Hallway 2

img_0705There we sat, at the spot labeled H2.

Had I thought of it, I would have pulled out a Sharpie and added an “O” when nobody was looking.

Which was most of the time.

My Emergency Room experience with my daughter was so different from my ER experiences with my father. He is a former physician, a former director of a department in that hospital, a long time staff member, a former trustee of the hospital. She was a 16 year old year with a bellyache.

A literal bellyache.

I was the one who felt like bellyaching, though.

When we reached the 6 hour mark, I began mentally writing a letter to the director of the hospital.

He had once given me his card and invited me to contact him anytime.

Of course, that was when I was there with my father.

On this day, though, I was there with my daughter. We were first placed in a room, then moved to the hallway (H2) because they needed the monitors in the room for another patient, then finally, near the end of our 8+ hours, moved back into a different room.

We watched/listened to the parade of other patients: the little girl who had been bitten in the face by a dog, the teenager wearing sunglasses and a hoody who was hearing voices, the diabetic who began removing his own IV, the little Captain America guy with a cough, the person who overdosed on prescription medicine, and so on. Emergency Rooms are busy places. I get that.

At high tide, lots of people were in hallway beds and chairs.

At low tide, we were the last to be moved out of the hallway.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

I wished someone would occasionally stop by and say, “I know you’re still here. We’re working on (fill-in-the-blank). But, of course, no one did.

And I think that was the biggest difference between when I’m at the ER with my father and when I’m there with my daughter — the communication. With him, we are always kept well-informed. With her, I had to seek out nurses for nearly everything.

When she vomited, other than handing her a cup and a tissue, no one came. No one stopped by to ask how she was feeling. No one took the cup full of vomitus. We were invisible.

I was worried about leaving my father home all day. Some days he is so unsteady. Some days he is so confused. Some days, the two walk hand-in-hand.

I spoke with my father’s pastor while I was at the ER, telling her we might need help, but sometimes she just doesn’t get it. I needed help then, but she was two days down the road.

I messaged my brother so he would check on my father. Unfortunately his schedule never allowed him to.

I messaged my 12 year old daughter who was home with him so she could fix him lunch. She did.

I kept thinking, we’ll know more soon. We’ll be heading home soon — or we’ll be heading to surgery soon.

But the waiting. The waiting seemed interminable.

Finally, I told them that I was a caregiver. I needed them to start moving.

Even then the wheels turned slowly.

Please understand, I don’t hate hospitals. This particular hospital has been intertwined with my life for nearly 50 years. My father worked there. My husband worked there. Many other family members have worked there. My children have been born there and my mother died there.

But at the crux of most problems is communication – – or lack thereof. And that was yesterday’s main issue.

I don’t mind waiting. My daughter wasn’t dying. Other people may have been.

Just let me know that we haven’t been forgotten.

We were finally sent home with a we-don’t-know-but-come-back-if-anything-changes.

She’s still not able to eat.

What are my alternatives?


How ’bout them Red Sox?

If we were having coffee, I would insist on making it.

You use those K-cups, and I know they are convenient and all, but ever since my friend, Alyssa, mistakenly sent me coffee beans — which she followed with a coffee grinder — I have found any coffee other home-ground to be lacking.

I would grind some Kona beans. Then I would use my coffee maker that I bought for $6 at the thrift store — because I figured out that the beans matter far more than the machine.

And I would prattle on and on about Kona beans and thrift store finds and this and that, anything to avoid the topic at hand — Dad.

You know, he would probably be sitting in the neighboring room, watching the Red Sox game, well within earshot of our conversation, but it doesn’t seem to matter anymore.

When the physical therapist came the other day, she was asking him questions and he just went blank. Blank stare. Blank face. No response to questions, just fidgeting with his hands. She turned to me and I answered them. I felt so uncomfortable talking about Dad, and for Dad, with him sitting right there, but I guess that’s where we are.

I’d ask about your mother-in-law. I know she doesn’t have long in this world.

No one really warned us about this stage of life, did they? No one told us that we would, one day, no longer be celebrating milestones in our lives, or our children’s lives, we would be counting down the days we have with our parents — ticking them off, like a pregnant woman waiting for labor to start, thinking we know approximately when, but not really, not actually, not definitively.

And not waiting with joyous anticipation, but with sad resignation. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

There’s nothing to be said, though. You are caring for her, and I am caring for Dad.

I’m not ticking the days off yet. I hope it’s many years before we reach that point.

And I hope it is mere days for you — because the last ones are so hard.

I listened to the terrible death rattle in Mom’s lungs when she was dying. It was the most terrible sound I have ever heard. I prayed for it to stop, knowing it would mean her end, but also knowing it would be her beginning in a whole body, with a whole mind, in a place of peace and rest.

If we were having coffee, I would change the conversation.

“How ’bout them Red Sox?” I would say, and we would both laugh.

We were raised on the Red Sox in the days of the Curse of the Bambino, the days of always losing.

“How ’bout the Sox?” you would repeat back.

And the words would settle around us like plaster dust while the coffee grew cold in our cups.

Emergency Room

The giving of thanks maketh entreaty on behalf of the feeble before God.

The Paradise of the Fathers

That was the reading in my devotion book this morning.

I read it over and over and over. My brain was feeling fuzzy. Like it needed the glasses my eyes need to bring things into focus.

Last evening, Dad complained of a headache. I gave him some ibuprofen and that helped. Before bed, he asked for another dose of ibuprofen which I gave him.

Around 11:30, I heard him rattling around downstairs and came down to check on him.

A few nights before he had gotten out of bed in the wee hours of the morning and “couldn’t find anyone.”

“We were all sleeping, Dad,” I told him.

“I suppose so,” he said dubiously. “But it was the darnedest thing. The whole house was quiet. And it was dark. And I couldn’t find my room again. So I slept on the couch.”

In a later telling, he slept on the chair. Couch .. chair.. makes no difference to me. It wasn’t his bed and that bothered me.

So last night I heard him up and came right down.

He was holding his head and grimacing. “This is terrible,” he said, obviously in a great deal of pain.

“I think we need to go to the emergency room,” I told him, and he agreed.

The ER turned out to be a wash. Blood work, CT scan, x-ray all came back with the same answer. Nothing was amiss.

The waves of pain continued. I watched him grimace and grab the rails of the bed as he rode out the pain.

The doctor came in to talk to him about discharge during one of the respites and my father said, “If you just wait a minute, it will happen again.” Like the doctor was going to see something new if he was there during the pain.

“It’s a mystery to me,” the doctor confessed. “I believe you, but I can’t find a medical cause for the pain. I think you need to call your neurosurgeon in the morning.”

My father had recently had neurosurgery. That made sense.

The ER gave him hydrocodone and sent him home.

At 2 AM.

I got him back to bed and went back to bed myself.

But morning — which is my time of day — came around much too quickly and the words of the devotion book didn’t make sense.

“‘The giving of thanks maketh entreaty?’ Are my thanks a prayer?” I asked God.

How can I thank Him for a fruitless midnight visit to the ER?

I tried.

“Thank you, Lord, that I could sit with my father in the Emergency Room last night. Thank you that I could be his eyes and ears (because he had forgotten his glasses and hearing aids). Thank you for the time to study his face while he rested, and that he has his mother’s nose (a strange observation, I know). Thank you that we live so close to the hospital. Thank you for the staff. Thank you for humor and laughter. Thank you for sickness and the opportunity to care for those we love. Thank you for my father, and my husband, and my children…”

And the thanksgiving felt like a floodgate opened.

Did it make entreaty? I don’t know.

But it answered the unspoken prayer of my heart for rest on a weary day.


My father recently had a short stay in rehab (aka nursing home). The day before I brought him home this happened:

When I brought my father the newspaper, he was eating lunch at the table of elderly men.

“I can’t stay,” I told him because I had a million errands to run, “but I’ll be back tomorrow to take you home.”

The news fell on more ears than his.

He grabbed my arm and said, “That’s wonderful!”

Multiple voices around the table repeated the sentiment in their own words — 
“Doc! You’re going home!”
“That’s great news!”
“You are so lucky!”
“Did you hear that? Doc is going home!”

Then one man started to clap and the rest followed suit.

No standing O — but a wheelchair ovation — which seemed even sweeter.

The Beginning

My mother had Alzheimer’s. It was a long, hard road to travel.

My father visited her every day, twice a day, while she was in a nursing home. He seemed to be functioning well, although I would occasionally hear from concerned people.

  • “Your father said some things that really didn’t make sense at all. He’s such a sharp guy. How do you think he’s doing?”
  • “I stopped by the house yesterday. I hope it’s okay that I let myself in. Something was burning on the stove and your father was asleep in his chair. Just thought you should know.”
  • “Your father’s driving… um… you know, you can ask him prime care provider to revoke his license?”

After Mom died, I saw it. All of it. He was not functioning well. I couldn’t say if the problem was grief, or his own dementia, or both. I think it was both. I think he fought the fog of dementia for longer than I can imagine so that he could be there for my mom.

Now it’s his turn.

I’m doing my best to take care of him, but I won’t lie — this is hard.