…Then on July 11, at about four Sunday afternoon, Dale came into the living room and said Ricky’s eyes were rolling back and he was having convulsions.
Dale was really shaken; it was terrible to watch and we knew death was close now. We planned to have Ricky die at home, but we realized we couldn’t handle this. He needed relief from pain and he couldn’t keep the pills down. He no longer had control of his bodily functions. He needed the help of a doctor and the hospital.
Our doctor at McClellan [Air Force Base in northern Sacramento] had moved on Friday, so I called the doctors at Stanford Children’s. Dr. Wilbur was away at a convention and Dr. Long was on vacation. I felt like all our medical supports were gone. Dr. Serota was in Philadelphia and his replacement had not yet arrived at Travis [Air Force Base in Fairfield, California].
I called Mather Emergency, an Air Force hospital east of Sacramento. They said they would try to reach a doctor there to admit Ricky, but to bring him over as soon as possible.
Next, I tried to get an ambulance. Our emergency room said they only had one ambulance available and it couldn’t leave the base. I said, “What do you mean? My child is dying and you can’t send an ambulance?”
“No.” They had no authority to leave, just in case there was an accident on the base. They had three ambulances, but only one was operable.
I called the head of the McClellan clinic. He was out of town. I called his assistant. He would be back after six o’clock.
Now Ricky was screaming with pain in between convulsions every few minutes. We just couldn’t keep the pain pills down him. I was becoming frantic. I called our emergency room again and said I would call the base commander. He had said that if there was ever anything he could do, just call. The sergeant said there was no need to do that. There would be an ambulance at our house in fifteen minutes.
Dale rode in the ambulance with Ricky this time and the girls and I followed in the car. Ricky had several convulsions on the way. Dale was wringing wet when they got to the hospital—a twenty minute ride.
Ricky was taken immediately to intensive care. An IV was started and the doctor arrived to prescribe Phenobarbital to control the convulsions. The doctors hadn’t warned me about those. They came as a surprise. The cancer was in the brain stem. I should have known it would travel up, as well as down, the cord.
I said I would spend the night next to Ricky’s bed. The corpsman brought a noisy plastic recliner that only had one position. The nurse brought a blanket. Ricky was restless and cried, “Mama” off and on. I would jump up and rub his head or hold his hand or massage his legs and feet. It was a long night.
By morning he was stabilized. He was moved to a private room just outside ICU. Dale came over and I went home to rest and pick up a futon to stay the night in his room. We were told this was not allowed in the hospital, but under the circumstances it would be alright.
We took turns sitting by his bed for the next four days, watching the pain return and more medication needed. Now he was paralyzed from the neck down. We had to move his arms and legs. Sometimes it was impossible to make him comfortable.
He would say, “Move my legs like an Indian. Put them on the ceiling; put them in a circle.” Just when I would crawl into bed, he would cry to have his legs rearranged.
He was barely sipping juices and chocolate milk. I wondered how long he could last this way. His mind seemed to be clear. He asked what time it was and which day it was. He asked me to hold his hand or rub his head, and would call me to make sure I was close by.
When the tray came up on Thursday noon, I asked him what he would like: juice, jello, or chocolate milk. He said, “One at a time,” and he took some chocolate milk and went to sleep. Those were the last words he said.
The chaplain had been in the day before and asked if I was ready to let Ricky go. He said maybe Ricky was holding on because I couldn’t release him. I thought about that and I prayed, “I love little Ricky, but he is in so much pain and so uncomfortable. I know he will be better off with You. I’ll let him go; You can take him.”
After lunch, I sat next to the bed reading a book. The aide came in and said it was time to turn Ricky again. She felt him and said, “I think he has stopped breathing.” She went for the nurse and I held his fingers in mine. They were still warm but his face was white and his lips were turning blue.
I said, “Goodbye, Ricky. I love you. You can live with God now and run and play baseball and football. We will see you pretty soon.”
The nurse came in and listened to his chest and said she would notify the doctor. She filled plastic gloves with ice and put them on his eyes. We had arranged to donate his eyes to the eye bank. They came within the hour and thanked us for his eyes. There had been an emergency and a little child was waiting for them. Sometime I would like to meet the child who is seeing because of Ricky’s eyes.
Dale came over and I told him Ricky was alright now, and he said, “I know, but I’m not.” We called Dan and my parents and the other relatives.
The memorial service would be Sunday evening. We decided to show three slides of Ricky; one when he was little, one when he was three, and one of his last Christmas. We also put a table in front of the chapel with his favorite toys and his baseball trophies on it. Ricky’s whole team came to the service in their Cardinal uniforms. We found a tape to play “It’s a Small World,” since Ricky enjoyed that so much at Disneyland.
I had told the airman at the chapel to pick out a bulletin cover to use. When I saw the picture on the cover at the service, I was amazed—it was my dream! A boy running through a field of tall grass. I had dreamed that while we were visiting Disneyland. One night I saw Ricky running away from me, through a field of tall grass, and his dog was running toward him. He stopped to pick him up and, laughing, ran on.
I didn’t know what it meant. He was to have had the operation to fuse the vertebrae in his neck. Maybe it meant he would be running without the brace and be well and healthy. Only I had the feeling that God was telling me something, getting me ready. When I saw that bulletin cover—I knew this was the meaning of my dream.
The poem on the following page was read at the memorial service, and expresses some of our feelings:
“I’ll lend you for a little time a child of Mine,” He said,
“For you to love while he lives, and mourn for when he’s dead.
It may be six or seven years, or twenty-two or three,
But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for Me?
He’ll bring you his charms to gladden you, and should his stay be brief,
You’ll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief.
I cannot promise he will stay, since all from earth return,
But there are lessons taught them there I want this child to learn.
I’ve looked this wide world over in my search for teachers true,
And from the throngs that crowd life’s land, I have selected you.
Now will you give him all your love, nor think the labor vain,
Nor hate Me when I come to call to give him back again?”
I fancied that I heard them say, “Dear Lord, Thy will be done,
For all the joy the child shall bring, the risk of grief we’ll run.
We’ll shelter him with tenderness, we’ll love him while we may,
And for the happiness we’ve known, forever grateful stay;
But should the Lord call for him much sooner than we’ve planned,
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.”
~[although Mom attributed this to “author unknown”, I just discovered that it was written by Edgar Albert Guest in 1930]
Rhonda’s note: I had to stop a couple of times as, even after 40 years, retyping these words caused my eyes to flood with tears.