As the summer gives us its last hurrah and temperatures climb into the high 80s and a couple of 90s, Ken has had to stay in the house in the air conditioning. For some MS patients heat is lethal. It brings on fatigue that can be almost paralyzing. And Ken succumbs to such weather.
I was elated when hia sister called on Saturday and said she and her family, along with Ken’s parents wanted to visit on Sunday. We both were excited for their visit. Sue suggested we go out for lunch, but I knew Ken’s reaction to the summer temperatures wouldn’t be favorable, so I suggested I make lunch and they bring dessert.
Unfortunately I was right about Ken’s reaction to the heat. He woke suffering from a bought of fatigue. It wasn’t the worst case he ever had, but from the time he woke to the time he went to bed, he fought to keep his eyes open. I made him lie down after breakfast with the hope he might fall asleep for a little while, but he couldn’t sleep. You see “fatigue” is very different than being tired. Fatigue doesn’t mean you’re sleepy; it means everything becomes difficult–even keeping your eyes open. Movements are slowed. Even forming words and speaking can be difficult. In a word fatigue SUCKS.
By the time the family arrived, Ken mustered enough strength to enjoy the visit. Like always, he found happiness just being with his family. When they left around five in the afternoon, Ken relaxed and retired to his chair. As we watched numbing reruns on television, he didn’t fight the battle of fatigue any longer. We went to bed at eight o’clock, and as soon as his head hit the pillow, Ken fell asleep. I stayed awake and held his hand. I love these quiet moments.
APPLE PIE AND STRUDEL GIRLS – BOOK 5 (CONTINUED)
Lacrosse, Wisconsin-Winter—As the war dragged on, shortages of everything started to appear at home. Gasoline was rationed. Rubber was almost impossible to come by–even baby rubber pants disappeared. Grocery shelves held fewer choices. By now sugar completely disappeared so Rosie experimented with other sweeteners like sweetened condensed milk, honey, molasses, corn and maple syrup. Tips to use the sweet substitutions appeared in “Good Housekeeping” magazine. Coffee, tea, and cocoa grew scarce too. Even butter was rationed in the “dairy state” of Wisconsin. The shortages occurred because people used butter for frying food when other cooking oils grew in short supply. Because the military required tin for many uses, any food previously sold in a can were now packaged differently. Dry soup mixes and other dry foods appeared in paper packages as food manufacturers searched for other ways to preserve food.
Even though rationing proved to be a challenge, publications like “Ladies Home Journal” reminded Americans they received more food than most people around the world. One article reported: “We get ten times as much beef as the people in England, twenty times as much as Russians and fifty times as much as the lucky ones in China.”
After a year at war, even clothing needed to be rationed. Rosalie saved her stamps to buy fabric to make new clothes for the children. She saved everything Gina outgrew for baby Angelo. She hated dressing the baby boy in pink, but she told herself the child didn’t realize his clothes used to be his sister’s. Even safety pins to fasten his cloth diapers became scarce.
Rosie stayed busy with two babies in the house, but time still passed slowly without Angelo. Days grew into weeks and weeks grew into months. But the day a telegram arrived with four black stars on the envelope, the world stopped for Rosalie. She gasped when the Western Union man handed her the official-looking correspondence. Her hands shook. Her breathing became labored as she staggered lightheaded into the kitchen. By now Americans understood four black stars on a telegram envelope meant a loved one perished. Tears blurred her vision as she read the words, “Your husband sustained wounds in battle.” The message didn’t state Angelo was missing or had been killed, so why the black stars on the envelope?
Rosalie packed up the children and ran to her parent’s house. She handed the telegram to mother without a word. Mrs. Lombardo recognized the four black stars and read her daughter’s distraught expression before she opened the envelope.
“What does this mean, Mama?” Rosalie cried. “Is he dead? The telegram doesn’t say that; but the black stars . . .” Rosalie choked on her tears.
Her mother held Rosalie close and let daughter sob before her take-charge personality emerged. Mama Lombardo sat Rosalie down in an overstuffed living room chair with a clean handkerchief. “You sit, sweetheart. I am calling The War Department in Washington D. C. I will get answers for you. I promise I will keep calling until they tell us what happened to your sweet Angelo.” Mama Lombardo marched into the kitchen like a general and picked up the phone which hung on the wall.
“Thank you, Mama.” With Mama in charge, Rosalie allowed herself to collapse in a chair.
Mrs. Lombardo finished her call and returned to Rosalie.
Rosalie searched her mother’s expression. “What did they say?”
“Nothing. They will call back with an answer.”
“They don’t know? How can that be?”
“I do not know, Rosalie. The woman I spoke had no information. We must be patient.”
“How can I be patient? Angelo might be dead.” She screamed.
Her mother shook her. “Screaming at me will do no good.” Her mother softened her tone. “You must be strong for the children.”
Rosalie slumped into a chair and looked up to her mother. “I’m sorry, Mama. I’m just so scared.”
“It’s okay, Rosalie. I will get answers. I promise.”
Days went by and no news came from the War Department. Rosalie wandered around in a state of mourning. In a dream she saw her beloved husband cut down by enemy fire. She woke when he hit the ground with her nightgown wet with sweat. Was Angelo dead or did he lay in some godforsaken jungle hospital? Existing in limbo was hell. Having to accept his death would drive her to the brink of madness. Her head was filled with terrible scenarios, and no matter how hard she tried to direct her thoughts to something else, she found herself thinking or praying for her husband. Did Angelo suffer injuries that would damage him for the rest of his life? Was he in pain? Was he getting adequate treatment? Will he come home or will they send him back into action? Is he with you, God? Is he dead? Oh God, why don’t they tell me what happened to him?
A week after the telegram arrived, Rosalie’s phone rang. A male voice asked, “Is this Mrs. Angelo Armani?”
“Yes.” Rosalie held her breath.
“I understand the telegram you received is confusing.”
“I’m calling to tell you your husband received serious injuries on the island of Guadalcanal. The medical staff airlifted him to a hospital in Sydney, Australia. He will recuperate there until he can be moved to the hospital at Pearl Harbor.”
“What kind of injuries did he get? Will he be sent home?” Rosalie asked.
“I am sorry, ma’am. I gave you all the information I have. I am sorry I can’t tell you more.”
“Thank you, sir.” Rosalie hung up the phone and a sense of joy replaced her mourning. He’s alive! Dear God, thank you for hearing my prayers. My Angelo’s safe. Rosalie took a long deep breath.
Sydney, Australia – October—Bobby and Angelo left Guadalcanal by plane from the airfield they helped confiscate from the Japanese. Almost a month passed since they received their devastating wounds, but now the Americans controlled the island, and they could get better medical treatment in Sydney.
Angelo requested Bobby be assigned to e-vac with him, and the doctors agreed because both men seemed to be recovering faster than anticipated since they were together. After a two hour flight, they boarded an ambulance, which transferred them to the base hospital. The ambulance took them to a “real” hospital with brick walls, soft beds, clean white sheets, and pretty nurses. No longer did they lay and listen to the sounds of battle in the background. This location was quiet and safe.
Angelo allowed himself to think he might have a future with his family waiting at home. Bobby was unsure what he might do, but for now not having to sleep on a flimsy cot was good enough for him. The first night at the Sydney hospital brought them both a good night’s sleep, a luxury neither of them experienced on Guadalcanal. They learned their hospital stay would last at least a month before they would be strong enough to be transported to Pearl Harbor for rehabilitation.
The boys found the temperate climate of Sydney a pleasant change from the island “paradise” they just left. Ocean breezes floated through open windows. Seeing tropical flowers from the room raised a sense of calm in Angelo. He realized Guadalcanal taught him he never would minimize the small indulgences life offered . . . like clean air, good food, and conversations with his best friend. It took some time for Angelo to deal with the guilt they carried for leaving so many of his buddies behind where they faced bugs, dirt, grime and death until the war was over for them one way or another. Angelo already decided he would go AWOL if his future orders put him back into combat.
Like Angelo, Bobby stopped feeling guilty for getting wounded so quickly. He no longer believed himself to be a failure as a soldier thanks to something his sergeant told him the night before he got wounded. “Son, war is not glorious. I can’t think of any thing as inhumane as war. But we didn’t start this fight. If you get wounded, you fight back to live another day. I guarantee you; Americans will win this ugly bastard of a war even if it means we have to kill every Jap on the planet.” Bobby killed and nearly got killed; he volunteered to serve his country; he put his life in jeopardy; he should have died on that godforsaken rock, but instead he would live with the consequences of battle for the rest of his life. He did his part. Now he wished to go home, and the sooner the better.
After being at Sydney hospital for a week, Angelo’s letters finally caught up with him. He always shared his news from home with Bobby because mail call rarely blessed him with a letter. Rosalie usually included pictures of the children which Angelo taped to the wall behind his bed, and today he got a letter from his wife. He opened a letter from Rosalie first.
My dear, sweet Angelo,
I hope this letter gets to you when you are well enough to read it. I got a telegram this week with four black stars on the envelope, and I went crazy thinking I lost you forever. Perhaps I shouldn’t write this, but I mourned from the depths of my soul because you didn’t get a chance to raise your darling son.
I ran to Mama’s house, and she took charge like I expected and needed. I know I complain about Mama being bossy, but when she goes into action she is a force of nature! She picked up the phone like some kind of general and called the War Department in Washington to get answers. A week later I received a call and learned you sustained serious injuries, but they didn’t tell me anything else. The news you are still alive lifted such a heavy weight I wanted to dance.
I pray every day you will be home soon. If you’re thinking my love will diminish because you are not the same man who left me a year ago, you just put those silly thoughts in the garbage. We will deal with the aftermath of your injuries together. I love you until eternity. My arms long to hold you, sweetheart; my lips yearn to touch yours, and our love will only grow deeper than it is already.
Rest and get well so you can come home soon. I love you more than my own life, Angelo. Remember that as you heal.
Sydney, Australia – November—As Angelo and Bobby recuperated in the quiet atmosphere of the hospital, their wounds as well as their souls healed. Doctors removed Bobby’s body cast and put him in traction, but soon afterward the doctors grew concerned his inactivity made him a prime candidate for developing pneumonia. Unfortunately, an outbreak of the potentially fatal disease broke out in another wing of the hospital, so medical personnel took extra precaution to keep the problem contained.
Getting patients out of bed and getting them to move proved to be a good tactic to battle pneumonia. The resident doctor assigned to Bobby’s case constructed a back brace so the young soldier could get out of bed. The uncomfortable contraption enabled corpsmen to get the boy upright, but the first time Bobby wore the brace, he collapsed from the pain. The next time he wore the brace, the nurse gave him a shot of morphine to counteract the pain before the corpsmen attempted to lift him up on his feet. They repeated the procedure every day, and every day Bobby grew stronger standing longer each time. Eventually he took a few steps with assistance.
While Bobby went through this daily agony, Angelo left the room in his wheel chair. He couldn’t watch Bobby suffer the excruciating therapy with the brace; witnessing Bobby’s pain in full bloom was too hard to take.
Bobby proved his bravery by never complaining or quitting. Every day he endured the pain and weakness when the corpsmen put him on his feet. He figured if President Roosevelt lived with polio and needed assistance to stand behind a podium to deliver bad news about the war, he certainly could endure a brace.
Angelo dealt with a different king of pain. Doctors removed most of the shrapnel from his leg and belly, but a few metal fragments remained in his body. The doctors told him after he regained his strength, they would need to operate again. In the meantime, his pain was managed with drugs. Doctors assured him his progress was good, but they worried about him needing so many drugs. Most thought Angelo should be strong enough to be walk, but like Bobby, he could only stand for a few minutes on his own. Angelo feared he might never walk again.
After spending a month in Sydney, A hospital ship named the USS Comfort took Bobby and Angelo to Pearl Harbor. The voyage from Sydney to Oahu took two long weeks. This voyage offered a very different experience than their first cruise on a ship. They enjoyed the peacefulness of the ship rocking them to sleep at night. During the day they spent time sitting on deck, drinking in the fresh sea air and warm sun. When the ship docked at Pearl Harbor, lines of ambulances waited to transfer the new patients to the naval hospital on Oahu. This hospital concentrated on physical and occupation rehabilitation along with strenuous weight lifting to rebuild dormant muscles.
After the first day, Bobby and Angelo considered the therapies to be a new type of torture.