Saturday, October 14, 2006
Where is Everybody?
My cell phone battery died on Thursday and I damn near joined it.
I think I used that phone more in that one day than I have for the whole time I've owned it. I should glued it to my head and saved my arm muscles a little trouble.
My father had a stroke that day. Not a major one, but he had to go to the hospital, where he remains, and there were a crazy few hours on Thursday afternoon when I couldn't get hold of my sister and I became convinced something terrible had happened to her.
The nightmare started at 4:30 am when I heard my father shouting for me. I ran into his room and found him on his back. He looked up at me and said those famous words:
"I've fallen and I can't get up!"
I pulled him off the floor and checked to see if anything was broken or bruised. He assured he was all right and I thought that was the end of it. I mentioned the fall to Mary, his aid, when I left for work that morning and thought no more about it.
I went to my gym at lunch time and when I got back I saw Mary had left me a message. My father's blood sugar had gone up dramatically and when she gave him the medicine that's supposed to bring it down, it went up even more. She had called an ambulance and they were going to Lutheran Medical.
Okay, not time to panic. I called my sister on her cell, left a message and told her I'd meet her at the hospital.
Calling All Cars
I should mention here that my sister teaches homebound students in a pretty rough section of Brooklyn. She had been driving to these various homes and apartments, but she got into a accident a few weeks ago and was taking public transportation while her car is being repaired. Since she has no office, her cell phone is her lifeline to the rest of the world.
As I was preparing to leave my office, I realized I hadn't heard from her, so I called her again. And again I get the recording. I leave a second message.
I get on an R and head back to Brooklyn. I felt strange to be out of the office at this time of day, like I was playing hooky. But between my mother and father, I've made enough visits to Lutheran Medical I could probably get there in my sleep.
I'm walking to the front door and I still haven't heard from my sister. So I call her again and this time I get the message that the mail box is full. Now I'm seriously worried. My sister should be at work at this time of the day and that means she has to have her cell phone. What the hell is going on?
I meet Mary outside and she tells she's been calling Joan, too, and not getting any answer. This is unheard of. Whenever something's going on with my father, Joan is always there, usually ahead of me. I'm worried sick, but I've got to go inside and deal with my dad's situation.
My father's on a gurney in the emergency room. He looks even more frail, more sickly. He recognizes me and tells me he's okay. I told one of the doctors about his fall and he nods, telling me the stroke is about 12 hours old.
So this could be my fault. I know I should have done something way back in the morning when he fell, but I was so tired, I had to go to work, and, look, he said he was okay. I can't call an ambulance every time he stumbles, can I? Obviously, I do.
Then a series of doctors and interns start asking me questions about my father's health history. We're going back to World War II and I'm doing my best to remember what his various relatives died of and what age, but it's not easy. And I keep looking across the room, convinced my sister's going to come walking in any second. Not a chance.
"This can only be something bad," I say to Mary. "I'm going to lose my sister and my father in the same day."
"Calm down," she says, rubbing my shoulder.
There are people all around us in bandages, on gurneys, in various stages of injury or ill-health. One little boy is screaming and crying so loudly I want to cover my ears. This has been a hell of a week, as I was at a funeral parlor on Tuesday and now here I am in the ER on Thursday.
I keep telling the doctors I have to leave to handle another family crisis, but there's always another one with a clip board and a list of questions. Mary comes up to me at one point and speaks to me in a low voice.
"There's two cops over there," she says, "ask them about filing a missing persons report."
I thought this was nuts, that I didn't have the nerve to bother two cops with a bizarre story about a possibly-missing sister.
But then I thought, what's the harm? They may tell me something important and if they get annoyed, screw 'em, I just asked a question. I think having my sister missing gave me more nerve or courage to face total strangers and ask for what I need.
Just the Facts
They were pretty decent guys, though, but they told me what I expected hear: that there wasn't much they could do, that maybe I could convince the cops in my neighborhood to crack own the door to my sister's apartment. But healthy adults are free to come and go as they please.
As I listen I noticed a young man seated just behind them in a hospital gown and handcuffs. I guess he was the reason they were in the emergency room.
"Make sure you have a picture of your sister," one cop told me.
I walked away wondering if I had a recent photo of her. Then I realized I didn't know who her supervisor or co-workers were, outside of the New York City Board of Education, which has more people than most towns in this country.
She had just moved to a new apartment and I didn't even know the exact address. I get there by location, not by numbers. This is going to be one hell of a manhunt.
Mary offers to go with me to my sister's place, but I want to do this on my own. I called one of my sister's friends who sounds quite calm and relaxed, assuring me there's no problem, but she does offer to go to my sister's place and look around. She's a lot closer than I am and has a set of keys, saving yours truly a lot of time and effort.
As I walk to my house, I keep thinking, I don't what to do, I don't know what to. I don't know how to begin searching for my sister. I don't what to tell my father if, in fact, something terrible really has happened. And I don't know how to do all the legal things my sister does to keep this family running. I'm scared.
My aunt calls and I tell her about the old man. But, big mouth that I am, I blurt out the fact that I can't find Joan. Now we got two worried lunatics wringing their hands. I promise to call her back as soon as I hear something.
I call Edith, our other aid, to tell her not to come on Friday because my dad's going to be in the hospital for at least three days. Edith is a devout Christian and her phone message makes that perfectly clear.
"This is Edith," it begins. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Please leave a message..."
I know what I want: I want my sister answer the goddamn phone and I want her to do it right now. Can you hear me, Lord?
The irony is that I fully expected Thursday to be a slow day. Work seemed under control and my shrink was out of town, which meant I could go straight home instead my usually trek uptown on the No. 2 train in the middle of rush hour. Now I need my shrink more than ever.
My sister's friend calls me. No sign of Joan at the apartment. It's getting late, almost 8 pm. She should be home now.
I was cleaning up in the kitchen when my cell phone went off. I looked up to the ceiling, imploring "please!" and answer the phone.
Yes, it's my sister. Her cell phone had been out of commission for the last few days. So all the dreadful images in my head were of my own doing, a complete work of fiction. I started to feel majorly stupid and a little insane. But I also drop to one knee and give thanks to the Big Man upstairs.
Why the hell do I immediately go for the worst case scenario? I could use my father's condition as an excuse this time, but this had happened before. I catastrophize, to use a word I saw in a health magazine article. The story mentioned how this bad for your health, by the way, like I couldn't figure that out for myself.
So I'm going to see my father today. He had a minor stroke, but it's a stroke for sure, no TIA's or anything else like that. He'll go to rehab and then come home some time after that. And then we'll have to put him in a nursing home.
And me, I'll have to calm the hell down.