Beauty and the Mustache(7)

By: Penny Reid

It’s really true what people say about Starbucks. My hometown still didn’t have a sit-down movie theater, an Italian restaurant, an OBGYN, or a Target, but they had a Starbucks. I guessed this was because Green Valley was located right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Our two main industries were lumber and tourism, and big-city tourists need their coffee.

When I made it to Knoxville, I stopped at a grocery store and picked up flowers and two get-well balloons with kittens on them. I knew based on several years of practical experience as a pediatric intensive care nurse in Chicago that unless my momma wanted to talk to me, getting near her or her doctors was going to be difficult. The flowers and balloons would give me credibility, but the kittens would get me in the door. Everyone loves kittens.

I parked the rental car in a visitor’s spot and walked into the main entrance, flowers and balloons in hand. Once inside, I crossed to the information desk, I hoped it was being run by volunteers, who tend to be easily confused by pesky things like HIPAA (privacy laws).

“Hello, Joan.” I said with a warm smile at the elderly woman behind the desk; her nametag was prominently placed, thank goodness. “I’m here to see my mother. I just flew in last night, and I’m not sure where I’m going.”

She returned my smile. “What is her name, dear?”

“Bethany Winston. Admission date was two days ago, if that helps.” My throat felt tight with anticipation.

Jethro, Billy, and the twins (Beauford and Duane) had all tried and failed to see her over the course of the last two days. They’d been told she didn’t want to see any family and had restricted access to her records. This had struck me as a little odd, yet not out of the realm of possibility.

Tired though I was, I started forming a plan B, just in case I was denied information on my momma’s location.

Plan C involved going floor to floor, room to room. Plan D involved dressing in scrubs and logging into the hospital electronic medical record. Plan E involved pulling the fire alarm.

Joan glanced up from her screen, her smile still friendly though not as wide. “You’re her daughter?”

“That’s right,” I managed to say, nodding emphatically as I held my breath and hoped Plan A would be sufficient.

“Do you have ID?”

I nodded again, set the flowers on the counter along with the balloon weights, and dug around in my purse for my ID. I handed it to her and waited, searching her face for clues as to how successful I would be.

She glanced at my ID, then at the screen, then at my face, then at the screen, then at my ID, then at my face.

She handed the ID back to me. “Your mother’s record has been flagged. There’s a note that she’s not to have any visitors other than you. I’m going to page her treating physician, but he may be a while.”

I released the breath I’d been holding. “Okay, thanks. That’s great. Can I go up?”

“Yes. She’s on the fourth floor. You’ll need to take those elevators.” She pointed around the corner. “Check in at the nurses’ station. They’ll want to see your ID too.”

I thanked her and placed my driver’s license in my pocket with slightly trembling hands.

As I made my way to the elevator, I couldn’t help but feel like everything was very, very wrong. I knew that it was a common practice to flag patients’ records, especially to keep out unwanted family members or the media. My momma’s decision to restrict access to her records struck an off chord.

My brothers lived with my mother. She took care of them. Even Jethro, the oldest, now thirty-two, still lived at home.

I briefly considered that she might be embarrassed. Perhaps she wanted to keep her diagnosis a secret because she didn’t want to admit weakness in front of the six Winston boys. I didn’t blame her. Winston men were famous for exploiting weakness.

I knew she loved them, but they drove her crazy. When I lived at home, they—as a group—had a tendency to freak out when faced with facts or reality, yet happily buried their heads in the sand otherwise. Until facts were spelled out, they were like unsuspecting hogs before Easter dinner—dirty and well fed.

I checked in at the nurses’ station on the fourth floor and received a similar inspection. This time, however, when the nurse heard my last name, her smile fell and I read sympathy in her expression.

“She’s in room 404, hon,” she said, handing back my ID and glancing at the kitten balloons. Her voice was hesitant when she added, “Have you talked to the doctor yet?”

I shook my head, my trembling hands now shaking. “No. Not yet.”

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