During a medical emergency, I am touched by some kind of adrenaline-infused grace that gives me energy and an almost supernatural kind of mental acuity. I remember the names of medications, physicians, and procedures. I can reel them all off to concerned callers: Heparin, Bupallum, Intubation, ProGraf, Colangelo, Foley. The gears engage, the machine whirrs, and for days at a time I am at one with the Crisis Universe. Everything else in my life falls away, as it certainly must; my boss lifts my load willingly, Rob picks up the slack at home, and meals are eaten out or assembled. There is a perversely pleasant rhythm to the whole thing because I am really not required to do anything but show up at the hospital, sit there, be supportive of my father and wait for news. There is stress, angst, legitimate pain but it is all balanced by the desire of everyone in my life that I should “take it easy,” and “take care of myself.” It works. I am good at it.
As I enter the third week of this siege with my mother’s health, the gears are decidedly grinding. She remains in the hospital, on dialysis, unable to stand or walk. She has days of clarity and days like yesterday, when her considerable will is focused on climbing out of bed, the nurses forget to order any meals for her all day, and I wake up to discover that she has figured out how to use a phone again and spent the wee hours of the morning calling my father and asking him to come and get her. He is exhausted by this, I am worried by this, and we worry together about how to let the staff know what’s going on without being intrusive. Sometimes they understand, smile warmly and say, “we know, we’re taking care of it.” Sometimes they tap their feet and look distracted as my father is slow in explaining his concerns and I feel an unaccustomed impulse towards violence. We never know what we’re going to get, and we are being conditioned to back off, and be brief. My mother is the one who was unafraid to stand up for herself; dad and I are really easily subdued with the roll of an eye.
In the midst of all of this, my real, actual life is jamming the works. I am not cooking or eating healthy foods, and I feel bloated, slow and disgusting. I need a haircut. I need to exercise, meditate, work, and re-paint my toenails. This lurching from full adrenaline to dead sleep has not served me well. I really want to go in to work, look at my giant pots and pans, bake some cookies for the staff, and maybe purge the spice cupboard. I want not to feel fat and hideous in all of my clothes. I sense the increased drifting away of family and friends. They love us, they care, but other crises are emerging in other quarters, and this one is in a holding pattern. People really can’t be expected to remain focused on someone else’s (endless) problems in a world filled with oil spills, job losses, and personal disappointments. They can’t possibly stay engaged when we aren’t at the “resting comfortably” stage, or in full crisis mode, not ready for cards and visits, but no longer eligible for casseroles and lowered expectations.
I had planned for balance today. I had planned meditation, healthy breakfast, at least 30 minutes on the treadmill, and (in the original vision) Sam and Rob were both away on trips. I would have plenty of time to visit the hospital, hang out with my father, and get myself together. Instead, Sam’s trip was cancelled, and he is here, needs food, needs rides, and deserves my love and attention because he is sad and at odds. I didn’t wake up when I meant to wake up, and before I could finish cleaning Sam’s late night detritus the phone rings – dad needs help sorting through some papers, he is concerned about my mother’s late night calls and wants a meeting with the hospital staff, but they make him feel like a slow, bumbling fool. This last breaks my heart, makes me want to call the nurse’s station and yell at them about how my father has Three Degrees from Harvard, and if they are too busy to give a minute to a worried 83-year-old man, well, but I know how busy they really are, how patient they are with my mother…it’s complicated. It won’t balance.
I am wondering how people do this sort of thing, how they navigate the territory between full-adrenaline and “settled in a routine.” My father just called; my mother has woken up, and called him demanding that she bring him her clothes and her cane because she is going home immediately. It has taken close to an hour to call the seventh floor nurse’s station, my-brother-the-doctor, and my dad again to tell him that he should stay home, rest, save his strength. She won’t know he was there, and she’s in her angry, frustrated post-anesthesia stage which generally involves the irrational and exhausting hurling of invective. She can’t help it; it just is.
The dogs need walking, the kid needs consoling, I still haven’t taken a shower or eaten anything, healthy or otherwise, and there are calls to be returned, laundry to be done, apologies to be made for all the things left undone. I don’t want to whine, this isn’t, really, about me, but I yearn for a still point where I can gather my thoughts, take a walk and eat a piece of fresh fruit. How do other people do this?