Photo by Mira Kemppainnen

Perfect Timing in a Crisis

Denise Thompson-Slaughter

In fall 2001, we moved from New Jersey to Indiana after Notre Dame made a great teaching offer to my husband. What with getting our two kids started in a new elementary school, learning my way around a new town, and being riveted by the horror of 9/11 and its aftermath on TV, I hadn’t had time to make new friends or find a new babysitter that first semester. The Sunday before Christmas, my husband got on his exercycle and, 10 minutes later, called out to me to phone for an ambulance. He was in the early stages of a heart attack, which he recognized right off because he’d had one a couple years earlier. The ambulance came and off he went. I was desperate to follow, but what to do about the kindergartener and third-grader? I stood in the kitchen shocked and panicky and trying desperately to think who could watch the kids. The one set of neighbors I had met were out of town. The two academic couples I’d met had already left town for the holiday.  I literally couldn’t think of anyone.

Then the phone rang. A week earlier, we had finally gotten around to posting an ad for a Saturday-night babysitter on the university’s e-bulletin board, but we hadn’t heard from anyone. When I answered, a young woman named Amber said she’d seen the ad and wanted to set up a time for us to interview her. I was so stunned I could barely speak. Finally, I said, “Are you free now by any chance? My husband has just been taken to the hospital with a heart attack, and I really want to get over there.” She gasped sympathetically and said she’d be right over, and 10 minutes later there she was! The kids loved her, she loved them, no interview necessary! It was such a gift! It seemed like a message that help would always be there when I needed it. Amber came for a few hours every day that Tom was in the hospital. She was always very reliable and became our regular sitter until she graduated and got married.

In perhaps another small miracle, after the doctor told me Tom would not be able to be home by Christmas Day, his condition improved enough that the doctor changed his mind at 6:30 Christmas morning. The kids and I had been so sad that he wouldn’t be home for Christmas, but when he called me and said he was being discharged, my joy was mixed. We’d had a major blizzard during the night, snow was a foot and a half deep, and they only had enough plow drivers on Christmas for the major highways. “We had a blizzard and nothing has been plowed–I’m not sure I can get the car through to the hospital,” I said with tears in my eyes. He said not to worry, the hospital was going to send him home in a cab–if they could get one. All I had to do was dig a path from the street to the door and have money to pay the driver. I broke the good news to the kids and, to my relief, they did not whine about shoveling snow before opening presents. They were quite satisfied to wait until their dad was home to do that. So we immediately rushed out with snow shovels and were down to the last few shovelfuls of the path just as some brave taxicab driver with chains on his tires got Tom home–just in time for Christmas breakfast.

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