"Code orange! Code Orange!" This very unusual announcement came over the hospital intercom as I sat at the hospital recently with my sick grandma.
A flurry of activity erupted at the nurse's desk. As a former nurse, I was intrigued at the scene. The team pulled out the emergency manual to figure out what they were being asked to do. A Code Orange must have been something unfamiliar.
The diagnosis: Natural disaster with possible chemical damages. Now that’s the kind of code that will send a whole hospital to the news to figure out what's going on!
It seems that a strange accident had occurred at the county landfill in a neighboring community about eight miles from the hospital. Toxic waste had been mishandled and fumes had been released into the air. No one yet knew how dangerous the chemical was, so a large section of the small neighboring town had been evacuated.
The emergency room was put on alert to treat anyone affected, and the citizens of our county were warned to report any strange odor described as "onion-like" as well as any nose irritation or shortness of breath. That was quite a stir for our small town!
Well, I must admit that I was already in a rather emotional state that night. My grandmother was near the point of death, and I was in no mood to take any chances with my family's safety. As the crow flies, our house was not very far from the landfill, so I immediately alerted Doug and the children. No worry. They were not even arrived at home yet from an out-of-town ballgame. Doug figured the danger would surely pass before they were home. I put my mind at rest and went back to my bedside vigil.
When my shift ended, I headed out to my car for a late night trip home. I was shocked to detect a strong onion smell right there in the hospital parking lot! Wow, that must have been some spill, I thought.
When I got home I found the family settling in after their road trip. We were laughing and joking about the weird smell when all of a sudden Lucas, our college-age son, came running into the house in an obvious state of alarm.
"So, don’t you guys smell that chemical? Look, my eyes are watering and my nose is burning! I smelled it long before the news announced it and I thought somebody had eaten onions in my car. Do you think this stuff is hurting me? What about my asthma? I think I’d better call somebody like the TV reporter said! And Dad...this can't be good for Josiah to breathe! He's so little. And what about the other kids? I think we are so close to the landfill that we had better evacuate, too!"
Evacuate? I was exhausted and ready for bed!
By this point, Lucas was clearly in the emotional lead. Lydia was now weeping and thinking she was about to die. The girls were rushing around packing their suitcases. All the kids were grabbing their pillows and begging Dad to do the "sensible thing" and move over to Nathan's house south of town. All ten of us. At midnight.
It was too far gone; Dad was unable to reason them out of it. Then the phone rang. Grandma had taken a turn for the worse and I would need to head back to the hospital. Dad would just have to deal with the hysterical weepers on his own!
Lucas, in one dramatic moment, swept little Josiah out of his bed, wrapped him in a blanket, and deposited him in his car seat. He sped off into the night with the rest of the children to knock on the relatives' doors and request safe air space. Doug was left manning the computer to see if we even had a legitimate problem.
Never mind that the same onion smell was permeating the houses south of town....and, in fact, half the county! Never mind that officials did not report any injuries or damage! Never mind that the emergency room was empty! We, at the Cherry house, were safe!
Disasters always look scarier in the middle of the night, don't they? The next morning, after the whole thing blew over (no pun intended), we had a pretty good laugh about our frantic exodus.
Lucas, however, was not as ready to laugh as the rest of us. Maybe that is why Dad decided to pay him back just a bit. This was a perfect opportunity for a practical joke.
The next night at church, Doug secured the help of Lucas' friend, Danny, to sneak into Lucas' car. Together they prepared a plate of sliced, raw onions and placed it under Lucas' front car seat. At the end of service, Lucas got ready to leave. Many of the other youth at church that night knew about the joke, and followed him to the parking lot. He got into his car, and then came flying back out.
"Hey everybody. That smell is back! Come over and smell my car! .... Oh no, my eyes are watering again! I must be so sensitive to this chemical thing!"
He called his friends over for a sniff. Each of them denied smelling anything unusual.
Finally, he decided to leave and air out his car by driving with the windows down. When he showed up at Doug's parents' house with eyes watering and nose burning, talking about calling the emergency room, we had to let him in on the joke.
I am not sure if he is laughing yet....but we sure are!
(Watch out, Doug. The pay back on this one could be severe! Ha! Ha!)