Alfie’s Yellow Socks

                                       A true story

Do you remember having a family story that you used to tell over and over again for years and years, and then for some reason you just stopped telling the story?  I have a story like that and the reason I want to share it now is because it came up in a conversation I was having with my 5 year old granddaughter.  I hadn’t told the story in a long, long time and yet there I was, sharing this precious story once again to someone who had never even heard it before.  She loved it of course, not only because it is a beautiful story, but because it has to do with her father, my oldest son, Alfie.

The story goes way back 32 years almost to the day, back to March 20, 1979.  I just turned 19 years old that February.  I had also just celebrated my 1 year wedding anniversary on March 19th, and we had a seven month old baby named Alfonso, who we called Alfie.  The three of us were living in an attic apartment in the home of my in-laws.  That year was very stressful: I got married, had a new baby, and moved in with my Sicilian in-laws who didn’t speak English.  My husband worked non-stop, and I was home alone most of the time.  There was a brilliant light in my life however, which was this new little person; my baby, Alfie.

The morning of March 20th, was uneventful.  I woke up and made coffee.  Alfie woke up, and I made him something to eat.  I noticed mid-morning that I felt a little dizzy.  I thought I was just tired and layed down when Alfie took his nap.  The day went by, but I still didn’t really feel like myself.  I had a little bit of a headache when I went to sleep.  Next day, March 21st, same routine: woke up had coffee and took care of Alfie, except I felt a lot worse than the day before.  I was really dizzy, and I had a low-grade fever.  I thought maybe I was getting the flu.  The headache was getting much, much worse.  I took a walk with Alfie, thought maybe I’d feel better if I got some fresh air, but it didn’t help.  I called my sister to come up and help me take care of Alfie.    I was on the couch by 4 p.m., unable to really get up because my head hurt so much, and I was too dizzy to walk around or take care of Alfie.  Poor little thing…..but I was also still breastfeeding him.  I felt like I was dying.

Now, it’s the morning of March 22nd, three days since I started not feeling well.  My husband went to work again, and I was left home alone to care for Alfie.  I had a fever now of 103, and I could not get off the couch.  Thankfully, my mother-in-law saw how lousy I was feeling and stayed home from work to help me.  My head was killing me and felt like it was going to explode.  I couldn’t move my neck and I could barely walk.  I started vomiting.  I still thought maybe I had a bad virus or something so I started taking some cold medicine.  Nothing brought the fever down or did anything to relieve the throbbing pain in my head.  I also could not stop vomiting.  I knew something was dreadfully wrong with me.  I called my mother and said, “Ma, I’m sick.  I need to go to the hospital.  I can’t drive.  Please come and take me.”  She was there in 15 minutes.  My father-in-law and my mother helped carry me to the car.  I barely remember the 10 minute drive to the hospital, everything was cloudy in my brain.  I couldn’t move my head it was pounding so much and my neck hurt something fierce.

I remember my mother driving into the emergency room parking lot and parking the car.  She looked at me and said, “Ok, ready?”  I couldn’t even turn my head to look at her.  I just said, “I can’t walk. Ma,”  and I opened the door to vomit again.  She jumped out of the car and ran into the emergency room.  Seconds later  attendants were helping me into a wheelchair.  They stopped at the reception desk but I couldn’t answer any questions.  I could only shake my head.  I was barely conscious.  They brought me into a room, and layed me on a hospital bed, all the time asking me questions, I guess in an effort to keep me conscious.  This was all to no avail, and I was completely unconscious within 5 minutes…………….comatose.  I’d somehow contracted bacterial Spinal Meningitis.

I can only tell here from what other people have told me.   I was convulsing and thrashing around, kicking and biting.  My eyes looked like they were going to pop out of my head.  I was strapped in the hosptial bed and had to wear a helmet because I kept banging my head.  It was an absolute nightmare for my family and friends, as they all waited to see if I would pull through.

Things did not look good.  I’d waited at home those three days and lost precious time which might have prevented the disease from getting too serious.  The anitbiotics were not working.  There were some moments when I opened my eyes and looked around, but then I was gone again in an instant.  There were also times when I was screaming and yelling at everyone, “I’m alive.  I’m here.  Can’t you hear me?”  But I was unable to move my mouth or my eyes, so no one knew.   Then there was another time I did open my eyes and looked around the room, but I was totally blind….that really scared me, and I remember I started screaming, “I can’t see.  I’m blind!”

A couple of weeks went by and it didn’t look like I was going to survive.  The doctors told my mother that if I did survive, I would probably be in a vegetative state for the rest of my life, crippled and/or brain damaged.  Only 19 years old with a whole life ahead of me!  I remember opening my eyes at one point and seeing two priests hovering over me, praying.  I remember thinking to myself, “What the heck are they doing here?”  But I couldn’t speak, and I fell unconscious again.
As the days passed I stopped coming in and out of the coma.  My mother said I just layed there quietly.  The fever was gone, but I was still in a coma.  During this quiet time, this is what I remember.  I was someplace floating around, like in space, but it wasn’t outerspace or anything weird or anything I was afraid of.  I was so light and didn’t have any worries or cares.  It felt heavenly.  I was alone though.  So, I was just floating around and enjoying the freedom, not thinking about anyone or anything, or about ever coming back to my body.  Why would I?  The weird part is that I had no ties to my life.  None.  My mind was free of space, time, or relationship connections.  My spirit was disconnecting from my body……..I was dying, yet I was being set free to start a new, different life.

My mother sat at my bedside day and night, stroking my forehead and talking to me as if I could hear her.  Poor women, she’d been told that I probably wouldn’t survive.  She was beside herself with worry and fear.   The doctors had done all they could, she knew that.  The priests had already come in and read me my last rites.  I wasn’t moving around anymore.  I was on a respirator and it seemed like it was just a matter of time before I passed away.

My mother was also deeply saddened by the fact that I would probably never see my son again.  So, about eight days into the coma she decided to bring something special to me from my home.  They couldn’t bring my son in to see me because he’d been admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital as a precaution since I’d been breastfeeding him.  He was fine, but he was so scared of hospitals.

Alfie’s yellow socks:  My mother came in to visit that day and she brought a little pair of yellow socks that my son loved to wear all the time.  He loved the color and wanted to wear them every day, everywhere.  My mother sat at my bedside and started talking to me about Alfie.  I was off in space somewhere, like I said, floating around without a care in the world and not planning on coming back.  Something happened though when she started talking about Alfie.  I heard her voice for the first time, but not clear.  It was a voice I knew but I didn’t recognize at first.  It came through to the space place I was at.  It was like someone talking far away in the distance, barely audible.  She kept talking about Alfie, and everytime i heard his name I wanted to listen harder.  With each sentence I could hear her a little bit clearer and then a little bit clearer. Then I heard her say, “And Sharen, look I brought in Alfie’s yellow socks.  I’m going to put his picture and his socks right here where you can see them.  You just need to open your eyes and they’re right here.”

Well, something happened to me in that moment.  A sudden jolt of reality hit me in my floating space, and I remembered about my beautiful little son.  I remember saying to myself, “What am I doing?  I can’t stay here.  Alfie needs me!”  Then all of a sudden, it was like I was swooshed back into my body, like a vacuum pulled me back in.  It was weird.  My mother said I turned my head to her and opened my eyes.  This is the first thing I remember……I looked over and saw Alfie’s yellow socks.  Then I smiled.  I looked at my mother, too.  She gasped and smiled back at me.  I was tired though and still couldn’t keep my eyes open.  I went back to sleep, but not for long.  I remember waking up again and seeing my father sleeping in a chair near my bed.  I was out of the coma.  He woke up to find me trying to get up out of bed.  The poor guy was completely stunned to see me awake and moving around.

I made a complete recovery with no residual effects;  no brain damage or paralysis.  My mother-in-law brought Alfie in to see me the next day.  He looked so frail and scared.  I loved him so much and couldn’t wait to get back home.

I have kept those yellow socks in my bureau drawer all this time, and repeated that story over and over again to my children and family.  But it wasn’t until I told it to my granddaughter the other day that I remembered how special those yellow socks were to me.  I’m sitting here holding them right now as I write this.  My baby Alfie, is now 32 years old.

I got very sick again in 2007 with pancreatitis and liver failure.   I got sick suddenly and things didn’t look too good.  You know what Alfie did?  He brought in a pair of his socks and put them in my hospital drawer as a reminder of how much he needs me and loves me.  Thank you, God for bringing Alfie into my life.  alfie1 Alfie and I, March 1979…..three weeks before I got sick.
alfie 2A couple of weeks before I got sick.
alfie3About a month after I came home from the hospital.
alfie5My guy, Alfie, 2 1/2 years old
alfie6Christmas 2009.

Sharen Wendy Robertson owns the copyright to all posts on this Blog.