Fernando’s Footsteps

by Tony Carreño

 

Mr. Greco was driving as fast as possible, maneuvering to avoid fallen tree branches and other debris. As they turned onto Michigan Ave., Fernando noticed that Giuseppina was bleeding again. The car made a quick right turn onto Ola Ave. Giuseppina's eyes opened and she gave a barely audible groan. The Clínica Covadonga lay one block ahead, at the intersection of Ola Ave. and Euclid Ave. 

As the car braked to a halt near the clinic's entrance, Mr. Greco immediately opened the rear door and assisted Fernando in carrying Giuseppina into the hospital. María Messina had wisely began honking the car's horn in a frantic effort to alert the clinic staff of their presence. Within seconds several nurses emerged, carrying oil lamps. 

"Por favor! Por favor! Mi esposa, por favor!"

"Please! Please! My wife, please!" Fernando's pleas echoed through the dimly lit and otherwise quiet lobby. 

As the nurses were placing Giuseppina on a gurney, a man in a white coat ran toward them. Fernando recognized him as Dr. Jorge Trelles. Dr. Trelles had been in Tampa approximately ten years and had earned the reputation as one of the best doctors in Florida. María Messina stepped toward the doctor. As he examined Giuseppina she relayed information softly in his ear. The doctor turned toward Fernando.

"Esta mujer necesita una transfusión de sangre inmediamente. El problema es que, por culpa del huracán, nuestro suministro de sangre está agotado. También, por falta de electricidad, no podemos hacer las pruebas para confirmar su tipo de sangre. Sin una transfusión, ella probablemente se muere. Que me disculpen mis palabras tan fuertes, pero tenemos muy poco tiempo."

Dr. Trelles was brutally frank. He told Fernando that Giuseppina needed a blood transfusion immediately; without it she would probably die. The problem was, because of the hurricane, their blood supply at the clinic was depleted. Additionally, without electricity they could not quickly perform the laboratory analyses to determine her blood type. He apologized for his strong words, but time was of the essence. 

"Hace unos años que me dijeron que yo tengo el tipo de sangre que puedo dar a cualquiera persona. Fue cuando me trataron aquí mismo para una úlcera sangrante."

Fernando told Dr. Trelles that several years ago, this same clinic told him that he had a type of blood that he could donate to anyone. He explained that he was being treated for a bleeding ulcer at the time.

Dr. Trelles ordered the nurses to rush Giuseppina into a nearby treatment room. He grabbed Fernando by the arm and followed the gurney. Another nurse took the newborn baby into another room for examination. Within minutes Fernando was on a gurney adjacent to Giuseppina. As Dr. Trelles performed a physical examination of Giuseppina, the nurses frantically began the procedure of transferring Fernando's blood directly into Giuseppina. The doctor constantly monitored Giuseppina's heart rate and blood pressure.

After approximately 45 minutes, Giuseppina was softly calling for Fernando. He turned toward her.

"Estoy aquí mi amor, estoy aquí mismo."

Fernando, with tears in his eyes, responded, "I'm here my love, I'm right here."

Gaitero felt relieved when he noticed that the color of Giuseppina's face had returned to its normal pinkish white from the earlier ashen gray. He glanced toward Dr. Trelles, hoping for some indication of what was happening. Rather than speaking, the doctor smiled broadly and gently nodded his head in the affirmative. Fernando reached over and gently grasped Giuseppina's hand. 

After about another 30 minutes, a nurse told Fernando that the procedure was over. As she was disconnecting him from the equipment, she explained that they would give Giuseppina some medications for pain and to help her sleep. She also recommended that Fernando remain on the gurney for a bit longer. Giuseppina was wheeled out of the room. Twenty minutes later, the same nurse returned with a tray containing a large mug of café con leche and toasted Cuban bread with butter; this was the panacea for all ailments in this part of Tampa. 

Dr. Trelles entered the room and sat next to Fernando. He told him that, after a lot of rest and nourishment, Giuseppina would be fine. His newborn son was healthy, though crying for his mother, and for food. Both men chuckled. The doctor recommended some minor reparative surgery after a few days of recovery from her blood loss. After a moment of hesitation, Dr. Trelles mentioned that although Giuseppina was anatomically able to conceive again, he recommended against it. He suggested that while he was doing the surgery, he could sever her Fallopian tubes, making future conceptions impossible. The doctor reminded Fernando that this procedure was strongly frowned upon by the Catholic church. That being said, Dr. Trelles said he was able to, in good conscience, present an argument that a future pregnancy would endanger Giuseppina's life. Fernando, though a believer in God, was not as observant of Catholic doctrine as was his wife. He advised Dr. Trelles that he was in favor of the proposal, but that he would discuss it with Giuseppina. As the doctor rose to leave, he turned to Fernando.

"Gracias a Dios que tu recordastes de tu tipo de sangre, porque no teníamos ni tres minutos para perder. Para sentirme asegurado, depués de la transfusión, miré en los expedientes para confirmar lo que me dijiste. Algunas veces las complicaciones de dar sangre incompatible se presentan unas horas después. Estamos bien, Fernando."

With a grin, Dr. Trelles told Fernando that it was a godsend that Fernando had remembered about his blood type, since they didn't even have a few minutes to spare. The doctor, concerned about delayed complications from mismatched blood, confessed that he had checked the hospital files, and Fernando was correct. Gaitero had type O blood and was considered a universal donor. Fernando had saved Giuseppina's life.

After finishing his coffee and toast, he asked a nurse if he could see Giuseppina and the baby. She led him down a hallway which was dimly lit from the first rays of the rising sun. Fernando had failed to notice that the hurricane had passed. A gentle rain and a light wind were the only reminders of their hellish night. 

They entered a large ward which was occupied by approximately 15 women. The beds were separated by room dividers draped with white cloth. Halfway across the room, the nurse stopped and gestured to Fernando to enter the "room". Mrs. Priede, always the loyal friend, was in a chair next to the bed. She was gently stroking Giuseppina's hand. The new mother was fast asleep. When Mrs. Priede saw Fernando, she rose and gave him a warm hug, kissing each of his cheeks. As he returned the hug, they both wept quietly. She offered him her seat, but Fernando declined. Mrs. Priede was an older woman, and Fernando felt badly that she had been through such an ordeal. He apologized profusely; she whispered that it was fine. Giuseppina was like a daughter to her. 

Fernando asked for his son. Mrs. Priede explained that María and Mr. Greco had taken the child to a wet nurse in nearby West Tampa, across the Michigan Ave. bridge. Dr. Trelles had thoroughly examined the infant and all was well, except that he needed to start eating quickly. Giuseppina would not be able to nurse for a day or two. Mrs. Messina always kept a list of women who had recently given birth. Many of these women were willing to help out in situations such as this; some expected compensation, others did not. Fernando's expression changed to one of surprise and concern. Mrs. Priede assured him that all was well and that his son was in good hands.

The thoughtful nurse brought some coffee and toast for Fernando and Mrs. Priede, along with another chair for Fernando. As they enjoyed their food, they reminisced about Asturias. Like most of Fernando's neighbors, Mrs. Priede was from the concejo ("county") of Candamo. This wonderfully kind woman was from the town of Grullos, not far from Fernando's native San Román. They were briefly interrupted when Giuseppina opened her eyes, smiled at them, and reached out for Fernando's hand.

El Gaitero's faith in humanity had never been stronger, and café con leche never tasted better.

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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