Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

"Por favor, Fernando. Llame a María Messina. Rompí aguas, y los dolores vienen muy fuertes!"

Giuseppina, in her now perfect Spanish, asked Fernando to call María Messina because her water sac had broken and her pains were quickly becoming very strong. María Messina Greco's skills as a midwife had become legendary throughout Ybor City and West Tampa. Though now married to Luigi Greco, the midwife was usually referred to by her maiden name, "María Messina". Mrs. Priede, a good friend and next-door neighbor, helped Giuseppina to her bed. 

Earlier in this afternoon of October 25, 1921, Giuseppina's labor pains had begun. Fernando, aware that his two daughters, Carmela and Pilar, had become frightened, had taken them to the Busto home across the street. Complicating the situation was the fact that a strong hurricane was approaching the Tampa area. It was now 6:00 pm and unusually dark because of the thick cloud cover. The noise of the howling winds practically drowned out the frantic knocking at Fernando's front door. Mrs. Priede ran to the door and opened it. Mrs. Messina rushed in, her husband close behind her. Fighting the steadily increasing winds, Mr. Greco managed to close the door behind them. Concerned about the storm, the midwife had asked her husband to accompany her. Mrs. Priede led the midwife into Giuseppina's bedroom.

Fernando was holding Giuseppina's hand, comforting her against the worsening pain. Mrs. Messina began examining Giuseppina, asking her some questions. This was Giuseppina's fourth delivery and she told the midwife that the pains were much worse than the previous three. After further examination of her patient, María asked Mrs. Priede to watch her. The midwife gestured to Fernando to follow her into the dining room.

Fernando grew concerned as he noticed the intense look on Mrs. Messina's face. She told him that she was pretty sure they were dealing with a breech birth. Normally, in a situation such as this, Mrs. Messina would transfer the mother to a hospital, but the hurricane precluded this option. She made it clear to Fernando that she would do her very best, but Giuseppina's life was in grave danger. Fernando's sense of despair was balanced by his knowledge of Mrs. Messina's skills. Formally trained in midwifery at the University of Palermo, she also had many years of experience. 

"María, tengo confianza en ti."

Fernando told María that he had confidence in her. She embraced him, as Fernando broke down in tears. He regained his composure and joined Mr. Greco, who was seated in the living room. As he was taking a seat, the house went dark. Fernando lit some oil lamps, taking some into the bedroom. He checked the telephone, and it was dead.

The hours that followed were emotionally excruciating. Along with Giuseppina's moans and screams, the incredibly strong winds were causing the house to shake. Fernando found himself wishing the winds would get even stronger so that the sounds of Giuseppina's suffering would be drowned out. Mr. Greco tried in vain to console Fernando, who had resigned himself to the fact that his wife would probably die. At approximately 4:00 am, the sounds of a baby crying replaced those of Giuseppina's suffering. Fernando rushed into the bedroom, anxiously anticipating what he would find there. Mrs. Priede was holding a baby wrapped in blankets. Giuseppina was groaning softly. Mrs. Messina pulled Fernando aside and told him that his baby son was fine, but that his wife was bleeding uncontrollably and needed to get to a hospital quickly. 

The Spanish population in Tampa had increased substantially between 1898 and the present, now numbering in the many thousands. The Spanish community was so large and powerful that it was able to sustain two major Spanish societies, each providing healthcare in addition to social and other services. In 1902, the Centro Asturiano (Asturian Center), was created. Along with the existing Centro Español (Spanish Center), these two organizations were the focal points of Spanish life in Ybor City and West Tampa, and each had an excellent hospital. While a sense of competition had evolved between the two societies, Fernando and his family maintained membership in both clubs. 

"María, somos miembros de ambos centros. Cuál de los hospitales recomiendas?"

Fernando had advised the midwife that he and his family were members of both Spanish centers and wanted to know which of the hospitals she recommended.

"Tenemos que ir al que queda más cerca. Vamos a La Clínica Covadonga del Centro Asturiano. Debiéramos llevar el bebé también, por si a caso."

María Messina replied that they needed to go to the closer of the two, which was the Clínica Covadonga ("Covadonga Clinic") of the Centro Asturiano. The Centro Español hospital, though larger and somewhat better equipped, was much further away. It was on Bayshore Blvd, south of downtown Tampa and very close to Hillsborough Bay. Because of the hurricane, portions of the Centro Español hospital were probably under water. Mr. Greco suggested they take his car. By now the hurricane's winds, while still strong, had subsided somewhat.

Fernando carried Giuseppina, who was barely conscious, to the car. Luigi rushed ahead of them to open the door of the car. María and Mrs. Priede, holding the baby, followed. Mrs. Messina had managed to temporarily slow the bleeding by giving Giuseppina a special herbal tea of yarrow and cayenne. Fernando's mind was racing to the point where he felt numb and incapable of showing emotion. Were the girls OK at the Busto home? Would Giuseppina survive this ordeal? Could they even get to the clinic? 

The Suárez home was on the northern fringes of Ybor City. The clinic was situated in Tampa Heights, which is normally about a ten- or fifteen-minute drive. As they drove west on 21st Ave., Fernando was in awe of the damage surrounding them. Luigi was having to evade debris in the street. It was still dark, but on occasion the car's headlights would illuminate houses. Many had lost their roofs, others were virtually destroyed. Luckily, Fernando's house and those near him seemed to have escaped severe damage. A few blocks ahead, on the right, they passed the site of the new Centro Asturiano Hospital, still under construction. He couldn't help but think that Giuseppina would have a better chance of survival had this new facility been completed. The difference in distance may well make the difference between her living and dying. 

As Fernando heard his new son begin to cry, he gently hugged Giuseppina; Gaitero was sobbing softly but uncontrollably.

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This is a work of fiction. With the exception of references to known and publicly documented historical entities, the following apply:

Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. ©Tony Carreño 2020