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Finally, home again, baby and all

Editor's note

Since the March 13 storm flooded the Hernando County coastline, the Times has been chronicling the recovery of Weeki Wachee Gardens resident Susan Levesque. This is another in a series of occasional stories.

For Susan Levesque, it all became so complicated.

Trying to keep track of repairs to her storm-damaged house.

Trying to keep healthy enough and sane enough not to jeopardize her pregnancy.

Trying to fit herself, her son, Michael, and her life into her mother's tiny mobile home, where she had taken refuge after the March 13 flood soaked her house and destroyed her possessions.

Her blood pressure began to climb.

In between conferences with the contractors and searches for replacement furnishings, Ms. Levesque went to the Hernando County Health Department to get that climbing pressure checked.

Her feet became bloated.

Her ankles swelled.

Her legs became so filled with fluid that, if she pressed her thumb into the skin of her calf, it left an impression.

She began to have violent headaches.

She became short-tempered.

Ms. Levesque spent most of May fighting that pounding pressure.

She would go to the Health Department. The Health Department would send her to Spring Hill Regional Hospital.

The nurses in the obstetrics department would put her to bed, in a small room by the nurses' station.

They would talk to her, try to calm her, joke with her.

After four or five or eight hours, Ms. Levesque's blood pressure would drop from precarious to merely worrisome.

She would leave the hospital. Go to that tiny mobile home, where her mother's voice and her son's voice bounced off too-close walls and the smells of breakfast lingered all day.

The next day, she would go back to the Health Department or she would go directly to Spring Hill Regional.

She spent so many days in the obstetrics unit that she was like a favorite friend, stopping by for a lengthy visit.

One day, the workers in the unit looked out a window and spotted her, trundling across the parking lot, headed again for a day of calming down in the obstetrics unit.

They stuck a sign on the door. "Closed," it said.

They waited until Ms. Levesque got to the door and read the sign.

Then they swung open the door, laughing.

She loved them.

"These people are so dear," she said. "They're so kind. They talk to me and make me feel better."

By the end of May, Ms. Levesque was ordered by her friends Melissa and Carl Williams to stay away from her unfinished home.

Workers were laying carpet, finishing the trim that connects the paneling on the lower half of her walls to the drywall on the upper half. The cabinet work was done. The tile work was done.

Ms. Levesque's health was too fragile, according to Melissa Williams. The 40-year-old woman, in her last month of pregnancy, didn't need the hassle of trying to keep tabs on the work's progress, Mrs. Williams said.

So, Ms. Levesque kept going to Spring Hill Regional to get her blood pressure checked.

Until May 25.

That day, when Ms. Levesque went to the hospital, she was told that her pressure had run rampant for too long. She needed to deliver her baby. It was time.

She was transferred to Tampa General Hospital that Tuesday evening.

She stayed overnight, while the doctors checked her and discussed what to do.

"I think I've seen so many doctors," Ms. Levesque said the next day. "I saw five today, and yesterday I saw three. I do feel real good about that.

"Plus, the physician last night, she sat and talked with me for over an hour. She was taking a complete medical history, talking about the methods of anesthesia and why they do certain things for certain purposes.

"She's got that soft, intelligent, yet confident way about her."

On May 27, Ms. Levesque was admitted to Tampa General and was given an injection to induce labor.

The drug causes labor pains every three minutes.

Finally, at 10:05 p.m. the next day, she gave birth to a 7-pound 7-ounce boy.

She named him Gabriel, after the angel. And she named him Charles, after her brother, who died in November.

"He's so cute," she said. "He was looking around, and he was actually cooing. Melissa said she's never heard a newborn coo before."

The long labor took its toll on mother and child. The baby had an infection and was put in an intensive-care nursery.

Ms. Levesque had an infection, and her blood pressure remained high. She was put in a high-tech recovery room.

On Sunday, Ms. Levesque was discharged, but her baby was not.

Rather than return to Weeki Wachee without her son, Ms. Levesque carted some belongings to the nursery. She spent the next 24 hours in a chair at the hospital, nursing her son and waiting for his discharge.

On Memorial Day, Susan Levesque and her newborn son left Tampa General and went to her two-bedroom cabin on the Weeki Wachee River.

She had no food in the refrigerator.

She had no couch to sit on.

Her clothes were still at her mother's mobile home.

Her dishes were in boxes on the living room floor.

The closets, the bedrooms and the bathroom had no doors.

A board covered the hole where the window would be in her bedroom.

But, it was home.

Her home.

She had been away from it for 80 days.

And now, she and her sons, Michael and Gabriel, were home.

They didn't even have time to settle in.

Three days later, her blood pressure rocketed again.

Tuesday night, Wednesday night, her headaches were ferocious.

Thursday, she shrieked at the workers who were to finish her house.

She shrieked at Mrs. Williams, who was urging her to get medical care.

Ms. Levesque piled the baby and Mike into her car and drove the three of them to Spring Hill Regional.

Her blood pressure was 220/120.

"I thought somebody was literally putting dynamite in my head," she said.

Saturday, June 5, she was released from the hospital.

She and her family went back to their house.


But home, again.

Daily, her strength returned. Her stability and her serenity returned.

"One day, I looked out the window in the back of my bedroom, where I was laying in bed," she said. "Everything just had such intense clarity. The trees were so defined, and the leaves were so defined, with the light in them.

"I just felt this sense of renewal _ over where I lived and the natural environment, the wind, hearing the boats, hearing the children, everything that was home. It was just a wonderful feeling . . . to have my home dry and safe and clean and pretty, to be able to just feel like myself.

"I'm beginning to feel hope and strength.

"I want to live."

In those few days at home, she has had flashes of memories of the storm.

She remembers the treacherous wind that pushed briny water into her house March 13. She remembers the terror she felt when the water rose to her waist.

"I have had a few feelings about the water rising again," she said. "You know now that nature always has her own way.

"It's not a fear, it's just an alertness. You have to have an alertness now. You have to acknowledge the fact that you live on the water.

"You have to acknowledge the power of nature. . . . Now, I do understand how nature will do what it is going to do, and there is no one who can stop that."

She doesn't think she will quake at summer's wild storms.

"I think what is going to feel different is when they say, "local coastal flooding,' " she said. "I've heard that all my life. I've seen it cross through my yard, all the way through to the cypress swamp, but it's never exceeded 6 inches (deep).

"I know now there is that level of saturation where it just continues to grow."

She survived the saturation and its aftermath.

"Last night I put the grill on and grilled for Michael and his friend," she said. "I love to have the kids around my home. I just love it. It feels so nice to know they're swimming and they're running and telling me about the beautiful sheepsheads. They're bringing me snake eggs.

"And I'm thinking, "Wow! We're home.' "