THE YEAR WE WERE REALLY THANKFUL

When our son was small, my husband, Scott, and I tried to teach him the meaning of Thanksgiving by having everyone at the holiday table state something for which they were thankful. By the time he became a teenager, our son thought this was corny. But he humored us, and the custom went on.

In 2001, when our son was 24, there was no question about why we were thankful.

In the midst of all the other tumult that autumn, our son (whose name I will not mention, although he is not named after “Mr. Anonymous” in Incomplete Passes) injured his knee. He was living in Chicago, taking a course in improvisational acting at Second City and serving pizza at Gino’s East. The knee got bad enough to hamper him on stage and when he carried heavy trays. He scheduled arthroscopic surgery for mid-November.

I should explain that this young man was going through a run of bad luck. A year or two earlier, he’d parked his car at a curb where someone threw a lighted cigarette butt into a trash can. The trash went up in flames, and so did our son’s car. This was the sort of thing that always happened to him. We used to call him “Joe Btfsplk,” after the character in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner comic strip who walked around with a black cloud over his head.

Scott and I both had obligations in Cincinnati, so we took care of our son in shifts. I came up first to drive him to the hospital and stay with him after the surgery. The procedure appeared to go well. He could walk right away, but he complained that his throat was sore. “That sounds normal,” I said. “You had a tube down there during the operation.”

The next day I drove back and Scott came up to Chicago. He called to say that our son’s throat had continued to bother him. It had swollen to the point that breathing was difficult, so Scott took him back to the hospital. Evidently our son had reacted to the material that the tube was made from. The doctor gave him intravenous antibiotics and steroids and sent him home.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, our son went for his post-op checkup. “My knee isn’t too bad, and my throat feels fine,” he told the doctor. “But I have this funny pain in my arm.”

The physician examined him and immediately admitted him to the hospital with a blood clot (deep vein thrombosis), a complication of either the surgery or the subsequent IV. He started taking a blood thinner and stayed in the hospital for two days. When he was released on Wednesday morning, he said, “I’m supposed to drive down to my parents’ home in Cincinnati for Thanksgiving. Can I still go?” The doctor agreed, as long as he had his blood tested during the weekend at a local facility.

After two days in the hospital, our son had some things to catch up on, and by the time he finished, it was rush hour in Chicago. He waited that out and got a late start.

The phone call came at 1:30 a.m. “Where are you?” I asked sleepily.

Just outside of Greensburg, Indiana, about an hour and a half from our home, a deer got the urge to cross Interstate 74. Our son was near the off-ramp and was actually slowing down, intending to pull off the highway for some fresh air and a snack. He said all he saw was a brown blur. There was no time to react.

The deer in question was a big buck, and his antlers went through our son’s windshield. Fortunately, they did not go through our son’s skin. Full of anticoagulant, he surely would have bled out before he made it to a hospital.

Scott drove out to Greensburg and picked up our son, who was merely shaken and bruised. That night at the dinner table, I said, “We know what we’re thankful for. There’s no need to go around and say it.” We all agreed.

Our son won’t be home for Thanksgiving this year. He’s living in Seattle now, and it’s too far to come. Instead he’ll spend the weekend looking for a new place to live because his upstairs neighbor’s plumbing keeps leaking and flooding his apartment. Yeah, some things don’t change.

But we’re very thankful that he’s around to do it.

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