Chapter 2: Lucky Doug
"You're a very lucky man," Doctor Remminger told me. "You've survived a major incident with fairly minor permanent damage. You already know about your temporary diet restrictions. No spicy foods or condiments. One modest drink of alcohol per day maximum. We have to let the stomach completely heal. And no strenuous exercise that isn't specifically prescribed by your physical therapist. Your lung needs more time as well. On the other hand, you can live a pretty normal life," he smiled.
"Thank you, doctor. I appreciate all you and your staff have done for me. I feel like I've spent half my life in this hospital, even though it's only been five months. I'll be back in three months for my first checkup."
I rode out of the hospital in the obligatory wheelchair into the cold, wet daylight of Minneapolis. There was no one to meet me other than the cab driver who would take me to my apartment building. I would be on long-term disability for some time yet, so I wasn't worried about going back to work. I wasn't even sure if I would be allowed to return with my restrictions. Perhaps the company will sever me because they couldn't afford to take a chance on my health. I would be a liability.
I wasn't upset with Traylor Coatings. They were a good, responsible company and treated me more than fairly. All my costs were covered by the company's medical plan and I had at least a year on L.T.D.I. if I needed it. A number of my fellow employees came to visit me at one time or another while I was in the hospital. That petered out over time, but I understood. Visiting people in hospitals is never fun. Half the time you're wondering if you might catch something while you're there.
I had written to my ex-wife to explain my circumstances and arranged for the company to forward part of my disability to her as child and spousal support. I got a letter back from Diane saying she hoped I would recover my health and thanked me for making the effort to help her. She was working now and was able to look after herself and the children. They were living in Louisville, Kentucky and apparently enjoying their new home.
I was really limited in what I could do to keep myself entertained during the day. A half-morning of television told me that it wasn't an option. On top of that, winter was setting in and getting around was going to be restricted. A stroll in the park was pretty much out of the question. I attended to my physical therapy each day and I could feel the progress I was making. But that wasn't enough. I was already fed up with winter. Perhaps a warmer climate. Florida? There was nothing to stop me from heading south.
After my three month check-up in early February, I put my limited worldly possessions in storage and packed my five-year-old Subaru Outback with my clothes and other necessities. It was bright, cold day when I pulled out of the Twin Cities and headed for Louisville. It was on the way to Florida, so I would stop in to see Diane and my children before continuing on. I had a little money saved from before the accident and since I didn't have any expenses while in the hospital, I was hoping that it would sustain me while I traveled. The company's insurance carrier would continue to send part of my monthly payment to Diane and the balance would be deposited into my account. I could access it by ATM from almost anywhere.
It was 700 miles to Louisville via Chicago and I had no intention of pushing myself. I was still in recovery mode, doing my morning and evening exercises, eating five times daily, and generally trying not to over-extend myself. Driving to Chicago seemed like more than enough for the first day. In fact, I packed it in at Rockford, tired from the first day's effort.
The route had been relatively free of snow or ice, but it was the concentration on my driving that produced the fatigue. I found a modest motel to spend the night and slept more soundly than I had in some time. It was a warning to me not to overdo my efforts. I wasn't quite ready to push myself.
It took some time to get through the Chicago area traffic the next morning, even though I left after nine o'clock. I was hoping the worst of rush hour would be done with. I shortened the day at Lafayette, Indiana, making the final run to Louisville an easy one. I would arrive at Diane's place around five in the afternoon, hoping she would be home with the children.
I had doubts about how I would be received by Diane. Her letter during my stay in hospital was quite pleasant and thankful for my continuing to meet my financial responsibilities. Our divorce was something of mutual disappointment. Her disappointment in my inability to lose weight and my disappointment that she had given up on me and our marriage.
I hadn't alerted her that I would be coming to see her and the children. I thought it would be interesting to see how she reacted to the "new me." I'm sure it would be a shock. I examined myself in the mirror before I left for Louisville that morning and I was pleased with what I saw. The physical therapy was having its effects on my appearance. My skin was tighter on my frame, my face was leaner and perhaps, at least in my imagination, younger looking. My hair had a bit of gray along the sides, but I felt it helped my appearance. I had a new wardrobe of course, and I thought I looked good in it. I had gained a little weight, but was now stable at just under a hundred fifty pounds.
I found her house without difficulty thanks to a local map I had purchased at my last gas stop. Darkness had fallen as I sat in the car, wondering just what to say when she opened the door. The house was a bungalow and seemed to be in good repair and in a decent, middle-class neighborhood. I was glad about that. I wouldn't worry about the children's safety now, or Diane's for that matter.
At last I summoned my courage and got out of the car into the cold drizzle of a Thursday night and walked up to the front door. I heard the chimes and then footsteps. Adult footsteps. The front porch light came on and the door opened, revealing Diane, looking just as she had the last time I saw her.
"Yes? Can I help you?" she asked, not recognizing me yet.
"Hello, Diane. It's nice to see you again."
"Doug? Is that you?" She was clearly flustered as she realized it was me.
"Yes, it's me," I smiled, still not moving, waiting for her to invite me in.
"Come in ... please," she said, still quite ill at ease.
I stepped in, not trying to embrace her or even shake hands. I was about to say something when Debbie, our eldest, came into view.
"Dad!" she almost shouted. She had recognized me immediately.
"Yeah, it's me," I grinned.
"Billy, Sandy," she shouted, "come quick. It's Dad."
Debbie wrapped her nine-year-old arms around my waist and hugged me to her. I started to tear up. I couldn't help it. It had been almost a year since I had seen them and I was wondering what kind of reception I would have received. I shouldn't have worried.
Sandy, now four, and Billy, eight, came pounding into the living room and virtually attacked me.
"Daddy, Daddy, you're home," Sandy cried.