From The Iron Butterfly:
The orderlies placed Eugenio on the far end of the ward. Dr. Contreras went back out of the emergency room and came back with a surgeon in tow. The doctor acknowledged Regina’s presence by merely nodding his head and went right to take Eugenio’s vital signs. His pulse was terribly weak and his breathing was short. He was barely conscious. His skin was so hot.
“His fever is dangerously high. How long has he been like this?” the doctor asked, putting the thermometer once more in Eugenio’s mouth.
“Since yesterday,” Regina said lamely.
He timed the thermometer, then pulled it out. The mercury had not moved. “Good God. Still one hundred and five. Has he vomited? Any headache?”
“He had all that,” Dr. Contreras said, looking at Eugenio who was barely aware of what was going on.
Hearing all that, the doctor looked at Regina and said, “We have to operate now.” Regina just nodded and pressed Eugenio’s hand tightly waiting for a response. Nothing came. She suddenly felt a knot on her stomach. She felt worried.
The doctor called a nurse and gave her instructions. In no time, she wheeled Eugenio from the emergency room to the operating room.
The surgeon went ahead of them to the operating room where a team of doctors and nurses had assembled to help in the operation. The surgeon put on a clean white gown, went to the sink and scrubbed his hands. The nurses, already had their white apron on and went to work assembling a tray of instruments. Another doctor began administering the anesthesia, waving it across Eugenio’s face. Eugenio was half conscious, half asleep. He coughed and turned away. He was now becoming very drowsy.
“Scalpel,” the doctor said.
“Right here,” one of nurses said.
The surgeon saw the nurse press an oxygen mask over Eugenio’s face. He took three deep breaths then stopped breathing altogether. His chest sank. The nurse took the oxygen mask off and started chest compression. Behind her, two doctors traded worried glances. One of them motioned to the nurse and he took over.
“One . . . two . . . three . . .,” he counted, pushing his palms in the center of Eugenio’s chest. He pumped hard and fast. When there was no reaction, he stopped.
“He’s gone,” the doctor said quietly. He stepped back. The surgeon, still holding the scalpel which was never used, stared in disbelief.
Shaking his head, the surgeon said, “I wish they had brought him earlier. I could have saved him.”
“We tried. There was nothing more anyone could have done. It was too late.”
The surgeon looked at Eugenio, at his lifeless eyes. The doctor shut his own eyes. He took a deep breath, but it didn’t help. No matter how many operations he did, he still felt down if he could not save the lives of his patients. He then gently closed Eugenio’s eyes. One of the nurses snapped open a sheet and draped it over Eugenio. Eugenio developed peritonitis, an acute inflammation of the abdomen caused by a rupture of the appendix following appendicitis.
The surgeon came out of the operating room looking drained and talked to Dr. Contreras who was waiting just outside the operating room. At the sight of him, Dr. Contreras knew the surgeon was not able to save him.
“He is gone. We tried to save him but it was too late. He developed peritonitis,” the surgeon said. Dr. Contreras placed the heel of his right hand on his forehead. He felt awful. He did not know how to break the news to Regina. They conferred for a while and then they went to see Regina to tell her the news.
Regina and Lucio sat patiently in the waiting room while Eugenio was being operated on and it was agony waiting for the doctors to come out of the operating room. The clock seemed to stop. It felt like eternity.
At last, Regina saw the doctors coming their way. She stood up and approached the doctors. Lucio was by her side. She held Lucio’s hand tight finding strength in it and fearing the worst. She was holding to a sliver of hope, hoping for a miracle.
“How’s my husband?” Regina asked. The surgeon looked at Dr. Contreras who nodded, then dropped his eyes. Regina waited a minute. Then looking at the surgeon straight in the eye, she asked again nervously, “How’s my husband, Doctor? Can I see him now?”
“I’m . . .” The doctor faltered.
“What’s wrong? Something is wrong.” She looked at Dr. Contreras. “Please tell me. I want to know what happened.” Fear began to trickle through her veins.
The doctor cleared his throat nervously. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Eugenio’s appendix had burst. We did everything possible but it was too late. We could not save him.”
Regina gasped, put her hand over her mouth. She did not want to believe what she was hearing. She shook her head. Lucio stood by her side incredulous at what he heard. He grabbed his mother’s arm instinctively.
The doctor continued, “His blood was poisoned. He developed peritonitis. I’m sorry.”
Regina did not hear all that. There was a buzzing sound in her ears. She felt numb. She felt like somebody hit her on the head and she was going down into an abyss with no bottom in sight. She felt the world was going round and round and she was getting dizzy. She was going to faint. Lucio saw it coming and came to her aid. He sat her down on the nearest chair. Dr. Contreras put his hand around her shoulders and tried to comfort her. Lucio knelt by his mother and held her hands. She tried to hold her tears. Her whole world was falling apart and she did not know what to do. Her mind was in turmoil.
She looked at Lucio and she could see the agony in his eyes and fear of what lay ahead. The boy was bravely holding his tears. Her heart felt the sadness in Lucio’s heart. If he could be brave, so can I, she thought. She could not fail Lucio and her other children. She had to do something. She could not let her emotion get the better of her. She had to be brave and strong for her children. She quickly resolved she had to get over this stupor and act quickly.
Regina looked around. Dr. Contreras, Lucio and the surgeon were silent all waiting for her to calm down. She composed herself in an instant, stood up erect and with a solemn look on her face swallowed hard and spoke to the surgeon, “I thank you all for what you did for my husband. I do appreciate it very much.” She extended her hand and shook his hand.
The surgeon said, “I am truly sorry. We tried everything.”
“I know you did. When can we see him?” She reached for Lucio’s hands and tried to hold her tears.
“Just give us few minutes.” Then both the surgeon and Dr. Contreras left them in the waiting room.
“She’s a remarkable woman,” the surgeon said to Dr. Contreras.
Regina did not know where she got the strength to hold back her tears. She promised not to cry in front of everyone. It could be construed as weakness and she could not allow that. Not now, maybe later. She needed all the courage she could muster. She looked at Lucio, the eldest son, the head of the family now: always serious and dutiful and hugged her son tightly. Her eldest son will now take the responsibility left by his father. She felt very sad for him. He was only 15, too young to bear such a heavy burden for the family. Her heart ached for her eldest son. It was not fair, she thought.
It dawned on her that she was now a widow at 36 with a big responsibility to take care of nine children. Her head was spinning. She held on tight to Lucio’s hands which gave her strength. She lost her voice and could not say another word. She turned around and saw the chair she was sitting on before and sat back down again, numb and lost.
It was Dec. 23, 1928, 2 days before Christmas.