In Sickness and in Health. An Anniversary to Remember.

When the phone rings at 5:15 a.m., it’s never a good thing.

I sprung awake, bleary-eyed and fumbled for my phone. I braced myself for it to be the nursing home, calling about my dad. But as I grabbed it, I saw the word, “MOM” flash across the screen and light up the darkness. Mom? I thought to myself. That’s odd.

“Hi Mom! What’s up?” I answered, worriedly. “Hi, honey!” she replied, with forced cheeriness. “Well…I’m so sorry to wake you. But I found Charlie (her very old dog) stuck on the kitchen floor, and I was trying to help him stand because his back legs gave out.” Then I heard a pause. She continued, “And…well, then I tripped over him, and I fell and…I bumped my head. On the floor. And well, I just didn’t know what to do.”

I stood up mechanically and started to form a mental checklist to figure out the priority of the situation: mother = fell and hit head; elderly dog = stuck on kitchen floor.

“Oh no! Never be sorry – I’m so glad you called!” I said, trying to alleviate her worry. My husband started to ask me questions as he listened to my half of the conversation. “Ask her if she is bleeding,” he whispered. I nodded enthusiastically, grateful that his rational thinking was chiming in. “Mom? Are you bleeding?” She replied that she wasn’t. Then he said, “Ask her if she is dizzy; is her vision blurry?” I relayed the questions and was relieved that her answers seemed to be okay. Then I heard him whisper, “Does she sound confused?” and I whispered back, “No, she sounds good. Clear-headed.” Then I heard her say, nervously, “But Charlie is still stuck on the floor. He can’t get up.”

Then my husband said, “I’ll take care of the girls and get them ready for school. You should go over there and check her out. It’s early. The kids are still sleeping.” So I said, “Mom, I’m on my way!” and hung up the phone.

I darted into my car and began the 5-minute leg to her house. Funny how at this hour it seemed to take forever as I drove through the pitch-black neighborhoods. Some houses were starting to come alive as I noticed single lights turning on. Most of the town was still slumbering.

As I opened her garage door and made my way inside, I found my mom sitting in her nightgown in a kitchen chair, with an ice pack parked on her forehead. When she moved it away, I saw a bump about the size of a golf ball forming just above her eyebrow. Her eyelid was just starting to turn a pale shade of blue. I turned to see Charlie, her 13 year-old Shetland sheepdog, staring at me with interest, his back legs spread-eagle on the slippery tile floor. He was, quite literally, on his last legs. But that’s a sad story for another day.

I helped her old furry friend stand up by grabbing under his belly and raising him carefully onto a rug so his paws could get some traction. His back legs and hips are very arthritic and he had likely been laying on the floor in that condition for hours. I put him onto the carpet and watched as his legs, though wobbly, eventually began to regain strength and he slowly waddled off.

Then I turned my attention back to my mom. As I was taking stock of her head, suddenly I glanced down to see a tennis-ball-size black-and-blue bump forming on her elbow. It was bleeding. “HOLY CRAP!” I blurted out, as we both looked at it at the same time. “Yikes,” she said. “That doesn’t look good.”

I whipped out my iPhone and texted a photo of both her forehead and elbow to my husband. He called a minute later and said I should bring her to Urgent Care. “But it doesn’t open until 7,” I explained, noticing that it was only 6 a.m. “Can she move it?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Well then that’s a good sign that maybe it isn’t broken. Why don’t you just bring her back home with you, you can get dressed and bring her in at 7 a.m.” Yeah, that made sense, I thought. Glad one of us was thinking straight.

I helped her to my car and we began the drive back to my house. I put on the classical music station, since I knew it was her favorite. Then it dawned on me. Today is April 10th! I looked over at her and said, “Hey Mom! Happy Anniversary!” She smiled tiredly and said, “Thanks, honey. What a way to start the day!”

Today is my parent’s 62nd anniversary. I had arranged with the staff at my dad’s nursing home (where he does his slow-dance with Alzheimer’s,) for them to have a private romantic lunch – complete in their own dining room – for later in the day when my mom planned on visiting my dad. There would even be balloons. “Well, we’ll have to plan your special lunch later in the week when you’re feeling better,” I reassured her. She smiled and looked out the car window. I made a mental note to call to postpone the lunch.

As we drove back to my house, I left my mom parked in the passenger side of my car, promising I’d be back to bring her to the hospital in a few minutes, after I made myself presentable and checked on the kids.

Once inside, I sprang into Mommy-mode, searching for the girls to make sure their school routine was still on track. They had just gotten up and were still in their zombie-trance while sitting at the kitchen table nibbling their breakfasts. I glanced at my watch and hurried my oldest along so we could make the bus in time.

Then my husband who works at the hospital, breezed into the room while absently, yet magically, tying his tie. “Why don’t I just bring your mom in with me on my way to work? That way you can get (daughter #1) on the bus and then you can join her.” Ahhh. Now THAT’s why I married him! Perfect solution. Daughter #2 who was in preschool, would get the day off and hang with me.

As the bus pulled away, I piled my youngest daughter into the car and we made our way to the Urgent Care center. Inside, I found my mom’s room and saw her laying on a stretcher, in her ultra-fashionable hospital “jonnie,” with my husband at her side. He leaned in to tell me, “She’s been crying.” and then off he went to see his 7:30 patient. He kissed me on the cheek, and disappeared out the door.

My heart melted when I saw my mom laying there. The familiar role-reversal I had felt with my dad had suddenly crept into the room as suddenly she seemed childlike to me. Her eyes glistened with tears. I went over and hugged her. “Why are you crying?” I softly asked. She swallowed hard and then whispered, “I guess because it just hit me what happened. It kinda shakes you up a bit.”

The doctor came in and examined her. I saw her wince in pain as he poked and prodded. A fall at any age can make someone sore; for someone in their 80’s, it takes on even greater severity. I bit my lip, much like I do when my daughters have to get a shot. By the time he got to her elbow, it had swelled up even more and he checked the site and saw that her skin was badly torn. “I can’t stitch it because the skin is so thin there. I’ll have to put some Steri-strips on it,” he said.

I noticed her right eye was now a lovely shade of lavender. “You see that color on her eye, doctor?” I said straight-faced, “You can’t even FIND that color eyeshadow in stores these days!” He stopped his robotic routine, looked at me and then laughed. I liked him already.

He ordered a CT scan of her head, as well as an x-ray of her elbow and her hip that was sore.

Please, God, don’t let anything be broken.

Daughter #2 and I settled in for a long wait. We told jokes. We traded silly bands. We thumb-wrestled while my mom was wheeled in and out for tests.

I texted pics and updates to my six siblings. I tried to sort out all the medical terminology so I could sound slightly informed when reporting the latest.

All the tests came out fine. No fractures. No broken hips. No serious injury. She was just badly bruised. She will likely be sore for a good number of days. Luckily, it turned out to be just a scare. Thank God. The nurse bandaged her up with lots of gauze. “Look, Josie!” I said, “My mommy’s becoming a Mummy!” She let out a belly laugh. Our spirits began to lift.

I helped her get dressed and tried to pry my phone out of the chubby little hands of my 5 year-old. “You know mom,” she said. “I really deserve a sticker for being such a good girl.” She was right. She was a trooper. It’s Sticker Time!

We made our way out to my car and off we went! Then it occurred to me that we would be driving past my dad’s nursing home on the way back. “What do you think, Mom?” I asked. “Are you up for a quick visit with dad? You have to see him on your anniversary!” She smiled. “That would be nice.” she replied.

I called from the car to ask an aide to bring my dad down to the lobby since our visit would be a brief one. They wheeled him down (he uses a wheelchair when he needs to go long distances) and into the room where we were sitting. He took one look at my mom and lit up as he always did. “My DARLING!” he gushed. She walked over to him and bent in closely. They kissed sweetly.

“Guess what today is?” she asked him. “What?” he said, eagerly. “Today is our ANNIVERSARY!” she beamed. His mouth opened wide. “Really?!? How many years?” he asked. She answered, “62!” He looked at her and said, “WOW! Happy Anniversary, my darling!” and kissed her hand.

They sat together for a while. They held hands. They smiled at one another. They didn’t even have to talk. Suddenly, whatever worry or concern – or bruise – life handed them, seemed to melt away. I just stood back and watched them, grateful that I could share the moment with them.

With both parents safe and sound, and as I prepared to re-enter my world, it occurred to me that I would not soon forget the events of this day. It began in the dark hours with confusion, panic and worry. But as the day evolved, it morphed into something beautiful.

As my friend Kristen reminded me just this afternoon, there is a gift in all we experience. Even the difficult times. As I stood in the same room with my parents today, everything dwarfed in comparison to the love they shared. When they are together, there is no such thing as Alzheimer’s. Or injury. Or even old age. All the bad stuff just evaporates.

There is just love.

And it still burns bright, 62 years later.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Muffintopmommy
    Apr 11, 2012 @ 13:41:56

    Hey, I hope your mom doesn’t sue you for violating her HIPPA rights!

    Just kiddin’. So glad your mom is ok. Those calls at odd hours are terrifying. And next time I fall down from polishing off my box of wine, I’m calling you and your hubs. Just kiddin’ again!

    Beautiful post. Happy Anniversary to your rents! I plan to make it to 62 years…if I don’t kill the hubs first. Again, kidding. I’ll stop now!


  2. Marie Russell
    Apr 12, 2012 @ 07:10:11

    Tears of joy!


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