Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The ER Visit - Part Two: The Walls of Jericho

Many, many hours later we finally get a stall.

And I begin: ”She is not being checked into the hospital I'm in charge of my mother's care we are going home so I'm not putting her in a gown she is not being checked into the hospital I'm in charge of my mother's care we are going home so I'm not putting her in a gown she is not being checked into the hospital I'm in charge of my mother's care we are going home so I'm not putting her in a gown…”

Even when the supervisor of Dr. Hottie R warns me that they can’t be responsible if I refuse to do what they say I should do which really means if something goes wrong with your mother we’re going to make sure you go to jail.

I’ve heard it before.  I also know if she stays in the hospital, things will go more downhill than they already have and right now things are so downhill we’re digging a tunnel.

All the tests come back fine – her heart, her lungs, her pressure, her blood. I do not say “told you!”  I just pretend to look relieved.

Dr. Hottie then wonders maybe she has a urinary tract infection. “Can you get her to pee? If not, we can easily catheterize her.”  He seems very excited about that.

Questions that separates the men from the boys:

* How many times have you seen your mother’s vagina and urethra and asshole?
* How intimate are you with the smells of those places you now wipe clean on a regular basis?
* How often do you make decisions about those places?

“No catheters.  It will be too upsetting. Let’s try the bedpan.”

For a frail old lady, Florence is dense heavy bones to move and it takes the new night nurse Ms. Nurse Dee and me to slip the metal bedpan under her. An hour later a hopeful check only finds the empty pan suctioned tight to Florence’s bottom. In between her shouting “Ow Ow that hurts,” Ms. Nurse Deeand I both pry the bedpan off her shrunken butt and a small plastic one is quickly slipped under her instead.

Then we shove as many little apple juice boxes as we can into her hands and she slurps away happily.  Soon she is sleeping.

Dr. Hottie pops his head into the stall. “Anything?!” Man, this guy is so excited about the possibility of pee.

“Don’t worry! It will happen!” His shift ends in a few minutes and what he really wants is to find out if his hunch was right.

Suddenly things get quiet and empty. As if New York decided to take a break from car accidents and deranged homeless people and sidewalk falls and life-threatening illness.

And suddenly I am tired.  About to hit  50, heartbroken, and exhausted from being Shirley Temple, always marching along with a chirpy little song and a happy little tap. Before I can stop  myself I start crying silently

Out of nowhere, I hear Florence’s voice. “Laughing or crying?”

I look up.  She is completely alert and sharp and curious.


“I want you to feel better,” she states.  “I had to change in later years. Working.”

I sit up.  “Working? Like teaching piano working?”

“No,” she says. “Working on myself. Becoming equal to what I had wanted to do.”  And then she looks at me… she looks at me and…

A few hours ago she didn’t know my name or that I was her daughter. I was just the person she knew would always take care of her, rub her back, sing her songs, help her feel better - love her like a mommy loves her little girl.

But suddenly in this quiet and empty ER, after 50 years of knocking on closed doors, waiting patiently under the grand piano and walking silently next to her as she stomped through the city battling her demons, someone else is looking at me.

And although I only met her a couple of times in my life, I’d recognize her anywhere.

For, here, in a stall with shower curtains drawn around us like a shawl, from the midst of her disintegrating into wisps of childlike desperate need, I suddenly see my mother again.

“I’m going to give you a drink!” she declares.

“Of what? Scotch?” It was what we drank together at an old bar in the east village, never mind that I was still underage.

“No!”  We are now both grinning at each other.

Out of nowhere a herd of doctors stomp into the next stall and wake up the addict there.

“We’re going to give you Narcon.”
“No! No! I don’t want Narcon.”
“Well did you take anything?”
“NO! NO! I just fell asleep on the bench.”
“Then why won’t you take Narcon?”
“No! No!”

Florence and I look at each other like WOW. What was that?

We rest.  I can’t take my eyes off of her and she keeps looking at me.

She finally says, “Is there anything I can give you?”

“You’re giving me something right now. You’re listening to me.”

“Well,” she says with strength from decades ago, “I’m listening!”

I say, “I think this was one of our best visits ever.”

But she dismisses me. “Oh, I like the other one where you put all the….



And I hear myself speak like the daughter I never got to be. “I’m just sad.”

“When you say the word SAD, I can feel it. You always say you’re O.K. Makes me think it’s….” Another word gone…

“A facade?”


“I am OK. But I’m sad.”

“Why don’t you go to a shrink? Get a minor….”

“What? Key?”

Shakes head.

“Start changing. Start changing the change of the different changes of the…”

I lean in, hoping my body acts like magnet for her words but she is fading…

“… and then start out with what you have with starting with a different…”

“What? Job? Attitude? Approach?”

“No. What I can think of it…that way is better…”

And then she starts to count.

“123. 456. 123. 456.”

We look at each other.  

 “A different time signature?” I ask.


My childhood as her pupil, spent learning notes and keys and rhythms.

And time signatures. The beats between two bars. The measure of each note. The pulse within the walls of a home.

My cousin once told me it was not the trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho. It was the tears of the women.

And I weep.  Out loud.  And I weep out loud, not from a broken heart, but from a heart that has broken open.

“You look awful,” Florence says.

The addict, furious at the treatment he was offered but refused to take because it didn’t include the pain killers he wanted, screams at the doctor who has told him to leave the ER, “I HOPE YOUR CHILDREN ARE ALL FAGGOTS AND THEY DIE OF AIDS.”

It is now eleven hours since we’ve arrived at the ER. Ms. Nurse Dee comes in and we find that all the apple juice we plied on Florence was happily peed out - not into the little plastic tub, but all over the sheets, the pads the blanket, the bed. There is nothing left to do but catheterize her.

I hold Florence’s hand and sing her songs from musicals.

“Door Chimes! Phone Rings! In Comes Companeeee!”

And somehow there’s still some pee left inside her and the filled plastic bag is whisked away and we all find out she has a urinary tract infection which is one reason she couldn’t get out of bed for the last couple of months.

A prescription is called in to the 24-hour pharmacy, a private ambulance is summoned to take us home and two Amazons, with no effort whatsoever, move Florence from bed to stretcher and whoosh into the ambulance.

I quickly kill the roach running around the back but Florence somehow sees it. "Was that a roach?!"

At 10:50 pm we finally roll into her home lobby.  Now all we have to do is get Florence from the stretcher to the wheelchair.

One of the Amazons scoops Florence into her arms.  Florence, utterly befuddled, stares up at the Amazon in childlike wonder. Without thinking I blurt out, “Florence! It’s your dream come true! You're in the arms of a beautiful woman.”

And with that she is gently plopped into the wheelchair.

We can’t all fit in the tiny elevator. “They are going to take you up in the elevator and I'm going to take the stairs and meet you up on the 5th floor.”

Florence’s face crumbles. “But I want to go with you …”

Both Amazons go “AAAAWWWWWWW….”

I run up five flights of stairs and all four of us, the two Amazon, Penny who has waited up for us and me manage to get Florence out of sheets and wheelchair and confusion to face her bed.

When Florence sees it for the first time, her face lights up like a child opening a present. “OH!”

One of the Amazon scoops up Florence in her arms like a prince to his princess or a lover to her lover. Or a really strong woman to a frail old lady and she gently places Florence in bed. Penny and I cover her up.

Florence is finally home.

I haven’t seen my mother since.