February 2, 2013 | 6:00 am
February 2, 2013 | 6:00 am
When we last left the story, I barely got my stepdad John to the brusque and ham-handed doctor, who declared John had the flu. Before I allowed anyone to leave us, I demanded a flu shot for myself, which I got.
John was too weak to get out of the wheelchair and into my car by himself. Perhaps miffed that his illness had made him incontinent, the office staff offered no help. This was the first time I had to bear most of his weight and dangerously collapse him into my car. Once home, the same thing — I had to half-carry him out of the car, then cajole him, one tottering step at a time, to walk into the house. I fully expected him to fall and sustain an injury and wondered (not for the first time and not for the last) how I got to this position — without help, without guidance, and with putting us both in danger.
A short time later the caregiver arrived. Since I started living with John, I have been making do with a caregiver visit only 6 hours a week (2 hours a day on Monday, Thursday and Friday). I also hire an aide on evenings and weekends, as needed. This has not been even close to enough help for me, but I’ve allowed myself to be intimidated by a variety of reasons not to demand more caregiving. This has been enormously risky, as I’ve allowed John to be alone for too-long periods of time, and have allowed my own personal and professional life to suffer. Don’t forget, I have a full time job in addition to the caregiving, which I provide for free in exchange for living rent-free (in a house I co-own, but that’s a whole other story).
The caregiver (who I’ll talk about more later) was as alarmed as I at John’s state of health, which was deteriorating before our eyes. I’ve never seen anything as fast as that — within minutes he became glassy and unresponsive, and too weak to move at all.
I called 911.
I have to say, actually picking up the phone and dialing those numbers is not an easy thing. My inner voice practically chanted “don’t overreact! you can handle it without all the drama!”
I’m so glad I didn’t listen to that voice, even though it was incredibly hard to see John strapped to a stretcher, shouted at, poked, prodded, and then slid into the ambulance.
They told me there wasn’t room for me and to come to the hospital in my own car. Fortunately I remembered to ask what hospital he was going to. “What do I do when I get there? Who do I speak to?” I shouted after them, but was drowned out in the noise of sirens.
Once I arrived, I was told to wait in the emergency room until they called me. It was there I beheld a standing-room-only sea of incredibly sick humans, most of them certainly with the flu. Babies, pregnant women, kids, adults, elders. Entire families, all hacking and heaving. A pile of available flu face masks, and not a soul wearing one.
I sat there for three hours, trying not to breathe and using the last of my cell phone’s charge to try to find someone — anyone — that could come be with me. Except for the aide, who was out of town, every single person I tried to contact was sick with a cold or flu.
When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I went up to the desk person.
Me: Hello, I’ve been waiting for three hours for word of my stepfather John _______.
Desk person: Three hours!?! That’s too long, the doctor should’ve talked to you by now. What’s the name again?
Me: John _______.
Desk person (going down a stapled list of names): Nope, he’s not here.
Me: That’s not true. He came by ambulance here. Three hours ago.
Desk person (making sounds on a walkie-talkie): No, no one by that name is here. Ma’am, you’re going to have to call the other hospitals in the county.
Me (the first of many tears making its way out of me): The emergency crew very clearly said this hospital…
Desk person: Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to clear the way for other …
Nurse at a computer (overhearing the conversation): John _______? He’s here. Go on in. You could’ve asked to go in hours ago.
And that experience was a walk in a sunshiney park compared to the next five hours!
Two things I’m glad I did: