Get Him to the Home on Time
This tale begins in my office in the Emerald Shapery Tower in San Diego circa 1988.
The father was in and out of the hospital and the nursing home back in Maryland. Medicare, in its infinite wisdom, had opted for a pacemaker on this failing, falling, fragile, old man and, whenever he showed any sign of a minor improvement, they booted him out of the hospital and next door into a nursing home where, without fail, he failed…over and over again.
On any readmission they would pay for three days, just enough time to get him “stable” and then…poof…out the door once more to the home. So, it had been back and forth for weeks now with my tight-fisted mother counting every cent that was headed out of her accounts and into the hands of the medical zealots intent on….well…..whatever it is they are intent upon as they push and prod dying people into greater and greater expense and trauma.
It was looking like a long-term nursing home was in the cards.
The sister, having determined that nursing homes in Maryland were the equivalent of the institution portrayed in The Snake Pit (1948 Olivia de Havilland), decided that a facility in Appalachia (her home of choice) was a far better (and in the mother’s mind, far more economically sound not to mention far, far, away from her immediate care zone) choice. She would spirit the ailing father away from the pseudo-murderous clutches of the mother (see my blog “A Half Century of Hell”) and elevate herself to the Christian Saviour she always aspired to be.
The Medicare clock was ticking. This was a Friday. The nursing home meter would start running again on Saturday, this time on the mother’s dime, Medicare having exhausted itself but the father…not quite yet.
I placed a call to the hospital just to check on him. The nurse’s station answered.
“Oh, honey…….Yo daddy ain’t here no more.”
Knowing that there was a road trip scheduled for the father on Monday for points west, Appalachian, I was mildly surprised. I queried as to a more precise definition of “ain’t here”.
“Well, yo momma and auntie and uncle checked him out and headed him offun to Ohiaaa.”
It was 2pm in Maryland on a November afternoon.
It was at least a 7 hour drive to Ohio.
It was November.
On the off chance that plans had been made without my knowledge, a not uncommon occurrence as I made a habit of plausible deniability in all things family, I called the sister.
“Do you know where the father is?”
“He’s in the hospital, they are coming here on Monday and I have it all set up with Shady Pines (not the real name but you get the idea). It’s a really super nice place with really super nice ladies to take super good care of him and it’s not far from me so I can visit all the time”
“Well, not to burst your super nice bubble but he be gone. It seems that the aunt and uncle figures, in collusion with the mother, have whisked him off the ward and are on the way to you as we speak.”
“They can’t DO that!”
“Well, as a matter of fact they can.”
After a few more judicious calls on my part, I found out that they had rented a panel van, took out all the rear seats, tossed in all the plastic covered patio cushions they could lay hands on (he was incontinent and could not sit up at this point), packed a picnic lunch (after all, it was about 25 degrees out and they couldn’t, in good conscience, stop at Cracker Barrel with the father stretched out in the panel van so….you get the picture) and headed for the turnpike.
“They can’t DO that!”
This was going to be a long haul, in more ways than one.
“The home isn’t expecting to check him in until Monday! It’s after 2pm! They won’t get here until 10 o’clock! What am I going to feed them? Where am I going to put the father??? We can’t get him up the stairs out of the garage without a wheelchair!! Etc. Etc. Etc.
No mention was made about the chances of his overall survival on this Bataan-like forced march.
I was much more concerned with whether we should alert the Highway Patrols along the route that there were 4 octogenarians loose in a panel van in the dead of winter on the Pennsylvania Turnpike with a collective vehicle blood pressure approaching 1000/500. A stroke or two was more than a remote possibility, after all, these siblings (the mother and aunt were sisters, the father and uncle were brothers…you do the math) were not exactly placid, peaceful, people on a good day and this, most definitely, was not gonna be a good day.
Growing weary of the woe-is-me from the sister, I condensed her choices down to a concise, manageable, few.
“They’re all over 21, we can’t stop them. (this was pre-mobile phone dark ages). They ARE on the way. You WILL have to deal with them. There’s a KFC on the way into town, grab a bucket.”
Now here’s where it gets weird.
In brainstorming what to do with the father, I came up with a concept piece, mind you I was in sunny San Diego not the winter-scaped Appalachians, that might just have to do.
Haul out a spare bed from the guest room into the garage. Set up space heaters all around the bed. Bundle him up with a comforter or two and let the dogs pile on and cuddle (he loved animals).
She was actually buying into it.
My secretary and the rest of my staff had all gathered in my office by now, stifling roars of laughter as I placed frantic call after frantic call, talking the sister off the ledge more than once, and finally landed on what I thought was a fittingly frenetic plan of action.
Dad, the Deepfreeze and the Dogs.
It had a consonance that appealed to me and the sister, overwrought with put-upon panic, had little choice.
And now we waited.
What would come first? My staff and I were wagering, heavily, on the call from the Highway Patrol. Not being a gambler, even I liked those odds.
Meanwhile, the weather had moved in and snow was falling all along the route. In Snoopy parlance “It was a dark and stormy night….”
The next call was the sister. Contact had been made. They were at a pay phone (remember them?) on the snowy verge of the highway, lost, trying to find the Home at 10:30 at night…….with no Google Maps.
The sister sprang into action, called the Home, arranged a late check in (like at the Ritz only much less classy, the amenities running to bedpans and emesis basins), and told the vanagains to stop at KFC because she certainly wasn’t cooking “at THIS hour”.
The sister bundled up her three sleeping cherubs (evil spawn, really, but the image works in this case), packed them into the Buick Roadmaster and headed out into the bluster and blow to find them and guide them to the Home.
Two hours later.
Nothing. No van, no relations, no nada.
More phone calls, increasingly angry phone calls, screw their well being; “How could they BE this inconsiderate?” phone calls.
And then the sister got smart (well that’s all relative, so to speak) and called the Home.
“Why honey, you’re daddy’s here and all tucked into bed already. They got here an hour ago.”
What? How? Why? Huh?
It seems that the mother, ever the practical traveler (I inherited this gene, at least) flagged down a patrol car, explained their situation, and the nice officer led them to the Home himself.
Now truth be told, he most likely shined his flashlight into the van, saw the emaciated, dehydrated, father, thought “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” and with no more than a “But ch’are, Blanche”, imagined the pile-o-paperwork he’d spend his weekend filling out if he simply left them there to die and opted for the slightly off-the–record but highly more practical and led them onward into the night.
By the time the sister got home, the adults (loosely used) were contentedly patting themselves on the back for a Mission Accomplished with KFC greased fingers (yes, they had found it all on their own) and without so much as a word of explanation, toddled off to bed.
In the morning, still fuming, the now sleep deprived sister arose to tackle the day and the parents………..only to find…….they were gone.
Not one to waste another day’s wages on a rented panel van, they had hopped aboard for the return flight, no note, no call, no WAY!
I believe I heard the religiously tinged expletives all the way in California. I know my phone line was seared soon thereafter.
The father never went home again.
The mother redecorated his room into a studio.
She almost never went to Ohio again, either.