When Life Happens All at Once

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about “When Life Happens All at Once.” It’s a long story, and I’m telling it as it happened one day at a time.

Thursday,  October 27

We were almost finished with breakfast when the phone rang. It was George, the new manager from Jean’s “active retirement community.” He said, “I’ve only been here three days, so I don’t really know Jean, but she couldn’t get to the dining room on her own this morning. We had to wheel her in. And now, her table mates say she isn’t acting like herself at all. She is disoriented, and she’s dropping her food.”

My immediate response was, “I think you should call an ambulance.”

He said, “She doesn’t want us to do that.”

I said, “Okay. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

I rushed to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, grabbed my coat, and on my way out the door, I asked Alex to clean up the breakfast dishes. I said, “I will call you and let you know what’s happening.”

My daughter Annie got there before I did. (Thank goodness.) We were both stunned when we saw Jean. She had absolutely no color in her face. Her  hair was uncombed and matted. That is NOT Miss Jean, the woman who is always dressed to the nines and never goes anywhere without her makeup and earrings.

Her breakfast mates, Doris, Maynard, and David were very happy to see us. Doris borrowed a wheelchair from another resident so we could get her to the car.

Jean said, “I need to go to my apartment so I can get my handbag.”

I said, “Why don’t you give me your key, and I’ll go get it.”

“No!” she said. “Take me to my room.”

“Okay,” I agreed. As I was wheeling her away from the table, she snagged a banana. There were no footrests on the wheelchair, so her feet were catching on the carpet, making the chair harder to push. My legs were burning by the time we got to the end of the hall.

When we got to her apartment, she dropped the banana on her kitchen table. I said, “Jean, I think we need to go to the hospital.”

“No!” she snapped. She said, “I will go to Urgent Care.”

I said, “At least let me call your doctor.”

“No! Just take me to Urgent Care.” She motioned to the bottom drawer in her entertainment center, and said, “The number’s in there.”

I opened the drawer, which was over-stuffed with papers, and I spotted a phone book. I lifted it up, “Do you want me to look for the number in here?”

“Yes,” she said, and then she told Annie to go into her bedroom to get her handbag.

I put the phone book down, and Googled the number on my phone. It was 8:55 a.m. The recording said they would be open at 9:00.

With the help of George, the new manager, Daryl, the new assistant manager, and a crowd of concerned friends, we got Jean loaded into my car.

I said, “Jean, I think we really need to take you to the hospital.”

“No! Take me to Urgent Care.”

I said, “I don’t know how we’re going to get you out of the car and into the building.

She said, “We’ll manage.”

I thought, “The hell we will!” but I didn’t say anything.

When we got there, I said, “Wait here. I’m going to go inside and get some help.”

There were two very nice women at the reception desk, and there weren’t any other patients, so I said, “I need your help. I have my 90-year-old aunt in the car. I think she’s very sick. She’s lost her ability to walk, and she has pain in her right rib. I think she needs to go to the hospital, but she doesn’t want to go. Can you help me?”

One woman said, “Let us talk to the doctor, and then we’ll come out to the car.”

It couldn’t have been more than two minutes before they came out. With great kindness and compassion, the nurse said, “We talked to the doctor, and he said you will probably need tests we can’t do here. We don’t want to get you out in the rain and have you go through a lot of uncomfortable tests in here and then have to call an ambulance. So why don’t you let your niece drive you to the hospital now.”

“Okay,” she said, but she was not happy.

Did she know I tricked her? Maybe. Did I care? No. Not really.

Evidently, only slow, inattentive drivers are allowed on the route to the hospital. With each agonizingly slow block and red light, Jean slumped and faded a little more. I followed the signs to Emergency, and when I pulled into the parking lot, I had three choices. I could turn right. I could turn left, or I could go straight. I went straight, which was the wrong choice. Annie was following. We both had to turn around. I found my way to the Emergency Room entrance and we got kind, compassionate help immediately.

Hours drag in the ER. I sat by her bed as the nursing staff took a lot of blood samples, which did not make Jean happy. She hates needles. My grandmother once had a bad reaction to a vaccination, and she told my mother and Jean to never allow anyone to give them a vaccination. Grandma Duke gave Mom and Jean a lot of advice that neither of them followed. Why Jean decided to obey this one particular rule is beyond me.  She has never had a breast exam, a pap smear, or a vaccination against anything, including the flu and pneumonia.

Alex brought my nephew Dan and Adie to the hospital. I was touched when Dan took Jean’s hand in his. She pushed the sleeve of his sweatshirt up, and said, “I want to see your arm.”

My nephew is a rock star in the world of tattooing. He started as an artist and gained notoriety for the for the rotary tattoo machine he developed and sells all over the world.

Dan pushed up his sleeves and showed Jean his tattoos. She doesn’t approve of tattoos, but she didn’t criticize him for having them.

They stayed and visited for a short time, and then they wished Jean well and left for the airport.


Turns out she has pneumonia. They put her on  heavy-duty IV antibiotics, and shortly after noon, Jean was moved into a room.

I spend the afternoon, and early evening with her. My back and legs were searing with pain, so I called Alex and he picked me up in front of the hospital at 7:00. I went to bed anticipating that the antibiotics would go to work and she would be improved in the morning.