Return to Princeton

I received a text message from Edwina yesterday that seemed more urgent than usual.

“Call me, Miss Rayan. It’s real important.”

I returned her phone call and found Edwina, once again, in Princeton Hospital–the facility she goes to when she’s experiencing an emergency and for more routine visits now that Cooper Green is in a constant state of uncertainty. Edwina told me recently that she never knows whether her doctors will be at Cooper Green when she goes for an appointment, or if the floor they practice on will even be open. Such is the reality for a county hospital operating in the red for close to four years.

Edwina started having trouble breathing on Tuesday of last week, and she finally had Tyrone take her to Princeton on Thursday. At first, she insisted on going home after seeing the doctor.

“I went home for an hour, and I couldn’t breathe at all,” Edwina said. “I said, ‘Tyrone, you better take me back over there.'”

So, since Thursday, Edwina has been in a hospital bed on the fifth floor. According to the doctors, or what Edwina reports comes from the doctors, she has fluid on her lungs, COPD, and blood clots. It’s similar to what sent her to Princeton a few months ago, and what often sends her to the ER in-between. Especially the struggle to breathe.

“I have cardiac arrest, too,” she informed me.

“You had cardiac arrest? When?!”

“You know, just my heart don’t work right, don’t beat the right way,” Edwina explained. “That scares me, Miss Rayan.”

I assured Edwina that all will be well, but I also told her that she has to quit smoking.

“I’ll help you any way I can,” I said. “We need to throw out your ashtrays, not let Tyrone or Joe-Joe or anybody smoke in the house.”

Edwina nodded. “I’m gonna do whatever they tell me this time, for sure. I’m gonna get me some of these patches [pointing to one freshly stuck to her upper arm this morning].”

She also told me that she’s going to put a “No Smoking Allowed” sign on her apartment door “so nobody come in smoking.”

I want to believe that Edwina will kick the habit and buy herself a few more years, ideally, years during which she’ll be able to breathe more easily. But I doubt that a 31-year habit can be broken so swiftly, especially when she lacks many of the tools to tackle it.

Edwina started to drift off from the medicine she’s taking. As I was getting ready to head out, her neighbor from across the hall, who’s roughly our age (early 50s) and who works part-time in the cafeteria at Princeton, stopped in.

“You know, me and her are the old folks in our building now,” Edwina said. “All the others, they gone.”

Edwina started to name off the neighbors she’d lost in the past year: “them old men, Mama, . . . ”

I have to wonder how long the lives are of most people who inhabit Edwina’s building, or the neighborhood on West end. From the time I’ve spent with Edwina, I have a feeling that their lives are far too short.

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