When Dora’s parents pulled the car into the driveway, Dora’s mother said “Oh, no!” in a strangled voice before ripping off her seat belt and running out of the car. There was a big ambulance sitting in front of the house, and two men in blue zippie-up clothing – kind of like Dora’s pajamas when she was very small – were rolling a big bed with wheels on it towards the back of the ambulance, which had its red lights swirling around and around, but the siren was off. Then Dora saw her grandfather run out the door after the men. Dora’s mother ran to him, and then they both got into the back of the ambulance with the men.
Dora’s father started the car up, and began following the ambulance, which now had its siren on.
“Daddy, what’s going on?” Dora asked from the backseat.
“Well, sweetie, I’m not sure. I think something happened to Grandma, and that’s why the ambulance was there. We’ll follow the ambulance to the hospital and we’ll see your mother and Grandpa there and they’ll tell us what’s going on.” Dora’s father sounded very worried. Dora knew he sounded worried because he sounded like this when Dora had tried to make herself some toast alone and had ended up burning her finger badly. She’d been taken to the hospital then, and the doctors gave her some sticky lotion to put on the burn until it healed. Her father had sounded exactly the same then as he did now.
“But Daddy, Grandma will be okay, right?”
“I hope so, sweetie.”
Soon they were pulling into the hospital parking lot. Dora’s father parked the car, and Dora leaped out of the backseat after him. They walked towards the big double doors of the emergency room [Dora knew that’s what it was because that’s where she’d gone when her finger had been burned.] The doors opened automatically and they walked in.
“Mommy!” Dora called out, and ran to her mother who was hunched over in a chair, half leaning over Grandpa and talking to him softly. She caught Dora up in her arms and settled her on her lap. Dora’s father sat down on her Grandpa’s other side, and asked quietly what was happening.
“She had a stroke,” Grandpa said. He sounded so tired. Dora never thought of her Grandpa as an old man, not like the other old men she would see on the street sometimes. But now she thought he did look old. She turned and buried her face in her mother’s hair. She was scared. Everyone was acting so sad and tired. It was her birthday. Everyone, herself included, should be happy today!
“What’s a stroke, Mommy?” She whispered in her mother’s ear. Her mother pulled her backwards a bit so she could look at her face. Dora was sucking her thumb, something she almost never did anymore, not now that she was a big girl and going to school and everything.
“Well, honey-pie, you remember how we read in your encyclopedia about how the brain works?” Dora’s mother answered. Dora remembered. She had gotten a nice big set of children’s encyclopedias for her last birthday and she’d been reading them with her mother and father and lately also alone a bit. The books were illustrated and she remembered the picture of the brain, all wormy and pink. She nodded to her mother.
“Well,” her mother continued. “A stroke is when a big clump of blood blocks some parts of the brain off. That throws the whole balance of the brain off and then some parts of it stop working for a minute or two. That’s what happened to Grandma.”
“But Mommy,” Dora spoke quietly, her thumb still half in her mouth. “Grandma will be fine, right? And we’ll go back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and have cake and I’ll blow out the candles, right?”
“I don’t think so, baby,” her mother replied. “Grandma’s going to have to stay here for a while and I want to be here with Grandpa once she wakes up and the doctors see how bad the damage is from the stroke.”
It was all too much – first she’d gotten ouches on her birthday, then no dessert at school, and now even this was ruined. No cake on her birthday. Dora burst into tears.