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It’s Sunday, February 9th, at just half past nine at night as I write this two-day late post.
My plan for Friday after work was to walk down to the Halal cart by the Q13/28 terminal stop at Main Street and pick up our usual Friday dinner (lamb over rice with salad). If I time it just right, I trade my money for the steaming food and walk right on to a bus, ride up Northern, and walk through my apartment door before the food even begins to lose its heat.
Instead, on Friday, when I got out of our staff meeting, I picked up my cell phone (which I’d left on my desk), and saw I had a voice mail from my mother-in-law’s best friend. There was no good reason for that voice mail to be there– if Tom had wanted to say hi, he’d call our house, not my cell– so I called him back immediately. He told me that Mom had passed out while on line at CVS and the store manager had called an ambulance. Mom had wanted him to pick her up at the store and take her home, but Tom’s car was still iced in from the Wednesday storm. He wasn’t sure where Mom was, but thought I should know about it.
I looked up the number for the CVS and spoke to the manager who had called the ambulance, and she said the last time she looked, Mom was getting an EKG from the EMTs and refusing to go the hospital. She put me on hold so she could check to see if the ambulance was still there– it wasn’t, so Mom had probably been taken to the hospital.
“Flushing Hospital?” I asked.
“Most likely, it’s the closest,” she said.
So I called Flushing Hospital, and within 3 minutes, confirmed that my mother-in-law had been admitted to the ER eighteen minutes earlier.
I left a message for Frank (who was working in Manhattan, and probably in transit at that very moment), then another, and was about to call a cab to take me to the hospital when my boss called me. I told him what was going on, and he offered to drive me to the hospital.
Ten minutes later, Donal and Farrah dropped me off at the main entrance of Flushing Hospital, and less than two minutes after that I was kissing Mom hello.

This is the fourth time in two years she has fainted in a local store and been helped by the people around her. The first time, she cracked her scalp open when she fell and was in the hospital for five days. The next two times, kind people put her in a cab home. This time, the store manager called an ambulance.
Each one of the four times, she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything all day and was dehydrated with low blood sugar, and that’s what caused her to pass out.

We spent four hours in the ER on Friday night waiting for the doctor to see her. Every time she asked me when she could go home, or how long this was going to take, or why she had to get a CAT scan or an EKG or whatever other test they wanted to administer, I said I didn’t know… but if she wanted to avoid this, she could, just by eating breakfast before she left the house, and keeping a bottle of water with her (AND DRINKING FROM IT) while she’s out and about.

She was grateful not to be alone in the ER. She might very well have been alone and we might very well have never known she was there, because she left the house without any ID on her. She happened to have Tom’s number on a card in her coin purse, but no insurance cards, no ID, nothing at all tell anyone who she was.

Obviously, things are going to change a bit going forward. We are going to be much more vigilant about her eating and hydration habits. We are making signs to hang on the inside of her apartment door that say: “Did you eat something today?” and “Do you have your ID and insurance cards?”

Thank God she is doing well.

When she landed in Flushing Hospital, she landed in a place where the nurses and aides are angels. While sitting with Mom and holding her hand and speaking quietly together, I looked around at what was going on in that emergency room. So many middle-aged and older people, people like me, with parents much worse off than Mom. One strikingly beautiful black woman in her forties, holding her mother’s hand while her mom rocked back and forth in pain or spasticity or both, the younger woman’s eyes filling with tears, her face full of sadness and loss; she had been through this before. An elderly couple; the wife was the patient, the husband tending to her, his four-footed walking cane leaning on the foot of the bed. He left to use the rest room, and then the doctors came to run some tests; the wife, in his absence, refusing to cooperate with anything until her husband returned.
“I WON’T!! Just wait until my husband comes back! I’m not doing anything, I’m not going anywhere until he comes back!”
I think, that could be Frank and me in twenty years; we have no kids, but we have each other.
A tiny, ancient Chinese woman, crouched over and bent with either pain or osteoporosis, shuffling to the bathroom, accompanied by a nurse, followed by her son who looks to be almost seventy himself. The tiny, ancient woman refuses to use a bedpan, so to the bathroom she shuffles.

At about a quarter to nine, the resident on call finally saw Mom; once it became clear that she wasn’t going home that night, and after I scored her a hospital meal, I kissed her good night and promised to be back in the morning.

I know that is likely there will be more days and nights like this. Aging is not for the weak or frightened, but it comes to us all if we only keep breathing.
I so appreciate everything the nurses and aides do to keep the experience human and humane for patients and families. There are millions of acts of love and duty every day in every hospital emergency room in every place in the world.
There simply aren’t enough words to thank the nurses and aides for their acts of kindness.
There is a plenitude of beauty and grace to be seen in an emergency room on a Friday night in February, just after an ice storm.

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