The potential lightness of not dying

After reading a comment by @HollyWoodward about "lightness" in writing, here is a piece that attempts it. Does it have enough weight to reflect the importance of the subject, but not so much as to be lugubrious? Enough detail to convey the scene, not so much as to get bogged down? Other Calvino elements? You tell me.


"On vacation, I went over to visit my father-in-law. He (70 years old) and his younger brother (60 years old) were outside, working on a stone retaining wall - taking the stones down, removing the sagging dirt behind, rebuilding it. In the course of dumping a wheelbarrow of the dirt, they discovered a yellowjacket nest in the front yard.

The problem was that the yellowjackets did not appreciate the invasion of privacy. Uncle G got bitten, just once, on the arm, and it almost killed him.

He was sweaty and flushed when we got there, about 30 minutes after the bite. He attributed it to the work and the heat. We went in to sit down and he took an allergy pill. Coming back from getting a glass of water, he staggered to the chair, then practically fell into it. He then told us that he had always reacted badly to bee stings.

My wife ran out to get some liquid antihistamine. Uncle G looked terrible, but was adamant that he didn't want to go to the hospital. His arm was swelling, and the bite was turning bright, bright red. Sweat was pouring off his face and his voice started to sound funny. He took off his glasses, and I asked if his vision was blurred. "Yeah... I don't feel ... feel... don't...." That was when his eyes rolled up and he went unresponsive.

My f-i-l immediately said to call 911. I did so, and handed the phone to my father-in-law. While he gave them addresses and particulars, I tried to bring Uncle G around with cold water to the neck. He was slipping into shock. He was already having trouble breathing. Once someone goes into real shock, the heartrate and respiration plummet. In short, the odds of true coma and death go way, way up.

I had him spell his name, made him tell me the make and model of his car, exhorted him as a marine to stay with me until the EMTs arrived. He was slipping away. I swept the piles of magazines, pens and other bachelor crap from a side table and elevated his feet.

That was the right thing to do. At first, he stayed glassy-eyed and disoriented, but came around with more cool water and the new position. He was in a rocking chair, which let him lean back more. He was able to speak, but his voice was getting thick and burred. He was having trouble breathing, and he started to cough.

His throat was starting to close up. Looking back on it, I would estimate that he had perhaps two minutes before he would be unable to breath at all. After that, full shock would set in.

Fortunately for him, the EMTs arrived. They asked a few questions, took some vitals and got him onto an oxygen tank. They loaded him onto a gurney, reversing the position I had had him in. He went from feet up, head down, to feel level, head up. They took him into the ambulance, parked in front of the house. However, they didn't leave right away.

I could see through the ambulance window that there was an awful lot of activity immediately after the doors closed. Lots of hands moving rapidly, equipment brought out, tubes strung, etc.

We found out later that his blood pressure had dropped to 60 over 40. The anaphylaxis and swelling was responsible. Throat closing, blood vessels pinching shut, heart fluttering - a bad, bad situation to be in for a 60 year old.

However, despite the close call, the story has a happy ending. The EMTs in the ambulance, along with the doctors in the emergency room and in the ICU, knew what they were doing. Uncle G recovered and was resting under observation by mid-day yesterday. He spent the rest of the day in the hospital, and may be coming home today.

He'll no doubt be getting a prescription for an epi-pen injector, the kind of thing that everyone with bee sting allergies should carry. I understand that each allergic reaction is worse than the last. Next time, he might have only a few minutes to react instead of half and hour.

I lay awake last night, thinking about all of this. I didn't frame it in dramatic terms while it was happening. There was no, "My God, he's dying!" moment. It was a fast sequence of things to do, tasks to accomplish, short-term (immediate-term) goals. Now, though, I realize that Uncle G came within about 10 minutes of dying.

My f-i-l was level-headed in the crisis, but he was quite pale and shaken when he left to follow the ambulance over to the hospital. After many trips to the ER with heart trouble, he is quite accustomed to riding *in* an ambulance and being treated in the ER. I don't think he has all that much experience being the one sitting and waiting while another person skirts the edge.

He is the oldest of three children. His younger sister died more than 20 years ago. I can only wonder what was going through his mind as he watched his little brother being loaded into the ambulance."

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