Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ina's Clever Trick: Mobilizing the Village

It’s been a while. And it’s been an action-packed month. The new school year is underway at Little Town U, and this always means an unpredictable schedule and long hours. For me, it also means a fairly predictable temporary funk – anxiety about being ready for classes, grief for the waning summer, frustration as I try and bounce too many balls at once, and a hint of dread for the inevitable South Dakota winter. Eventually, I buck up, and everything’s fine again.

(I’m almost there.)

One of the last big events of the summer was the August Sisters of Perpetual Disorder dinner. We were 21 women this time, with an astounding spread of potluck dishes and plenty of wine. What made this particular gathering so memorable, though, was Ina’s clever trick. Ina is the Grand Matriarch and originator of the SOPD dinners (who doesn’t drink – ‘cause you would have been wondering in a minute…). As the dinner wrapped up, Ina was walking down a few small back steps carrying a light but awkward cardboard box, when she tripped and went straight down. That would have been bad enough, but she hit her head on the corner of a brick on her way down.

The ensuing scene was, in some ways completely surreal, and in other ways like a bad TV movie. But mostly, it was a testament to the incredible power of women. So there was Ina, lying on the sidewalk between the garden and steps, disoriented, maybe momentarily unconscious, and moaning in pain. And from under her head, a small pool of blood oozed into a steadily growing pool (hence, the bad TV movie). This all happened in a split second, followed by maybe one or two more split seconds of stunned silence.

But then, a fascinating thing happened. Twenty-one women moved swiftly into Full Rescue Mode. No panick. No confusion. Just considered, deliberate, quiet action. Several women told Ina not to move, and she obeyed. One woman called 911. Another carefully slid a damp washcloth under Ina’s head to stem the bleeding. Another put a bit of bug spray on her hands, then carefully dabbed the unhurt parts of Ina’s face to ward off the vicious mosquitos. Several moved parked cars to make room for the ambulance. One woman scolded a first-on-the-scene policeman when he looked like he would try and move Ina’s head to get a curious look at her head wound. Except for that first brief disorientation, Ina was alert and responsive throughout.

Once the ambulance loaded Ina up and left the scene, several women went on to the hospital, and we even barged into the exam room and circled Ina’s gurney to keep her awake & talking while she waited for the MRI machine (that’s us in the picture – we’ve shoved the ER medical personnel out of our way, and we’re fussing around Ina). One of us went back to the hostess house and helped with clean-up. One eventually drove up to the Big City and spent the night there when Ina’s MRI looked fishy and she was life-flighted to a larger hospital.

Ina was in the hospital for the next few days, following surgery to remove several small bone fragments from her skull. Rescue Mode continued even then. We took turns visiting the hospital in two’s or three’s, while people brought food to Ina’s son, who had come from western South Dakota to stay near his mother. A couple of women took turns making sure Ina’s dog was let in & out.

One day, while Ina was still in the hospital, a contingent of women spent a day doing yard work at her house, tending to overgrown raspberries and her sprawling tomato garden, so she’d have clear paths and little outside work to do once she got back home. And when she did come home, Rescue Mode continued with a two-week schedule of food deliveries to Ina and her other son, who’d come from Florida.

Ina’s okay now – praise be. What little memory gaps she had about the accident have filled in. And, with typical Ina humor, she says it will be hard for us to top the entertainment value of her mishap at future SOPD dinners. She sees the resulting lighter workload (she’s a baker) as a positive outcome of the fall. And at our favorite Little Town watering hole not long ago, with Ina making her first post-accident appearance and grinning from ear to ear, the boys in the band sang, “Ina…is there anyone finah…in the state of Carolina…” to wild cheers & applause.

I am completely, unspeakably grateful to be part of this amazing community of women. In the very best sense of the word, the Sisters of Perpetual Disorder are a beautiful village. Hillary was right – it really does take a village. And you'd better hope your village has a bunch of level-headed women in it.

(Okay, I think I’m there now.)