Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Different March Madness

 Light penetrating darkness through the balcony glass doors of my townhouse, everyone still asleep, just coffee and another long day on my mind. Instinctively picking up my phone as I made my way to the kitchen and stopping mid stride. There were twenty missed texts and calls.  How did I sleep through all that? Forgetting that I had turned my ringer off the night before, my fingers swiping up trying to read and make sense of the CALL ME posts over and over from my son's fiancee. Then the voice messages and one rather frightening one from my middle son.

My fingers did the tap tap to dial his number.

"Good morning."

"Been trying to reach you all night."

"Long day, was asleep, turned my phone off."

"Your son has been shot, not sure he will make it."

I dropped to my knees and screamed. "NO!" 

"Yeah, you need to get here. Call his fiancee"

He gave me as many details as he could, his voice was weary, like the Navy Veteran he was, he stayed up, in patrol mode, ready to spring into action. He needed some sleep, he and his wife had young sons, one was just two.  

"I will, thanks son, love. you." We hung up and while I was still on the floor, I started to pray.

My husband was getting his day started, as the President of the university, this was a later morning than usual for him, he had an offsite appointment before going to campus. He isn't normally at home at 7am.

"What's going on?" His voice was still groggy but that familiar baritone filled the room.

I told him, he could hear my fear. 

"We have to go." He started springing into action making calls, making arrangements. We lived four hours from my oldest son.

The rest of the morning unfolded in a blur of phone calls and hastily packed bags and prayer, lots of prayer.

We drove the four hours from Kirkwood to Westport where the hospital was located. The entire time I was pleading with God for his life, knowing that multiple gunshots to the lungs and one in the back of the head would normally mean death.

I believe in the God of the Possible, that is what I kept saying, even when the surgeons called me and gave me an update of him through the night. They didn't expect him to make it from the ER to the surgical ward or even to survive the operation that opened him up like a T to stop the bleeding, repair the damage to his lungs and pump so much blood in him he had an abdominal wound the size of a watermelon.

"Thank you for your work on my son but I believe so my prayer is for you and your team to use all your skills and save my son, you got him through the night, get that clot, I need to see my son alive."  

I was both his mother and ReverendPastorChaplain in the moment I could hear the concern in the surgeon's and nurses voices, listening to my daughters in the backseat silently crying and praying, calling my youngest son in Boston to break the news to him. I couldn't let the fear in me make its way to my throat so I swallowed it. 

My husband drove through the misty mid-March rain that was falling in Missouri, Missouri like the country still wrapping its mind around a pandemic that just shut down everything from spring break to my daughter's senior year. What would I find at the hospital?

The hospital was in full shut down, barely letting anyone in. The nurses had given me instructions on which side to enter, masks were not a thing that early in March last year. I had to have a temperature check and of course, sanitizer was everywhere. Only one parent could go in, it was to be me. My husband said he would get the girls to the hotel and get them checked in, they were shell shocked.

The surgical intensive care unit was eerily quiet except for the constant beep-beep-beep of machines monitoring the sickest of patients. The nurse, a young male, met me and gave me the updates. He led me to my son's room. Another nurse, a woman my age, was turning knobs and squeezing tubes. The site was beyond what I expected.

My son looked like a man dead. 

He was on a ventilator and every vein in his neck and arms looked like it had been penetrated with some tube either pumping in or draining out something. He had on what looked like white boxing gloves and enormous surgical padding across his chest. He had been shot in the lungs. 

"Mama's here," I leaned in and whispered in his ear. I wanted him to know that I loved him. There was no way for me to touch his hand so I touched his forehead, he was not alone. I knew he could hear, somewhere in the deep coma-like-state he had him, he could hear.




"Can you get a chaplain, please?" I asked the nurse after she told me all that was done to him, how much blood he received, that was why his abdomen was so distended and why they opened him up, trying to fish out bullets and stop the massive bleeding. I closed my eyes and shed a tear.

"Ma'am, can I get you anything?" The nurse led me to the hallway to sit down, knowing we had driven across the state, handed me some graham crackers and orange juice. Wondering now did I look that bad. I was in shock.

It was so white in there, the sheets, the hallway, the lights, the glass sliding doors, it was almost like the light was reminding me, compelling me to remember that the darkness of the night before, the thing in the assailants' souls, would not claim my son. Despite them leaving him for dead, he is still here, I held onto that.

Silent tears began to roll down. my checks and I dropped my head to pray. I was going to go back in the room when the nurse was finished, they monitor a lot when someone is in that level of the ICU. Little did I know that in another day or so, the same unit would be filled with Covid patients fighting to breathe.

"You made it," my daughter-in-love came around the corner, her tiny 5'2" self fell into my arms and she cried the weariness of one who had been on watch all night. She had just gone home to shower and change, she hadn't slept at all, her hair was still wet. 

She began to tell me what happened. It was St. Pat's Day and my son had received a lot of traction for his custom t-shirts and high end sneaker business. Just two days before, in that unimaginable prePandemic world of an expo, he was one of the featured vendors with his table set up. His is a virtual retail business targeting the athletic shoe aficionado. He usually ships his products but someone saw him at the expo and contacted him through his store, wanting two pairs for "my boyfriend." The young lady must have been convincing because they agreed to meet at Westport, a lively area in KC and it was St. Pat's Day, so my son told his fiancee he was going to go make this sale "real quick" and be back in time for the steak dinner she was preparing.

He never made it back.

They always talked, especially if he was going to deliver product in a public place away from his usual, KC is a large metro area and he extended a courtesy that almost cost him his life. 

He had been shot the first time and turned to run and was shot two more times. He told his fiancee that he loved her and didn't think he was going to make it, to tell me he loved me, then he went cold. She called 911, she knew where he was and made it there at the same time as the police.

It was providence that the hospital was right down the street, otherwise, he definitely would not have made it from his neighborhood to the trauma center.

I can only imagine the scene in the ambulance and the emergency room, rivaling something like "Grey's Anatomy" or "The Good Doctor" with the doors bursting open and all the EMTs shouting info to the team. "33-year old Black male, multiple gun shots to the lungs and torso, ..." 

His fianee told me they did a quick surgery there to stop the bleeding and then rushed him to the ER where they were operating for hours. I was asleep. That still haunts me. I never turn my phone off, but that night I did, I was so exhausted. The pandemic, the growing fear of this unknown virus that abruptly stopped everything that was to be his sister's senior year, afraid to go to the grocery store, it had been a crazy week already.

"Ma'am." There was a gentle touch on my shoulder. My son's fiancee and I ended our embrace and turned around. The chaplain was there, a young Latinx man. I asked him to go get some anointing oil.

While the Chaplain was getting his supplies, my son's fiancee and I went into the room. I stood at the foot of the bed, I was the mother, she was his love. She stroked his forehead, kissed him, whispered, "I love you, Babe." Weary and worried, I just stroked his foot, he was covered, partially, in white sheets, white sheets that could have been us uncovering to identify him. My eyes closed.

"I am ready if you are." The Chaplain had such a calming manner. He told me he was going to pray in Spanish. I was fine with that, being a minister, I knew God could hear in any language.

He then prayed in English and anointed my son, claiming him for Christ and for life that was yet to be.

When he left, I felt the nudge to do something. 

My phone was in my pocket so I pulled it out and took a picture of my son, it would go on to be one of many over the next three days that the hospital obliged us and allowed us to be there, even as they were shifting to Covid care. I told his fiancee to turn around, I snapped a photo of them. 

The next hours and days were a lot. The hospital was kind to us. We could only stay a little bit, none of them knew the Tsunami that was heading their way. 

The surgeon met me before we left that first day, standing outside the glass doors, a woman about my age. She was kind and gentle and told me it is a miracle he is here. I smiled, I believe in miracles.

She gave me the prognosis and what they were still watching for, he had formed blood clots and they were trying to capture them with this funny contraption they had in his neck. I marveled at the wonder of God's gifting on people to study like this and know all of this, the nurses were superheroes and the greatest technicians, keeping about ten machines working to keep him alive.

"Where is my son?" I asked when I came back the next day and the ward was empty. 

"Oh, ma'am, we had to move all the ICU patients to the other side of the hospital to the surgical ICU. This is being deep cleaned to be for Covid patients." The nurse gave me instructions of how to get there. It was a long walk.

I marveled at how they transported him, heavily sedated, with all those machines and wires, from one end of the hospital to another. "He did experience some pain in the move, we have him sedated." 

When his fiancee came to the new room, we looked around, it was smaller and without doors. The nurses station was right there. Another Chaplain came, the Chaplains always come when they don't think the patient is going to make it. It was a different one this time. I asked his fiancee to get in a photo with him, somehow I felt we needed to capture this part of their story. 

My son posted this photo yesterday, along with the one my husband took of me at the last time I would see him in that hospital. We had to get back to our side of the state, the hospital was shutting down for all visitors. They had only extended the courtesy to us because of the condition he was in and because I was a minister. I begged them to let my husband in to see him. 

Before we went back the last time, through yet another restricted entrance, we came with pictures. 

"Print out pictures of him and put up on the wall. The doctors, nurses, and staff need to know he is not just another Black man shot."

I had pictures of him in New York and with family and with his fiancee and living life as a lyricist, writer, entrepreneur. There were pictures of us and of his little sisters and brothers. I printed out one with his name. We introduced the surgeon to him that way, humanized him. Glad my husband said to do that, something shifted.

We always thanked them whenever we came in and left, knowing they would have a lot more to do if this virus was to spread -and it did. We were leaving our son in their hands. They were excellent at Saint Luke's. 

My husband and I prayed. Told him we loved him. And when we left, we were holding onto faith that we would see him again.



It's a year later now. The pandemic is still raging and has taken so many more lives. My son said in that hospital for several weeks through room changes and multiple surgeries until the day the bells and whistles rang for him being wheeled out. He left with a wound vac and visiting nurses that came to his home every three days until the day that machine was taken off of him. 

He is recovering, still, but he is here, they have a new place, he has another puppy, a big Pit Bull called Lotto, like my son's self imposed name from when he was shot at 19. If he was a cat, he is definitely gifted with nine lives. To be a young Black entrepreneur trying to make it in an America that doesn't value our lives, the fact that he made it to 34 was something we were celebrating. He was and is a lyricist, a performer, has a company with good friends who stood on watch all night until they saw me and heard from me what the doctors said. He is still here and Covid did not snatch his life after the bullets tried.

Today, I am remembering all that happened last year. We do not know what our tomorrows will bring, so like my son says, "live, and see safe, that's all we can do."

July 2020, Family BBQ at my middle son's house, it was one of the first post-surgery outings of my oldest son and one of the only recent times when I had all five of my kids in one space. This was before we moved to Connecticut, before my daughter went off to college in Jackson, Mississippi. They are scattering the globe now, only my two oldest still live in Missouri. I am beyond blessed and thankful to be the mother of these brilliant people. 

All Rights Reserved by Antona Brent Smith. Copyright. 2021. The Tayé Foster Bradshaw Group. 


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