Transitions are hard for our family. Maybe that’s why we’ve been through so many in the past several years. We need to get over that...to realize, finally, that all of Life is one big fat transition leading up to the final metamorphosis from Corruptible into Incorruptible. In the meantime, we must learn how to hold all things lightly, even the mistakenly presumed immutability of our frail flesh.
I bet you don’t know many people who cry when leaving the hospital.
Yes, of course we did.
I’ll just let you imagine the kaleidoscope of emotions swirling around us as we hugged and photographed the people who have cared, not just for Katherine, but for all of us so tenderly; as we left the place that symbolizes despair and desperation, joy and victory, pain and miracles.
The old UCLA Med Center is like an abandoned shell. Its living organism has shed that old home and crawled on down the road. The lobby that teamed with life and love and tears and noise and curses and blessings is mostly silent now. The chairs we commandeered in our own “Katherine’s Corner” are pushed together against a wall. I think one of our coolers may still be out on the adjoining patio. Maybe there’s a lone Diet Coke left floating in a few inches of stale water. Everything and everyone’s moved on. But I can still hear the echo of fervent prayers and shrieks and cries and laughter as I walk by one last time.
We were able to speak with our precious Dr. Gonzalez the day before we left. He colored in a few more of the gray boxes. He described the day after her surgery to Katherine. Understandably exhausted after operating for 16 hours,* he’d gone to bed. Under such circumstances, the ICU nursing staff would not normally dare to disturb him, but he was awakened by a call. He rushed back to the hospital to see for himself what he (and everyone else) thought was a medical impossibility. When he got there, Katherine squeezed his hand. He told us that he will never forget that day as long as he lives.
Nor will any of us who were there.
Dr. Gonzalez reassured us immeasurably about Katherine’s potential for ongoing improvement, restoring my hope that “He who began a good work will continue it...” He reiterated how vitally important the prayers have been in Katherine’s healing process. He told us that before every surgery, he prays for God to help him. He does his best, and God does the rest.
How extraordinarily blessed we have been by this good and gentle man.
After our picture-taking session and goodbyes, Katherine was given a round of applause by the staff, while we family members applauded them. Then she was whisked away on a gurney into the waiting ambulance for the hour-long ride to Casa Colina. Jay was allowed to ride in the back with her. Although she’d been saying, “Pomona or Bust!” for days, Katherine was tearful as we waved goodbye. A memory of doing the same thing as the newlyweds left their wedding reception in a limo inexplicably juxtaposed itself. Not even four years have passed since that brilliant day in November.
Grace and I arrived in Pomona about 30 minutes after Katherine and Jay. When we entered her new room at the "Transitional Living Center," she was sniffling. “I want to go back to UCLA,” she mumbled to me. “Why?” I asked, astonished.
“What if they don’t like me here? What if they’re mean?”
“Oh, Katherine....you sound like it’s the first day of camp. How did that always turn out?”
Katherine loved camp so much that she kept going until they kicked her out. She was elected “Chief” of her tribe, and took on any and every job they were willing to give her. Her last year there was the only year all three Arnold girls coincided. Because Grace got seriously sick the last week, I had to go up to the mountains and stay in a hotel with her. But it also meant that I got to witness my girls’ “Chickasaw” tribe win the intense yearly competition. Another snapshot in my mind: Katherine holding up the Victory cup while her two biological sisters and her many tribal sisters jump and scream in ecstasy, faces frozen into masks of frenzied bliss. Katherine adored Camp DeSoto so much that she gave up her summer after sophomore year in college to go back as a counselor. That was really roughing it. I’ve heard from several survivors that the job, although immensely rewarding, is not for the faint of heart or weak in body or spirit.
I think that Casa Colina may be a lot like being a counselor at Camp DeSoto. Tough, but worth it.
In the days to come, I’m going to try to keep that picture in my head: Katherine holding high the big golden Victory cup, a look of radiant joy on her sweaty face.
(*There has been disparity in reports of the length of the surgery. Dr. Gonzalez, who should know, has always said it was 16 hours long, as did the Anesthesiologist with whom I spoke the first week after surgery.)