Monthly Archives: August 2013

Keep on keepin’ on

While my father is serving a stint at a skilled nursing facility (their definition, not mine) I am managing the occasional business that my mother either can’t, or doesn’t want to. For instance, Dad’s car was due for inspection and he was adamant that it be done before the month was over. In the past, I’ve missed my own car’s inspection date by several months so I know for a fact that the inspection stations don’t care. They slap on a sticker and you’re good for a year from the date of that visit, which means you’ve effectively bought yourself a few extra inspected months. What inspection stations do seem to care about is rust.

My father drives a 1988 Chevy Celebrity wagon. When a car hits twenty-five years old it is considered an antique and if you have a nifty ride that you want to draw attention to, like a ’65 Mustang or a ’61 Corvette, you can get a special, antique car, license plate. Most people with antique cars are enthusiasts who have worked hard to keep their rides in mint condition. My father is not one of them.

61 corvette

My dad’s car looks every inch its age, inside and out, but it keeps chugging along – just like him. The first inspection station I took it to, a young guy looked it over and suggested I not bother having them inspect it because the rust made it a non-starter (figuratively speaking). The kid explained to me that whoever is in charge of regulating inspection stations have taken to cruising around mall parking lots to look for cars with lots of rust. When they find one, they check the inspection sticker to see who passed the car and then they go shut them down for thirty days. This particular station wasn’t going to risk that. Grateful that I wasn’t going to be driving around with a failed sticker on the car, I pondered my next move.

I drove away, not sure where I was going, and found myself in front of the garage that my dad took his car to for repairs. I decided to stop in for advice. The very nice mechanic validated the story about inspection stations’ new-found sensitivity to rust, but commented that he sees lots of cars on the road that are in worse shape than my dad’s so, “Somebody’s givin’ out stickers.” He directed me to a likely station and sent me on my way with best wishes for my dad.

Primed for trouble, I arrived at my next stop. Rather than pull into a bay at the garage, I parked alongside and went in to confer with the mechanic. I told him I was worried that the car might not pass. He walked out with me and stared at the car.

“Because of the rust?” he said.

My grimace was my assent.

“I’ve seen worse. I can buy you a year. Long as it runs.”

I tossed him the keys and not ten minutes later I was on my way with a street-legal, 1988 Chevy Celebrity wagon.

I decided to hang onto the car for a few weeks. Dad doesn’t need it yet and I thought my daughter might like to have a car until school starts again. She did, mine. His she refuses to get into, much less drive. I don’t care. It is an ugly old thing, and the brakes are soft and the gas pedal sticks, but it’s still rolling along. And it’s not forever, because I know that when the time comes, Dad will want his old friend back.


The family needs Critical Care, too

After our exciting adventure to find St. Elizabeth’s, my father was admitted to the Critical Care Unit (CCU). In the CCU, the ratio of nurses to patients is much higher than on a medical ward and constant monitoring is the norm. Having Dad in a bed in the CCU was both comforting and distressing. His suspected (and subsequently confirmed) ailment was a progressive syndrome that, unchecked, could shut down critical systems, so close scrutiny was in order, but from his curtained cubicle I could hear someone imploring, “Wake up, dad, please, you have to wake up.”

When my father was wheeled off for a test at 10:30am the next morning, I was ushered out of his cubicle and into the waiting room for families of CCU patients. The room was large, with chairs and loveseats ringing the perimeter. High on one wall was an over-sized, flat-screen television. The volume was up, but the only other occupant of the room was engrossed in her iPhone.

“Do you mind?” I asked as I walked over and reached up to turn the volume down.

She looked up briefly and responded listlessly, “No.”

In silence we shared the room, until her three siblings came in and began to confer about their father’s situation. Champion eavesdropper that I am, I was actually trying not to listen, but it was difficult to tune out their conversation. I surmised that their father had been brought in with difficulty breathing and was now in a coma. I regretted, for their sake, that I had turned off the TV.

Later that day, finding myself alone again with the original woman, I asked for advice on parking at St. E’s. We started to talk and share our stories. Then I began to suffer a version of “survivor’s guilt.” I had been assured that my father would make a complete recovery, and my new friend was being told that her father’s prognosis was uncertain at best.

The next day, the siblings were distraught. They had had a tough morning with a nurse who had been brusque and discouraging about their father.

“Don’t lose hope,” I said. “There are plenty of things that medical science hasn’t figured out yet. He could wake up any time. They just don’t know.”  I spoke with as much authority as I could muster given that I didn’t have a clue what science had or had not figured out. I just wanted them to feel better.

I went on, “I’ve heard that doctors don’t really know if a person in a coma can hear. I think you should assume he can; play his favorite music for him, talk to him. Tell him what’s going on in your lives, share memories of special times with him. If he can hear, maybe it will help coax him back, and if he can’t, you might feel better for having shared with him how much he’s meant to you and how much you love him.”

I fought to keep my voice from breaking while I was talking to them, surprised by the force of my emotion. I was directing my comments to the siblings, but I was talking to myself.

Not long after that conversation, while I was in my father’s cubicle, I heard the sisters talking to their father. They were telling him stories and playing Frank Sinatra music. I know it helped them. I hope it helped him.

My advice? Take an ambulance.

No sooner had my vertigo abated than my mother called to say that Dad’s doctor wanted him admitted to St. Elizabeth’s, a hospital in Brighton that is home to a doctor who is an expert in the illness the original doctor suspected. Dad didn’t want to go by ambulance, and Mom wanted help navigating, so she said she would swing by to pick me up. While I waited, I typed the address for the hospital into my GPS and asked it to simulate the route so that I would have an idea of where we were going. In a strange, prescient move, I was starting to copy the directions onto a piece of paper when my parents arrived. I jumped into the backseat and we headed for the highway.

“Here,” I said, leaning over the front seat, “plug my GPS into your cigarette lighter.”

“It doesn’t work,” Mom replied.

Doesn’t work? Then how the hell were we going to find the hospital?

“The doctor said there were signs for the hospital all over the place,” she assured me.  “And my tablet is in the back.” I unbuckled my seat belt, turned around, and got onto my knees to scavenge in the way back. Facing backwards in a moving vehicle is a no-no when you get carsick. I grabbed the tablet and sat back down as quickly as I could.

I’ve mentioned before that my mom is a consumer watchdog. She rarely buckles to marketing pressure; instead she researches her purchases carefully before committing. Consequently, her tablet is not an iPad. I had no idea how to turn it on, much less find the mapping application. Staring at screens on your lap is another bad idea if you tend to get carsick, but I stuck with it even as my stomach churned. I don’t know if it was me or the non-iPad, but I couldn’t get it to work. Mom and I both knew the general direction of Brighton, but we were going to need more than that very soon. We were running out of runway.

“Mom, I can’t get the map on this to work. If you pull over, we can trade. I’ll drive, you navigate.” My mother, the best map reader this side of anywhere, didn’t seem to hear me.

I grabbed my scrap of paper and read, “Right Greenough Boulevard, right Birmingham Parkway.”  Phew. We were saved. Or not. At the end of Greenough Boulevard it became clear that some critical direction was missing.  Mom tossed a couple of paper maps over her shoulder at me. I unfolded the first one and stared down, willing the contents of my stomach to stay where they were. I saw Boston, Cambridge and Brookline, but no Brighton.

“Mom? Do you want to switch?” I heard muttering and assumed she was ruing her decision to sign me on as co-pilot. Suddenly, a sign for North Beacon Street appeared.

“Take it! Take it!” I shouted. I knew it went somewhere I would recognize eventually. Besides, there would be signs for the hospital, right? Wrong on both counts.  I considered panicking, but Dad never betrayed the slightest bit of unease. I figured if he wasn’t upset, I could remain calm. Then I panicked.

“Pull over!” I jumped out of the car and yelled to a young guy on the street, “Where’s St. Elizabeth’s?”

“Sorry,” he shrugged. “I’m not from here.”

Back in the car, drive another block. Where are all the signs? Then, “Pull over!” I leap out and charge into a convenience store. “Quick! Where’s the emergency room for St. E’s?”

“Take a left and drive! You’ll see it.”

Less than a mile down the street we saw it alright, sitting in the middle of an intersection where we had to take a left or a right. We went to the left. We should have gone to the right. We tried to drive around the block. How hard could that be you ask? Without signs? Pretty freakin’ hard! One more panicked plea for help to a double-parked UPS truck got us to the entrance of the emergency room. We surrendered the car to valet parking, grabbed a guy with a wheelchair, and rolled Dad in.

Dad’s fine now, although we did spend almost a week driving back and forth to Brighton. It turns out that when you know where you’re going, St. Elizabeth’s isn’t all that hard to find. But don’t ask me for directions.