February 13, 2019
Dear Daddy —
This is another letter I’ll publish immediately, because a lot has happened while I’ve been quiet these past two weeks. Part of it has kept me from publishing a blog entry. Part of it is news you would need to know about if you were here… or news that wouldn’t be news, because it wouldn’t have happened, if you were here.
Mother’s been sick for over a week, and actually spent this past weekend in the hospital, her first hospital stay, she points out, since she beat skin cancer in 1974.
It started with nausea on Friday the 1st. She said she had woken up at 3:30 in the morning and gotten sick. She couldn’t eat anything and couldn’t stand the thought of food. By Sunday, still unable to hold anything down, Susan had taken her to the urgent care and she had been diagnosed with a severe UTI. The nausea, the abdominal pain, the weakness, were all consistent signs, as was the fact that she seemed a little more confused than normal.
She still didn’t want to eat for the next few days. We figured, well, it was a really bad infection. She kept taking her meds. Wednesday, she happily announced that she had eaten a peanut butter sandwich and it was staying down. I thought the infection was clearing.
Thursday, Jess called me first thing to tell me that Grandmother had fallen out of bed, and she couldn’t stand her up alone. I had her call 911 for a patient assist and rushed over. By the time I arrived, she was already seated in her recliner and seemed happy, if embarrassed. She was still weak, though, and told me that the peanut butter sandwich had not, in fact, stayed down. I made an appointment with her doctor and rushed to the grocery store to get her some Ensure, to keep her nourished. Of course, she refused to drink the ensure because the Saltine she had just eaten needed to settle. I know you both love Saltines, but they are not actually food. At that moment, I was tempted to throw every damned one in the house to the chickens.
I had to leave to pack, because this past weekend was Farpoint, the convention I founded 26 years ago. Renee and I are deputy chairs, and we are very busy and very needed throughout the weekend. Someone was going to stay with Mother the entire time we were gone.
But that didn’t happen.
No sooner had I walked in the door at home than Susan called to tell me that she’d heard from Phillips Lifetouch. The good news was, Mother’s fall that morning had convinced her to wear her “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” alarm full time. The bad news was that she, now wearing it, had fallen and could not get up. Jess had gone to take a shower and had thought Mother had heard her say “I’m going to take a shower.” Mother had not heard her. Did I mention that Mother won’t wear her hearing aids because they itch?
So Mother got up, locked all the doors, including the door between her apartment and the rest of the house, and then went to the bathroom. Not an issue, except that she was very weak from infection and hunger, and she also has a bad habit of parking her walker at the bedroom door and walking about 15 feet unassisted to the bathroom. So she went down on her backside.
I called Jess, who rushed down, found keys and got to Mother’s side. We tried again to talk through rolling over, crawling and pulling up, but Mother was even more rattled this time. She later admitted that she doesn’t remember anything after the fall until she woke up in an ER bed hours later.
The crew from Station 11 came back out, picked her up and this time placed her in a wheelchair that you bought long ago, “In case she ever needs it.” (You needed it first, it turned out, but you refused to use it.) But Jess called to tell me she was shivering, even wrapped in blankets. Susan and I decided it was time for bloodwork and IV fluids. Susan rushed Mother to the urgent care, but, because she’d fallen twice in 24 hours, they sent her directly to the ER.
At this time of year, our local ER is jam-packed. They were triaging patients in the main lobby. They put mother on fluids, which immediately improved her, but she had to wait overnight to be admitted to a room. It was just shy of 24 hours before she was settled.
Meanwhile, I was making sure equipment was in place, making sure volunteers had shown up to do their jobs (or were replaced if they had not), directing a tech rehearsal and performance of a live radio play, emceeing the convention opening ceremonies, planning a book launch party, and trying to figure out why audio and video services were not happening the way they were scheduled to. By Sunday, Renee and I were covering for our sick-in-bed con chair, Sharon. In between times, I was checking in on Mother via phone.
And, if there was time, I breathed occasionally.
I became very concerned during my phone calls, because Mother was sounding convinced that she was not getting better and that she would not walk again. I was anxious enough to leave the convention a bit early, even though her doctor had declared that the weakness which caused her falls was the result of the infection, dehydration (Mother has now announced that she hates that word and it is not to be uttered in her presence) and hunger.
Fortunately, Mother seemed much better when I got to her bedside Sunday night. She was awake and chatting with our friend Ursula, who is visiting regularly, and she had been eating at least a little. She had eaten and drunk enough to be off the continuous IV. The next day, I was able to be there to meet with her case manager, and plan her transfer to a skilled nursing facility, where she would undergo physical and occupational therapy to get her walking (safely) again. The doctor said she would only need, “A few days.” The physical therapist is now saying two weeks. After that, though, she’s cleared to go home. And her combination of Medicare and secondary insurance covers all of it.
Mother still gets confused about where she is–it’s easy to lose track of place and time when all you see are hospital walls. She’s also unsure where to go next, but it looks like she’s coming home. If she needs additional care, as you did, we’ll make that happen.
In the midst of all of this, Ethan called to tell me that the power lines along the driveway were sparking. We have old trees–I mean old, I think they’re Civil War era–along that driveway. We had had a freezing rain storm, and the branches were weighted down against the lines. My colleagues at the Fire Department again came out to investigate and referred the issue to BGE. BGE’s response floored me. “The lines stopped sparking before we got there, and we don’t really care if branches touch live electric lines. It’s not unsafe.” I am not sure that that is a true statement. When the top of one of those trees fell a few hours later, blocking the driveway, I was less sure. I’ve always defended BGE, but now I’m very dubious about their safety practices. As far as I know, a tree can conduct electricity, and a tree touching wires with its branches can electrocute people and animals with its trunk.
But, hey, the power didn’t go out, and that seems to be all that matters.
I wish I had time to follow up further on that, but I just don’t. I had to hire someone to cut up and chip the fallen tree, so people could get in and out of the driveway.
And, oh yeah, they still expect me to come to work.
Are you whistling? I’m pretty sure I hear you whistling. I’ll go now.