Hold happiness tightly enjoy it brightly

Javea was a little known paradise in the province of Alicante, Spain, when Bobbi and I stored our Madrid furniture and personal effects in January of 1980, and drove to the Costa Blanca in our new Citroen Méhari (orange plastic, French 2 cv).  Javea is where the warm Mediterranean breeze circulates with the fragrance of orange blossoms and creates the feeling of knowing and feeling you are where you are supposed to be.

Bobbi and I would part and go separate ways years later, however 1980 was the year of hopes, illusions and expectations.  We had rented a chalet just outside Javea, where we would live until we found a 100-year-old farmhouse to modernize and decorate.  We had a brief hiatus in our plans when Becton Dixon selected Bobbi to decorate their new Madrid headquarters, which meant she would commute between Javea and Madrid.

I became our five-year-old son Alex’s playmate, co-conspirator in imagination, cohort in gathering wild flowers for Mom’s return and our chief food preparer.  In the early morning, bilingual Alex left in the bus for the all-Spanish Paidos School in Denia. He returned mid afternoon which allowed time for me to write, to shop for food, and to go once in a while for a fast bicycle ride.

The rented chalet’s location included three playmates: two delightful English brothers Timothy and Jonathan, and a petite Spanish girl, Maria, who could run faster than any boy.  Alex also had a Paidos school chum, named Iban, who alternated between his home and ours for play dates.

This particular evening was like all others:  I told Alex our nightly stories about  Ralph’s Place – a magical experience in the North Woods with very  unusual friends. His eyelids were growing heavy when we concluded the night’s story, and I tucked him into bed and went to my writing area in the living room adjacent to Alex’s bedroom.  I was going over my novel, Signs of Destiny, when the chalet storm shutters began banging forcibly against the side of the chalet.

I froze in place with the uncanny feeling I was not alone. It was not a good feeling.  I somehow realized the moving wind-blown shutters were but a guise that concealed the energy of an insistent presence.  The noise of the shutters and the feeling of a nearby presence gave a sudden rise to my fears of being possessed by a malevolent spirit.

In 1978, I previously had a very scary similar paranormal experience while writing my novel The Iberian Jaguar in Praia da Luz, Portugal. (What Not to do in a Haunted Villa http://bit.ly/1PxfDGg that experience that lasted for an ongoing six-weeks also began with crashing storm shutters.

The stalemate lasted at least fifteen minutes between my efforts to safely avoid what I perceived were malevolent intentions, and the spirit’s angry inability to communicate. My fear and the spirits very real frustration came to respite and only resumed again later when I was in bed.  Oddly, Alex slept through the noise.

The following morning I was awakened before dawn with anxiety, and the uncanny realization, perhaps from my subconscious during sleep, that the spirit was my maternal grandfather, Max, who had come from the hereafter with a warning that I was too stubborn to hear.

I made instant coffee and went to my work area.  I was writing the novel Signs of Destiny with the Random House Encyclopedia open to Death and Dying (the heroine dies in this version of the novel) when the shutters briefly banged outside that bedroom in the morning stillness, and then stopped forever.

I said out loud, “I may be a stubborn fool, but I think I understand,” and I ran into Alex’s room where he was sleeping peacefully.  It was Saturday, March 29, and I was truly bewildered.

Alex slept later than normal and awakened with a stomach cramp, diarrhea and a slight fever.  I took Alex at once to the local Javea M.D., where twelve Spanish mothers waited with their children all of whom were suffering with the same symptoms as Alex, and I received the identical RX prescription that was given the mothers and I took Alex home.

Later in the day, Alex was feeling better with the medication when we drove to meet Bobbi’s flight from Madrid.  Work on her project would be suspended until after Semana Santa (Easter) vacation when most Spaniards would go on a seven to ten day vacation beginning on Holy Thursday or Good Friday.

The following day, March 30th, was Palm Sunday. Bobbi, Alex and I attended Mass in La Parroquia del Mar (Jávea), and we enjoyed paella in an open-air restaurant afterward. At the restaurant, Alex played with other children and afterward he played with his miniature electric train in the Chalet.  He appeared to be feeling good and he even spent time on the swinging rope I had set up in the back yard.

There was no school at Paidos Monday, March31st, or Tuesday April 1st.  Alex seemed okay, when Bobbi and I had a serious conversation about the coming Holy Week hiatus. Hospitals would have a skeleton staff, and it would be a bad time to receive Medical service.

On Wednesday, April 2nd, Bobbi and I noticed Alex ran bent over, holding his side. We returned immediately to the Javea M.D. who previously felt Alex’s stomach and had prescribed a medication.  This time, he made a telephone call and sent us to nearby Denia to consult with surgeon, Dr. Carlos Terol Lopez.  Dr. Terol performed X-rays and perceived Alex might be suffering from a perforated appendix.  He would operate at once.  We waited in a family area after Alex was taken to the operating room and two dear friends, Pat and Dennis French intuitively came to the hospital and joined Bobbi and me in the waiting area.

Our apprehension grew as the surgery time grew longer and longer.  I was pacing when a nurse came into the waiting room dressed in surgical scrubs and requested that I follow her.  I was quickly prepared with surgical scrubs (cap, mask, gown and shoes) and I entered behind the nurse into the operating room where Dr. Carlos Terol stood over my son’s open abdomen.  I suffered chills and fears and started praying.

Carlos Terol was very solemn: “I brought you here to witness the nodules extending throughout the abdominal cavity.  You might be tempted to play down the situation if you didn’t see it.  This is very serious and must be treated as soon as possible in the United States.  Don’t let anyone tell you Spanish doctors don’t know!  Your eyes are proof.

Outside the O.R., a nurse handed me a brandy snifter with 2/3rds Osborne Spanish brandy, a pack of Ducados (black tobacco cigarettes) and a disposable lighter. Bobbi gasped when I exited with a stricken face carrying cognac and cigarettes.  “Alex is alive, but he has abdominal cancer.”  Bobbi and I shakily shared the brandy and the smokes.

We waited with Alex in recovery and were at his side when he awakened in controlled pain.  He was furious although we reassured him that everything was okay (remember he is only five-years old).  Six hours later, we left Alex sleeping quietly and we joined Pat and Dennis French in a nearby Denia restaurant at 10:00 p.m.

The next day we called our families. Bobbi’s parents, Bob and Ruth Garrity made the preparations with Dana Farber Cancer Center, Boston Children’s Hospital and the Ronald MacDonald house. They were miracle magicians with excellent Boston contacts.

I was a member of Navy League, and my first call, using the telephone at the Javea Parador Nacional, was to Oscar F. Kolombatovich, Fencing Master Emeritus, and President of Navy League.  I told Oscar about Alex’s about surgery and the diagnosis.  He couldn’t speak.  He was devastated and knew his wife Joan would be the same.  “How can I help you?”

“Bobbi and I need to fly to Boston ASAP in order to begin immediate Cancer treatment. I need to know the airlines’ rule on children traveling after surgery.”  Oscar promised to immediately contact the heads of TWA and Iberia in Madrid.  He insisted I remain at the Parador telephone.

When Oscar called back he had the “official” international policy: submit the surgeon’s report two weeks after surgery, and wait perhaps a week or more for the decision. When Oscar explained, ‘the child might not live that long without treatment.’  Unanimously, they said, (off the record) “the child would fly if he walks onto the plane without exhibiting worrying or disturbing signs.”

It was obvious what we would have to do.  I called Dr. Terol and invited him to fly with us to Boston.  He agreed.  My next call was again to Oscar, “Dr. Terol has agreed to accompany us as a regular passenger.  He will need a visa to fly on Good Friday.”  My hand was shaking because the US Embassy might be closed.

“I’ll meet you on the Valencia highway with the Visa application for Dr. Terol to sign.   Then I’ll return to the Embassy for the Visa and take it directly to the passenger boarding area at the airport.”  Then I made the first class flight reservations for four travelers.

My next call was to the Paidos School to let Alex’s teachers know he will not be returning to his classes.  The Director was both shocked and horrified.

Later that afternoon, Iban’s parents came to the hospital.  My contact had been with Iban’s mother, who now addressed me.  “I brought my husband along to make it official.  We’re not wealthy, but we will help you if you need money.  Just tell us how much.”  I couldn’t hold back the tears, and managed to mumble heartfelt thanks, and explained that we would be forever grateful for their kind offer, but it was not necessary. I promised to let them know of Alex’s treatment progress.

On the third day after surgery, Alex was gently placed in an ambulance gurney.  He was in pain and I wondered if we could successfully do what we planned.  Then I looked at him and he smiled.  Alex was a resilient and determined child who could aggressively train twice weekly for an hour in a Madrid Olympic pool.

On Good Friday, Bobbi traveled with Alex in the ambulance while I rode in Dr. Terol’s car following the ambulance from Valencia to the Barajas Airport in Madrid.  Along the way, Oscar Kolombatovich was standing beside the road at the designated place, and Dr. Terol quickly filled out and signed the U.S. Visa application.  We continued to Barajas Airport where Oscar Kolombatovich would meet us with the completed Visa.

We parked Dr. Terol’s car in the parking lot beside the ambulance with Alex lying prone in the back.  Alex would stay there until it was almost time to board the aircraft.  Dr. Terol, Bobbi and I went to the TWA First Class reservation desk.  They acknowledged the reservations and I extended my American Express card.  It was Good Friday, and as I secretly feared, American Express did not answer the telephone.  We had First Class tickets but we could not board until they had confirmed the credit card charge.

It is a real test of self-control to be able to appear normal when inside Bobbi and I were raging emotional wrecks.  Soon TWA called boarding for the flight. We waited and our composure suffered being destroyed.  The waiting was agonizing. Alex was now with us.  Even the TWA agent was suffered anxiety.  There was nothing we could do but wait, when dear friends Rafael Lorca, Georgia Lochridge, Edgardo and Puque Alberti, and Joaquin Soriano arrived.  They each threw credit cards on the TWA desk, and all said, “They must fly!”

Bobbi carried Alex to the boarding gate and placed him down for the first time on his feet.  He was steady but became cranky and upset (with every reason to behave angrily) when the airport security guard asked Bobbi, “What’s wrong with your child?  Bobbi frowned, “Alex was running and fell back there.  He is upset and angry.”  It worked.  We were soon in the first class cabin with chilled white wine and comfortable leather seats.

The First Class cabin was not full, so Alex selected a seat by himself, in the front row, and he ordered Coca Cola that he wasn’t supposed to have, and then he asked for chocolates. The stewardess doted over the white-blonde-haired child.  Occasionally, Alex would glare back at us and mouth the words, ‘Fuerra!’ (Stay away),

For the moment things couldn’t be better.  We experienced feelings of intense excitement and happiness.  We had accomplished what we had to do, and were on our way home to family and expert medical attention. At this point, we did what we had to do.  Tomorrow would obviously come with serious challenges.  But today was today, and that was good.

We would be met in New York by my brother John and Bobbi’s sister Pam.  We would all fly together to Boston where they awaited Alex in Children’s Hospital.  Bobbi, Carlos and I would stay in the wonderful Ronald Mac Donald house with other parents and their children who were diagnosed with Cancer.  Ruth Garrity arranged all reservations.  The diagnostic tests would begin the following morning.  Bobbi’s parents, Bob and Ruth awaited us in their home in Leominster; Mass (only an hour’s drive from Boston) where three other married daughters lived with two siblings each, many of whom were similar in age to Alex.

IMG_0385IMG_0377Years later, I had the privilege to know Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and on one occasion she had a psychic attending the retreat, whom I told my story of the wind and slamming shutters.  The lady looked at me and observed, “You already know, it was your grandfather.