In 2010, things at Emeline were getting tricky. My daughter and I were living upstairs, and mom and dad were living downstairs in the first floor apartment of the two-family home we shared. Sharing the Emeline Street house was great, but dad was not doing well; he had Parkinson’s disease and was declining. It was in September that year that I had learned that my cancer had metastasized. Prior to that my brother, Bobby, needed stents inserted into his arteries because of arterial narrowing (he had had a heart attack at age 39). It was in December one evening, that the caregiver who helped my dad was leaving, and he asked me to look in on my mom — she doesn’t look too well, he said. After he left, I found mom in the bathroom throwing up.
Mom was never a complainer, and she insisted she’d be okay. But like my brother she had had a heart attack years before, so I was worried. She shuffled weakly back to her bedroom and looked miserable, holding a throw-up bucket under her chin. Her left arm was numb. Dad was calling me into his room. He asked about mom, so I said that she seemed to have a stomach ache or something, although I suspected something worse. (Mom NEVER got stomach aches or bugs, ever.) But dad said, Okay … well, your mother usually gets me some cheerios about this time in the evening. I said, Oh yes, I’m on it dad! I got a bowl of cheerios with milk and sugar and started the slow task of spoon feeding dad. A minute later mom was moaning so I had to run back to her room across the hall. Luckily dad was pretty much deaf, so he missed the moaning. I asked mom what I could do, and she said that she was fine. We both knew that wasn’t accurate. I suggested that we should go to the hospital because she might be having a heart attack, but she adamantly refused. ‘I am NOT going any where NEAR a hospital.’ From the next room, Dad asked, could I have some more cheerios, please? Oops, sorry dad, mom was not feeling too great, here’s another spoonful. I ran back and forth between the rooms a dozen times; then, dad was fed and comfortable in bed, ready sleep. Mom on the other hand got worse. I suggested the hospital again and she was furious. I called both my brother and sister — seemed like a situation they should know about. I believed mom was likely having a heart attack but she did NOT want to go to the hospital. Neither sibling knew what to do … we all knew mom’s wishes.
Think, think, think. Ah, I’ll call Wendy, she always knows what to do in a medical emergency! Wendy said, CALL ROSIE, she just went through this with HER mom! Thankfully I got Rosie on the phone right away: try suggesting to your mom that you just call the EMTs, that they know a lot more than either of you, and they might be able to diagnose her, but that they would NOT force her to go to the hospital if she didn’t want. I recited the same words to mom. Much to my surprise mom said, oh okay. (Thank you Rosie!) After calling 911, the EMTs arrived in three minutes, and after examining mom for thirty seconds they said she was having a heart attack. They also said they would not force her to go to the hospital, but that they thought it was a good idea. Mom agreed. Wait, huh?
After securing overnight help for dad, and getting my daughter off to her father’s house, I followed the ambulance to the hospital and stayed with mom in the ER until the doctors wheeled her off to surgery. A stent was inserted to clear her blocked artery. Heart attack fixed. By 1 AM, mom was in a room, recovering, feeling and looking much improved. We chatted and mom admitted, with a smirk, that yeah, she knew she might be having a heart attack at home, but figured she’d either wake up in the morning or not. … … … Such a pragmatic, mom thing to say! That’s how she was. She added, it was only because of the awful nausea that she agreed to come to the hospital, ANYTHING to stop that nausea!
When it was time for me to head home, and I promised mom I would be back early, early in the morning with her medications, her iPad, her hearing aids, etc. Gave mom a kiss goodnight, and as I was exiting the room mom declared, with a chuckle … Ya know? Our family is NOT the picture of health.