#198 In which our hero relates the events of a rather bad week, part the first.
My lack of updates lately have nothing to do with lack of things to update about. In fact, last week was a pretty miserable week at chez Scripturient and, given my well-known love and admiration of Schadenfreude, I know you’ll want to hear about it.
It actually started the Friday before last, as I was driving home. I got a call on my cell from a number I didn’t recognize. Now, you have to understand that exactly two people call me on my cell: The Scientist and my friend Jeff. And Jeff only calls on Wednesdays. So getting a call from a stranger wasn’t a good sign.
I answered and it was my Mom’s next door neighbor. Without preamble she says to me, in a panic: “Craig! Your mother is very sick and can’t be alone! You need to come home right now!”
Now, Mom is 75 this year, but she’s in remarkably good shape. She has emphysema from decades of smoking, but she hasn’t smoked in years and it’s largely under control. She developed breast cancer last year, but caught it really early (thanks to breast self-exams! Which is great, but er, mom, let’s never talk about your breasts again, okay?) had a lumpectomy and a little chemo and is in great shape. However, she also had a bought of pneumonia that put her in the hospital for a week, making me and my three sisters collectively shit our pants. And since then, when she gets sick, she seems to get really sick, and really fast.
I would have worried about this frantic phone call from the neighbor a bit more except for two things: this neighbor is known to be a little crazy, and a LOT dramatic. So I decided to check my freaking-out until I actually got there. But I did high-tail it to the expressway and was home in about an hour and a half.
I found Mom not on death’s doorstep, but not in good shape, either. She had been fighting what she thought was a cold and “just waited too long to go to the doctor.” By the time she did go, her doctor wanted to put her in the hospital, but Mom refused.
Now, Mom was a nurse for all of her adult life, until she retired about 12 years ago. You would think that this would give her some insight into healthcare, and she would appreciate the importance of listening to your doctor. You might also think that a nurse wouldn’t smoke a pack a day, but she did.
So Mom’s usual MO is to diagnose herself with a cold or the flu and forego medical attention. But more and more, she can’t just ride it out like she used to, and it comes back to bite her in the ass.
Her breathing was a little labored when I arrived, and she had a terrible, terrible hacking cough. One of those coughs that sounds like it’s 50/50 that it might end up as puke? You know what I’m talking about.
Since she wouldn’t go to the hospital, her doctor prescribed a home-administered breathing treatment, one of those nebulizers. It took the home health service until 9:30 to deliver it. But once Mom did the first treatment, she said it really loosened up her chest and her breathing was much easier. So she went to bed.
What followed was a long, restless night. Mom was still coughing and hacking every 15 minutes or so, which would jolt me back awake if I did manage to doze off. Then, if the period between coughs became too long, then I’d start to worry that I wasn’t hearing anything. It sucked.
Come morning, Mom was breathing better, and we all felt confident enough for me to go home.
On the ride home I had a lot of time to think about being a caregiver. And here’s the thing about me being a caregiver: I suck at it. I love my wife dearly, but when she’s sick I’m not always as sympathetic or attentive as I should be. Part of this is when I’m sick I just want to be left alone. Frankly, I wish I was a better caregiver, but I’m not.
This has also prompted some long talks with my sisters about the future of Mom’s care. A lot of this falls to me, because I’m the only kid left in state. Not that I’m complaining, but I do wish sometimes that at least one of my other sisters (say, the sister who is a nurse) was closer. Because any of them would be better in this role than me.
That’s the disadvantage of being the baby in the family, I guess. I never had to take care of anyone. But now, those responsibilities are coming full circle. Like it or not, this is going to become an increasingly important part of the role I play in my family. There will probably be more frantic phone calls in the future.
And I’m going to have to answer.