Carol Ann Haines

Writing Samples

"If I don't write to empty my mind,
I go mad."

~ Lord Byron

Precious Memories       

            One cherished childhood memory is of a homey Christmas Eve night I shared with my big brother. Christmas was magical at our house. The family income was modest and with five kids, four at the time, we did not receive many indulgences throughout the year. But at Christmas time my parents pulled out all the stops. They saved all year to make all our dreams come true for this one enchanting time each year.

            The cookies were baked, the holly was hung, and the tree was twinkling with lights and tinsel. The Christmas Eve activities were winding down and begrudgingly, we kids were sent off to bed. My sister immediately fell into a sound sleep as she always did, and I lay awake anticipating what treasures awaited us come morning.

            “Sis, Sis, are you awake?” It was my brother peeking in to see if I was as restless as he was. “I think I hear Mom and Dad putting our presents under the tree”

            We were pretty young, but I don’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus. I was always a realist and knew that it was Mom and Dad playing Santa. Our cozy house was kept warm by a gas heater located in the wall between the bedrooms and the living room. There were slats in the upper part of the heater that you could see through. We stealthily crept up to the heater and peered through the slats to see what goodies were being unveiled.

            We stood in the warmth of the heater, holding hands, silently watching until the last gifts were tenderly placed around the tree to insure maximum impact on Christmas morning. Suddenly it was time for us to rush back to our beds to avoid being caught in the act.

            Even though we had been up so late, my brother and I were the first ones up in the morning. There were still lots of surprises despite our secret preview. I am not sure why I remember that Christmas Eve so clearly after all these fifty some years. Maybe because it was a time of innocence, security and bonding that only a loving family can provide a small child. What would I give to feel so safe again, if only for a little while.


Italy and the English Patient
     (First Place Winner of Almost Famous Authors' Faire Writing Contest)

            It is not surprising that I married into an Italian family. I have always loved everything Italian: the food, the wine, the art, and, of course my husband. To celebrate 30 years of marriage, our dream to experience the glories of Italy had come true. After three magical days in Venice we were despondent to leave, but excited to move on to Florence.

After several long days of pounding the cobblestones, I woke up on our last morning in Florence feeling a little out of sorts. Oh no, I’m not getting sick. I’ll just have to buck up and get over it. We were scheduled to pick up a car and tour the Tuscan countryside. We had reservations for wine tasting at 11:00 a.m. that I didn’t want to miss. Mark, being anxious about driving in a foreign country cringed as horns blared when we pulled out into traffic.

As we navigated the narrow and winding roads of Chianti, I gripped my armrest and struggled with the map while Mark dodged the competent but aggressive Italian drivers.                                                                                                                         

Determined as I was to shake the nausea I was experiencing, the diesel fumes from our rental, combined with the twists and turns, were getting to me.  Still I strained to read the map but finally had to admit that we may be on the wrong road, and that I was about to lose my breakfast. Mark was white-knuckling the steering wheel and quickly pulled off the road where I emptied the contents of my stomach.

            After a little walk and some fresh air we got back on the road as I began to feel better. However, the road seemed to be getting worse, with hairpin curves and steep grades. The exhaust fumes seemed stronger than before. Mark was thinking we were still lost. I was getting hot and sweaty, as the nausea returned, but willed myself to maintain for a few more minutes.

Thankfully we arrived just in time for our wine tasting. It was good to be out of the car as the midday sunlight warmed the hills and vineyards, creating a mesmerizing environment of colors and history in this ancient place. Unfortunately, it was not enough to make me well. Wine tasting was the last thing I wanted to do. Mark drank my samples while I managed to eat some bread and cheese, hoping to settle my stomach.

As we headed to our next destination, I repeated to myself, I will not be sick, I will not be sick, uh oh, I’m getting sick again. I must fight it off. I am in Tuscany. I can’t be sick. I was having trouble breathing and felt like I was going to faint. Breathe, breathe, I told myself.  What’s this? My arms are going numb.  Am I having a heart attack? I have to get out of this car. “Mark, I’m really sick! Something is happening to me. Pull over. I need help!” 

Thinking I was being overly dramatic, Mark looked for a place to pull over.  We were in a remote area but saw an establishment up ahead.  By then I was starting to panic.  I couldn’t catch my breath or feel my arms. Let me out of this car! I need a doctor.

Mark pulled into the parking area and helped me out of the car. I dropped to my knees on the lawn in front of the car and began to heave. He ran inside and asked for a doctor. The proprietor did not understand much English, but he understood the word ‘doctor’ and proceeded to make a phone call. A customer, noticing Mark’s anxiety, and lack of communication skills, offered to translate. “Yes, please”, Mark said. “My wife is sick outside and the gentleman here is looking for a doctor.  I am going outside to check on her.”  The translator followed him and told him there was no doctor in the area but the proprietor had called an ambulance.

By now I had taken some breaths of fresh air, emptied my stomach again, and was lying on the grass recovering. When Mark returned I told him I was feeling better. He was relieved but exasperated. “There is an ambulance on the way.  It’s too late for you to be better. Just lie there until they get here.” The kind translator offered to stay and help us with the medics. I really didn’t want to get back in the car yet, and my arms were numb.  Maybe I should be checked out. As I lay in the shade on the grass I heard a siren off in the distance. I guess that’s for me. 

The ambulance swung into the parking area in a cloud of dust and gravel. Four medics jumped out, all speaking at once, in Italian, looking for their patient. The translator directed them to me, and two of them rushed towards me while the other two set up the gurney. While the medics checked me over, I tried explaining that I was feeling better and thought I would be OK.  The translator told them my arms had been numb and they insisted I get in the ambulance. They loaded me onto the gurney and rushed me to the ambulance. In their attempt to slide me into the back, they rammed me into the bumper. They pulled back and rammed me into the bumper again.  What is happening here?  Finally inside, while a female medic prepared an EKG, I tried explaining I was feeling fine but she didn’t understand and proceeded to stick the electrodes onto my chest.

Afterwards she sat beside me examining the results with a frown on her face.  Oh my God, is something really wrong with me? Then she started giving directions to the other medics and it seemed they were preparing to depart, with me still inside.

 “Mark, Mark” I called. “What is happening? Have the translator tell them I feel fine.” Mark said the medic saw something she didn’t like on the EKG and they were taking me to the hospital in Florence. “Are you serious? But I feel fine now.” Before they shut the back door of the ambulance, Mark said he would follow us back to the hospital.

 “Don’t lose us! How will you find me if we get separated?” He assured me the driver knew he was following and he’d see me there. I started to protest again, but the door slammed shut.

I lay back, resigning myself to the situation as the driver forced the ambulance into reverse and backed up at full speed. Making a sharp U-turn on what felt like two wheels, we blasted out of the parking lot. With sirens blaring we raced around curves and bends while I gripped the sides of the gurney, as I was not even strapped onto it. We entered a small town and sped right through stop signs and stoplights and I realized there was no way Mark could still be behind us. He was on his own without his navigator. I feared I would never see him again. 

By the time we arrived at the hospital, my heart was pounding out of my chest and I had forgotten all about being nauseous. Then it hit me that my purse was in the rental car with Mark. I had no passport, no ID, and no money. Well, this will be interesting.

The medics escorted me to the registration desk. Of course the receptionist did not speak English and left to get help. Her replacement knew a few words of English, one of them being passport, which, of course, I didn’t have, so she went for help.

I waited while the staff discussed in Italian what to do with this English patient.  I was taken back to a dormitory-like room with other patients lined up on beds and put on another gurney.  Soon a nurse came in to take another EKG, then left me there alone. I looked down at the other patients and they seemed content with magazines and visitors. Nobody seemed to notice me. An hour or two went by and I started fretting about my lost husband. Just as I was wishing he would come walking through the door, a woman from Admissions came in.  Thankfully she spoke some English.             

“Where is your passport?” I tried explaining that my husband had it and she asked where he was. I told her he should be there soon, not wanting her to know I feared he might never find me.  She made some notes and I asked her about my test results. She explained the doctor would go over them with me and left. 

I must have dozed off briefly because I was startled awake by a flurry of activity out in the hall and someone exclaiming “Ah, the English patient.” It was Mark! He was at the desk describing me to the receptionist. She was bringing him to me and he was carrying my purse!

He greeted me with a rash of questions. “How are you? What’s going on here? Why haven’t they released you?” I explained that I had had another EKG and apparently was fine because they hadn’t felt the need to treat me for anything. I noticed he looked like he had just returned from a war zone and asked where he had been all this time. 

“When I saw the ambulance take off like a bat out of hell, I jumped in the car and chased it down.  I knew I had to follow closely or I would be lost. I was hanging in there until we came to a roundabout. I was hugging the back of the ambulance, not stopping at the stop signs, when out of nowhere another driver cut in front of me and ran me right off the road. There I was, in a ditch, watching your ambulance disappear from sight. I didn’t know how I was going to find you. Once I got up the nerve to get back on the road, I just went in the direction the ambulance had gone. I stopped at a gas station and got the name of the hospital. I didn’t understand any of the directions the attendant gave me, but figured I would just keep stopping and asking, now that I had a destination.”

“How did you find me? You must have been a nervous wreck.”

“You have no idea. As I was leaving one of my stops I saw an ambulance going by with siren and lights flashing so I jumped out behind it, hoping it would lead me to you, and here I am.”

   “Thank God you’re here. I didn’t know what they would do with me with no ID. Our accommodations for tonight are in a remote part of Tuscany and I have no idea how we will find it in the dark” Neither of us was relishing the idea of more driving. We were feeling pretty disenchanted about the whole trip.

After finally seeing a doctor, we left the hospital with a diagnosis of a virus that was gone by the next day. We also learned that hyperventilating sometimes causes numbness in the arms. Relieved, we headed back into Tuscany in the dark of night and proceeded to get seriously lost.

We woke up the next morning in a strange hotel, having absolutely no idea where we were. After some time with our maps and a little attitude adjustment, we went on to experience one of the best times of our lives. I would not change a minute of our trip, not even being an English patient for a while.



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