Lessons from a family emergency

Valerie-BustamanteBy Valerie Bustamante


“Buzz… buzz… buzz…” was all I could hear from my purse. I quickly slipped my hand inside my purse, thinking they were annoying Twitter notifications. However, when I unlocked my phone, they were text messages from my mom, saying, “Valerie, call me now.”

She never called me by my first name. Without a second thought I rushed out in the middle of a lecture and called her back. I called a couple times until my mom’s voice finally answered me. When I finally got a hold of her it was lost signals, bad reception, and broken-up words. However, it didn’t stop me from being able to put together, “Your daddy was in an accident.”

The moment I heard these words I felt my legs quiver and I sank down to the top step of the Administration Building’s fourth-floor staircase.

“Mama, he’s going to be OK, but he just had a seizure just right now. We’re in the emergency room,” were the sentences I heard next. I felt my face lose its color and my eyes watered up.

“Don’t cry, Valerie. Don’t cry. Don’t cry in public,” I told myself. But I couldn’t hold it in.

I made my way back into the classroom and gathered all my things. I held onto the staircase railings but my legs shook. I don’t know how I managed to get down to the first floor.

My dad had had a minor car accident at the intersection of Hildebrand and San Pedro after just dropping me off on campus. No one was injured. But according to the paramedics who responded to the accident, he was running a 103 fever and couldn’t even recall it was 2016.

When I arrived at the hospital after picking up my brother, I finally made my way to the emergency room where Pops was. Wires were connected endlessly around him and the fever was still running.

I grabbed his hand and held back my tears. I couldn’t believe this was happening. He never got sick.

The emergency room doctors believed at first it was meningitis. The test, however, came back negative. Instead it was pneumonia. Three days prior he had started with a case of the chills, shakes and a runny nose — all things we had believed to be part of a slight cold.

For six straight hours my brother, mom, aunts, uncles and I all walked in and out waiting for a room to become available for Pops but nothing.

I didn’t even know what to think. All I wanted was for Pops to be OK. Finally, I stood in the middle of the chaotic hallway, looked up at one of the doctors and asked, “What was really happening?”

He looked at me, grabbed my shoulder and smiled to reassure me everything was going to be OK. This doctor had taken the time to call Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital and asked about the availability of their Intensive Care Unit. Since my Pops is an Army veteran, the VA Hospital was going to be able to care for him. It was the biggest blessing our family had received during this whole process.

When they transported him to the VA Hospital, he was checked into the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), where we visited every single day from dawn till dark. While he was still sedated and under the breathing tube for assistance, my brother, mom and I sat near the bedside holding his hands because we knew he was going to fight through this.

Pops is a soldier after all.

With all our prayers to God, a week after the accident the tube was removed. Pops was talking. He was moved out of MICU into a private room, and was already on Facebook.

I stood beside the bed and told him everything that had happened since the accident. I told him I had applied for an internship; won the Society of Professional Journalists scholarship for the third time, applied for Logos editor, and registered for my senior year. Finally, being able to talk to him was the highlight of everything.

Never take anyone for granted because we never know what can occur. Appreciate your parents, siblings and everyone in your life because our days are not promised. Every moment with them is the sweetest thing we have.

I thank God for allowing Pops to be alive and doing better. I also want to thank the wonderful support system I have had from my family members, friends and professors.


E-mail Bustamante at vbustama@student.uiwtx.edu