The story begins with word that my mother, who just had hip surgery, wasn't going to be allowed to go to the rehabilitation home she wanted. I give Dad a call. Press them, I say, but I can hear that he is tired, overwhelmed.
My parents are in their seventies and this is her first hospital stay since the cesarean section I came out of. That's forty-five years ago, so this is a shock to both my parents' systems. I knew it would be, but I the child who imagines his parents able to solve any problem still lingers. I forgot that we saw high tide years ago and the waters are going out now.
Yesterday Mom did physical therapy well enough that her doctor denied the planned nursing home stay entirely. He sent her home to be visited by a home health aide. This threw my folks for a loop. The plan had been for Mom to be in the hospital a few days, spend a week in a nursing home, and arrive home more or less hunky-dory. That plan was gone now and my parents don't like having their plans disrupted.
Mom had the hip done at St. Joseph's Hospital, Syracuse and the place is awful. Like my school, someone decided to slash the staff way past the bone. Mom often waited twenty minutes for nurses. There were half as many people as necessary to run the place well.
Then during discharge, someone remembered that she had to climb four stairs at her house. They gave her the briefest run-through of stair climbing. Then, a nurse told her that she had been denied home health aide service. This sent my mother into tears and despair. Throughout her stay things had gone wrong, wrong, and wrong. At the time when she most needed care, she was dropped through gaping cracks in St. Joseph's system.
My father didn't know what to do. He looked ready to take a swing at someone. All he wants to do in life is fix things, but this he couldn't beat with a hammer, cut with a circular saw, or tighten with a 5/8" socket wrench. No amount of penetrating oil would loosen this nut, no amount of paint could cover over the peeling spots on that wall. I asked him for his insurance card and made a call.
There is so much for which I feel inadequate, but in that moment I was pulled out of myself. There was something to just do. I called and started winding through the process. I stood outside her room, across from a nurse's station, and a nurse sitting listened in, offering tips along the way. She, just like me at school, wanted to do right but wasn't given the resources by her institution to do it.
Behind me, in the room, another nurse was working the problem. She came out to tell me that she had arranged a home health aide. St. Joseph's had screwed it up initially. There just weren't enough people on staff who knew the right way to do things and someone subbing in had flubbed it. The glitch was fixed and we took Mom home.
It's good that she's home. The change of plans was a shock, but they will both be happier at home and it will make it easier for my brother and me to be of use to them. Anything will be better than staying another day at St. Joseph's Hospital. My brother and I can provide better care for them at home.
I won't go much into the shift of caring for parents who cared for me as if it's some kind of burden on me. It isn't, not yet anyway. Even if it was, I can shut the hell up about that. Not just because Mom stayed in the hospital for days after my birth, or because Dad drove me to the hospital with my broken arm and sat for seven hours while we waited for a doctor to set it, and not because they have waited in hospitals for the births of our daughters or my two neck surgeries. I can shut up because it is good for me to be of use to them. Their love for me and my love for them manifests in simple things: a call to an insurance company, an hour out for coffee with Mom, an afternoon in the Carrier Dome with Dad for a women's basketball game. And that kind of love is enough for almost anything.
St. Joseph's is an awful place to which we won't return, but perhaps because of the lack of care we have remembered to depend on be dependable to one another. There are better ways to learn these things, but I'll take what we've got and be grateful for it. After all, it's just about Thanksgiving and as good a time as any to count our blessings, gather together, and, at least in my case, write on.