Given my journalism background and current state of intense nonfiction book writing, I sometimes forget I applied and entered my MFA program as a fiction writer. I haven’t had much chance to indulge in novels lately—whenever I am not writing my book I am researching material for it—and miss the crafty details, the intricate plot lines, and imaginative twists and turns.
Life, however, never fails to give me fodder.
The truth is often stranger than fiction, and all I can say is that I couldn’t make this stuff up, and if I did, no one would take me seriously.
Last week, my grandmother had a series of strokes. This alone is a decidedly serious, difficult, and emotionally draining situation and worthy of its own post (forthcoming). But things are never that singularly difficult in my family. Thankfully, my (severely arthritic and debilitated) mother and my (walking disaster of medical conditions and recent cardiac surgery patient) father were on Cape Cod with her when it happened and could take her to the hospital.
Clearly this was a stressful time, especially for my grandmother and my parents. They spent hours in the ER, waited for multiple tests, and got the grim, scary news that she has a large brain aneurysm. Thus the whole rehab-nursing home machine began churning.
Enter the ridiculousness. The week before, my father got a sunburn on the top of his foot. By the time he was at the ER with my grandmother, he could barely stand on it. Whether it’s because he’s been an insulin-dependent diabetic for twenty years and doesn’t heal fast or because he’s predisposed to infections as a result of his immunosuppressive meds and chemo or just terrible luck, the sunburn turned into a staph infection and cellulitis.
After IV treatment, my mother brought him to their vacation house to rest and quickly returned to the hospital to be with my grandmother. They had to leave his car at the hospital and my mother, whose shoulders aren’t up to lots of driving, did all of the ferrying back and forth.
And then their land line shorted and they had no dial tone. My father had dropped his cell phone in the ocean the weekend before so he didn't have one. My mother had forgotten her charger and her cell phone was dead. Because the phone line was faulty, the security system went haywire and kept beeping.
And then my father realized he couldn’t rely on his his crutches because his arm muscles were too weak from his polymyositis. This meant he couldn’t get up to use the restroom or get any food, and my mother couldn't help him when she was home because her back was too unstable. I should add there wasn’t any food in the house anyway since my parents hadn’t expected to stay through the weekend.
Just to recap: a temporarily immobile diabetic with a potentially life-threatening infection was alone in a house with no viable way to communicate with the outside world and no access to food should he become low.
Did I mention the heavy rains caused the basement to flood?
“Can you come down and get your father lunch?” my mother asked in her harried state, really asking for so much more.
So I packed up my clothes, medicines, The Vest, and the dog and took off for the two-hour drive. For the next couple of days, I shuttled between my grandmother’s room in the stroke wing and the outpatient clinic where my father had to return each day…all of which wouldn’t be all that ridiculous except for the fact that the humid weather made my congestion a lot worse so pushing my father’s wheelchair while juggling my bag, my laptop, and his briefcase was a scene of its own.
The only things that saved us all was the fact that we never lost our electricity during the thunderstorms—my dad could watch TV since he couldn’t do anything else, I could plug in my Vest and hope it worked since I forgot to pack my nebulizer, and when my mother returned home from her long days, she could use her heating pad…and the fact that after a lifetime of illness, we weren’t derailed by it all.
“That’s just the way you guys roll,” my physical therapist said when I summed up my tale.
We both laughed. It sure is.