  I might have apologized but wouldn’t have meant it, and the rest of the evening would have been spent in tense silence.  

The snow fell heavier as we left the restaurant.  Mom drove unusually slow, worried about hitting black ice.  When we got back to the room, we called Daddy and Kirsten on Skype to pray together as a family for the surgery.  Mom was nervous not only about the surgery but about driving the 20 miles to Avondale in the inclement weather.  We prayed for safety on the trip to the hospital.

Our prayers were more than answered.  The morning dawned clear.  The storm had moved on, leaving a gorgeous winter scene in its wake, and the traffic reports said that driving conditions were good on Interstate 70.    

When I first came out of anesthesia after the surgery, Dr. Curtis came to see us.  

“Quite a surprising morning!” he chuckled.  “It was the oddest thing.  As soon as I cut into your neck, pus oozed out.  With that dead tissue on your CT scan, I fully expected to find something else.”

“So it’s an infection after all?  Not cancer?” I asked.

“Yes, but obviously an antibiotic resistant strain.  I’ve sent a culture to Ohio State for testing to determine what exactly we’re looking at and more importantly, what can kill it.”

“And what was the dead tissue?” Mom asked.

“A lymph node.  It nobly sacrificed itself to save your life.  If it hadn’t shut down and closed off the way it did, we’d be looking at a systemic problem.  I doubt you’d have made it this long.”

“Praise God!” Mom cried, clutching my hand and pulling Ruth close to her side.

The trip back home was a blur, fogged by lingering anesthesia.  Mom and Ruth stopped at an ice cream parlor and left me sleeping in the car.  As the anesthetic wore off, I realized that even with the pain from the incision, I felt a thousand times better.  

Between my codeine-induced naps, Mom, Ruth and I watched Netflix on Demand or just talked. The thick blanket of white left behind by the storm compounded the eerie silence that enfolded the empty campus.   

“Mom, can I go outside and play in the snow?” Ruth asked after the first movie ended.

“Yes, but stay close to the window so we can see you,” Mom instructed.  

“How’s Oma doing?” I asked after Ruth headed out.  

“She sends her love.”

“So she’s doing better?”

“In some ways.  She still can’t move her left side though.  Her doctor thinks she’s made as much progress as she’ll ever make.  Your father and his brothers have agreed to have her go to Walnut Manor.”

“Why?” I’d been to Walnut Manor with our youth group caroling.  The place gave me the creeps.  Death felt so close there.

“She needs a lot of assistance, honey.  It’s too much for any of us.”  Mom looked at me with concern.  “I can see this is upsetting you.  Let’s change the subject. Did you know Kirsten finally changed her look?”

"I thought something was different about her when we Skyped last night.  What happened?”

“Apparently there’s been some kind of rumor going around the high school that she and Heidi are, um, more than friends.”

“That’s ridiculous!”  

“I know, right?  I’ve never heard anything more ludicrous.  Anyone who knows her knows that she’s been dating Charlie forever.”

"That’s crazy.  Do people believe everything they hear?”

“Anyway, my point was, that as soon as the rumors started, she went to Old Navy and bought a whole new wardrobe.  No more mens’ pants or ugly shirts.  She even dyed her hair back to it’s normal color and is letting it grow out.  She looks so pretty and feminine now.  If she had just listened to me in the first place …”  

“Mom, you know nagging doesn’t work, right?”

Mom laughed self-deprecatingly. “You’d think I learn, especially where Kirsten’s concerned.  It’s like the best way to get her to do anything is to tell her I’d love for her to do the opposite. You on the other hand … Well, what I was going to say is that you’re my good girl, but … let’s just say I appreciate that I’ve never had to worry much about you.”
 

Chapter 12, part 1: Patient Wait


“Gigi, how are you feeling today?” Mom had been calling twice every day since the oral surgery to check up on me.   She was worried and so was I.

Cleaning out my wisdom tooth sockets had done nothing.  Different courses of antibiotics had done nothing.  The lump just kept getting bigger.  Ibuprofen was no longer controlling the pain, and the acetaminophen with codeine made me nauseous.   

“About the same.” The lump was the size of a golf ball, and it was pressing on my jaw so that I couldn’t even open my mouth wide enough to bite into a sandwich.   My diet was limited to soup and smoothies, but I wasn’t that hungry anyway.  I’d lost 20 pounds since starting college.

By some miracle, I was still keeping up in my classes.  I even attended most of the CSF meetings, even if all I could do when I got there was languish on a sofa.  Maybe my body needed to rest, but my mind and spirit needed the normality of going to class and the support from fellow Christians more.
 
“Your father and I are praying for you.  Kirsten and Ruthie too.  I put your name on the list at church, and my Bible study group asks me every week for an update.”

“Everyone here is praying too. I give a weekly update at CSF meetings.”

“I still think you should be staying in your room and resting.”

“Mom, I can’t.  I’d go crazy with worry and fear.  I need to stay a part of campus life as much as I can.  Dr. Curtis said …”

"Yes, how did your second appointment with the specialist go?  Did you actually get to see him this time?”  

“I liked him.  He’s pretty funny.  He even thanked me for bringing him such an interesting and challenging case to diagnose.”

"So you have a diagnosis?”

“Not exactly.  The CT scan they took last week showed necrotic tissue in my neck.  He still doesn’t know if it’s an infection, or …” I paused, not wanting to say the word that terrified me most. “Or something worse, but either way, the dead stuff has to come out.”  

"Something worse?  You mean cancer, don’t you?  Oh, God.”  Tears were in her voice.  “Is it a major surgery?”

“Just outpatient.”  To me, that sounded less serious, and therefore, less scary.   

“When?”

“We talked about scheduling it for the day after Thanksgiving so I don’t have to miss any classes.  I don’t know how I’m going to get there though.  Ian’s been my chauffeur all this time, driving me to every appointment, but he’ll be going home.  I mean, everyone is.  It’s a major holiday.”

“You should come home too.  We could do the surgery here.”

“Mom, we’ve been over this.  If I come home I’m afraid I’ll never make it back.  I don’t want to be the girl who went away to school and couldn’t hack it.  I want to at least finish one semester.”

“You got sick, honey.  That’s not in your control. Everyone will understand.”

“But I’d still feel like a failure.  Besides, I want to stick with Dr. Curtis.”

"In that case, I’m coming there.  I can’t let my baby go through major surgery alone.”  

I’d been trying so hard to stay strong, but all of a sudden I realized how much I wanted my Mommy. “It’s just outpatient surgery.  But it will mean a lot to have you.  Even if I’m not a baby anymore.”  

“You’re never too old to need your mother.”

I had to change the subject or I’d start crying.  “Oh, before I forget, I want to do something to thank Ian for everything he’s done for me.  He’s been so willing to help, not just giving me rides, but always asking if I need to talk or do something to cheer me up.  He’s turned out to be such a good friend.  Sometimes I wonder if it could be more.”  

“Is this the same Ian you told us about at the beginning of the year?  Didn’t you say he was annoying and odd looking?”

“He is a little, but it’s kind of endearing once you get to know him.”  He was so good, so godly, so kind, so wise, I hardly noticed his unkempt appearance any more.  But I was reluctant to tell him of my feelings. “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar got stuck in my head whenever we were together.

“I knew it, you’re going to fall in love and get married and you’ll never come back from Ohio. Just like your grandmother.  You know she met Opa at Elk River.”

I’d been so wrapped up in my own problems, I’d forgotten about Oma.  “How is she?”

“A little better I think.  She started talking again, although it’s very hard to understand her.”

“I wish I could visit her.”

“I’m ready to buy your plane ticket tonight.  Come home and let us take care of you, honey.”

“Mom, let’s not go over that again.”

"Had to try.  You’re handling this all so well, Gigi.  I’m so proud of you.  Call me tomorrow, ok?”

“I will.  Good night.”

“Good night.”



A week or so later, I jolted awake at the creak of the door.  The book I’d fallen asleep studying slid off my stomach and crashed to the floor from my loft bed.  

“Sorry to wake you, hon,” Lacey whispered as she handed the book back up to me.  “How are you doing today?  Feel up to CSF tonight?”  

“Not sure.  Just walking back from class took so much out of me this afternoon.  Could you just give them an update for me?”

“Sure I could.  I know how much it helps you to be around people though.  How about I ask Ian to give us a ride?”

Before I could answer, she had Ian on the phone.  Of course, he’d be happy to help.  

“Better get bundled up,” Lacey said.  “It’s cold out there tonight and Ian says the heater in his truck just went out.”

Lacey insisted that I ride shotgun while she crouched on the jump seat behind us.  We sped around the campus roads.  

“Thanks for driving us, Ian,” I said.  “It’s so icy out there!  I clung to the hand rails all the way down and up the hills this morning, they were so slippery.  As it was I ended up on my rear more than once.”  

“Ian, sounds like Giselle’s hinting that she’d like a ride to class tomorrow too,” Lacey said.  

“That’s not—,” I protested.

“I’m ashamed I haven’t thought of it sooner,” Ian said.  “We’re both going that way anyway, might as well carpool.  Plus, I’d be glad of the company.”

He’d be glad of the company?  I couldn’t help wonder if there was a hidden message in that.  Maybe Ian was developing feelings for me too.  Why else would he do so much?  

Wednesday I stayed on the Quad, buying soup from the snack bar in the Student Center during my break between classes.  After my afternoon class,  Ian drove me back and dropped me off at the curb of Warner Hall.  

“Pick you up tomorrow at ten till nine?” he asked as I climbed down from the truck.

“You don’t need to,” I said.

“Don’t be afraid to accept help,” he said.  “It’s one way God shows his love.”

“Fine, see you tomorrow.”

Thursday morning, we walked in to Religion 101 together.  

“Thanks for the ride again,” I said to Ian as we took our seats.

Breanne leaned over.  “The ride?  Something going on between you and mountain man?”

“He’s just a friend, helping me out because I haven’t been feeling well.”  I felt myself blush.  I hadn’t wanted to talk about my health problems with anyone outside of CSF.     

“He may be a friend now, but looks like you want him to be more?” she said.  She sounded odd, maybe disappointed?


Breanne’s words rung in my ears as Ian continued giving me rides to class more mornings than not.  Did I want him to be more than a friend?  Did he think of me that way?  I surreptitiously studied him for clues as to his true feelings.  

As the date of the surgery approached, though, such trivial issues fell away under the weight of pure exhaustion.  The last few days of classes before Thanksgiving break arrived and for the first time all semester, I told Lacey I planned to skip the weekly CSF meeting.

Ian and Lacey tried to drag me from my room anyway. “Gigi, are you up to taking a walk with us?  We have a little surprise for you,” Ian said.

“Depends on how far we’re walking.”

“Not far, I promise,” said Lacey.

“Where are we going?”

Ian’s eyes twinkled. “It’s a surprise. C’mon.”  He grabbed my hand and led me down the hall.  I liked the feel of his hand in mine.

As we turned the corner to the lobby of Warner Hall, I saw a room full of people — the CSF meeting had come to me.  Tacked on one wall was a giant banner that read, “Get Well Soon.”

I was stunned speechless at the outpouring of care.  All I could get out was, “You guys!”

Phoebe stood up and addressed the group.

“We’re all here tonight to hold Giselle up in prayer and encourage her as she prepares for surgery on Friday.  Giselle, the banner is yours to keep.  Everyone signed it with their favorite scripture or a prayer or a joke to cheer you up.  You’ve been such an inspiration to us all, your faith and sweet spirit as you patiently wait for healing.  I’d like to open it up now to anyone who wants to share some words of affirmation for Giselle, and then we’ll spend the rest of the time laying hands on her in prayer.”

I was overwhelmed.  I couldn’t help crying as my friends and even people I didn’t know that well shared their affirmations.  Would they be saying such kind things if they knew the real me?

Then during the prayer time I couldn’t help worrying: Did I have faith enough to get God to heal me? What if He was the one who allowed the sickness in the first place?

Chapter 11, part 2: Ride

Friday morning I sat out by the curb in front of Warner Hall, waiting for Ian.  He pulled up in his beat up brown monster truck and jumped out to walk around and open the passenger side door for me.  He wore stained grey sweats and an unbuttoned grungy plaid flannel shirt-jacket.  A hairy belly stuck out below the torn undershirt.  His face was stubbly, his white blond hair matted and sticking out in all directions.  

“Ready?”  He wove his hands together to make a step.  “I’ll help you up.”

I wrinkled my nose as I climbed past him into the car.

“Sorry about the way I look.” He sniffed his pits and exhaled sharply.  “Whew! And smell.  This morning I got up early to pray, then lost track of time.  All of a sudden, God was like, ‘Uh, Ian, aren’t you forgetting something?’ and whoa, two hours had gone by without me noticing. It was either shower and shave, or get you to your appointment on time.  We can roll down the windows if you want.”

“No, that’s OK,” I said, but was relieved when he ignored me and cracked them a bit anyway.

The trip to the dentist office took only a few minutes. I didn’t have the energy to make small talk, and Ian seemed content to drive in silence.

When we got there, Ian took off his coat and found a seat in the lobby while I signed in at the receptionist window.  The smell was even stronger without the jacket.

“You don’t have to wait,” I said as I walked toward him and sat down a few seats away.  “I don’t know how long this will take.  I could have them call you when I’m ready to be picked up.”

“Not a problem, don’t mind waiting.  I don’t have Friday classes anyway.  Besides, it wouldn’t be right to leave you here all alone.”

“You could probably go home to freshen up and be back before I’m done.”

“Whoa, I can take a hint.   Is it really that bad?  I’m so ashamed!”  He hung his head and covered his face in an exaggerated display of humiliation.

I couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not.  Even if he was a weird slob, I would feel terrible if I had hurt his feelings.  I reached out to touch one of his hairy arms.  The hair was surprisingly soft, his arm muscular. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

He looked up and winked.  “Aw, you’re so sweet.  Don’t take things so literally, Gigi.  I’ve got thicker skin than that.”  

A petite woman in purple scrubs opened the door to the waiting area.  “Miss Gottlieb? We’re ready for you.”

I hesitated and looked at Ian.

“Don’t be scared.  You’ll be fine.  I’ll be praying for you, Gigi.”

They used local anesthetic rather than put me under all the way for this surgery.  With the pain temporarily gone, the muscles in my jaw relaxed some, at least enough for the dentist to force my mouth wide enough for his instruments to fit.  Although it didn’t hurt, it was still excruciating to feel the pressure and hear every noise as they cut open and irrigated the back of my mouth.  Thankfully, it didn’t take very long.

“All right, Miss Gottlieb.  That should do it.  You may return to the lobby.  I’ll be out in a moment to discuss my findings.”

Ian sat reading a Bible.  He had changed into clean jeans and a black turtleneck.  His hair was wet and slicked back, his face clean shaven.  The cologne or aftershave reminded me of Quan on prom night.  He still wasn’t exactly my type, but I could see how some girls would find him attractive.

“Hey, you clean up good,” I said.

He looked up, surprised.  “How did it go?”

Before I could answer, the dentist came out.

“Would you and your friend like to come back to my office?”

Ian jumped up and held the door for both of us, and looked at me questioningly.  I shook my head to indicate he should stay behind.  Alone, I followed Dr. Foster down a narrow hall.  Hopefully he had good news.  This could be the turning point.  
   
“Miss Gottlieb, I have some good news and some bad news,” he said as we settled in.  “The good news is that your wisdom tooth wounds were healing nicely, and had no debris in them.”

“I’m glad to hear that.”  That meant whatever was going on, it wasn’t my fault, even if I had missed a few swishes here and there.

“The bad news is that leaves us without an answer.  We still don’t know what could be causing your mass or the fever.  This case appears to be beyond my expertise.  I’d like to refer you to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist, Dr. Curtis in Avondale.  He’s amazing at what he does.”  

I scheduled the appointment with Dr. Curtis for the following Friday.  Ian picked me up in front of Warner again, freshly showered this time from the look of his wet hair, clean-shaven face and the alluring scent of his cologne.  Wait, did I just call Ian alluring?

I had been thinking of him a lot in the past week.  It took my mind off worrying about my health.  How kind he was to stay and wait for me during my surgery.  How spiritual he was to get up early to pray and get so involved in a conversation with God that he’d lose track of time.  Suddenly his extra pounds and crooked teeth didn’t seem to matter so much.  

Maybe I’d had so much trouble getting boyfriends in the past because I was setting my sights on the wrong type of guy?  That guy Brad, and even Ewan and Rhys were out of my league.  I’d never considered Quan either until he confessed his everlasting like for me, and that turned out pretty well.  At least until his parents made him dump me.

“Did you do anything for Halloween?” I asked him when we pulled onto Interstate 70.

“With all our reading through the Old Testament, I got to thinking about why we celebrate so many secular holidays,” he said.  “So I did some research and decided to celebrate only Biblical ones.”

“What do you mean by Biblical holidays?  Like Christmas and Easter?”

“No, no.  First of all, Jesus probably wasn’t born on Christmas at all.”

“He wasn’t?”

“Think about it.  John the Baptist was born six months before Jesus, right?”

“That sounds right.”

“And we know approximately when John the Baptist was born,” he said.  He quoted from the story in Luke and explained how the Hebrew calendar lined up with ours.  “So, add nine months to that, and you know what month old Johnny was born.  Six months from that puts Jesus’ birthday in the fall some time.  One cool theory I read said it was likely during Sukkot.”

“Sue-coat?”

“The feast of tabernacles.  Jesus is God in flesh, and a tabernacle is a tent.  God tabernacling with us, get it?”

“I’ve never heard this stuff before.  Tell me more.”

Ian was more spiritual than I had imagined.  How did he know so much?  Theology was fascinating to me, and the more he talked about it, the more fascinating he became too.  Maybe when I was feeling better I’d ask Lacey if she thought I would have a chance with him.

I didn’t see Dr. Curtis that visit.  His physician’s assistant took my case history and then sent me for a CT scan to see what was really going on in my neck.  I’d have to go back the next week to get the results and discuss a treatment plan.