Monday, January 5, 2009

Good While it Lasted

For the past 14 years, I've worked from home 2-3 days a week. It was the reason for both my productivity and my equanimity in the face of pressure-cooker office politics and the generally low morale of my workplace, the fallout of wave after wave of layoffs. Never sure when the axe would fall on me, I just kept my head down and ploughed ahead. I had something to prove, so I worked night and day to make sure no one could ever say my schedule was getting in their way. The best part was, I could rearrange my schedule to go on my kids' school field trips when they were younger, attend their parent-teacher conferences and earnest school-day presentations, host afternoon playdates and supervise homework, then stay up past midnight if necessary to do my own work. I always made sure to get it all done.

Lately, I've needed the flexibility of those days to manage my 90-year-old aunt's affairs, to be at her home when the case manager wants to make an evaluative visit, climbing into the ambulance with her on her frequent trips to the hospital, fielding endless phone calls and fair hearings with her eldercare attorney to move the mountains and mountains of paperwork needed to secure her home care. When my uncle died in September, my cousin (the Poli Sci professor and my partner in this eldercare maze) and I were able to plan his funeral in those days at home, from finding the funeral home and getting his body picked up, to choosing the hymns, designing and printing the program, writing the eulogy, getting the death certificates, an endless accordion of tasks. Again I stayed up late to make sure my job was covered too. And last Friday, after my other cousin failed to clear and clean her father's room so the 24-hour home-care worker could sleep in it when my aunt comes home from the hospital this week, that was me, digging into the piles of his stuff, breathing in the layers of dust, separating what to keep from what to toss, archiving hundreds upon hundreds of photographs, getting things ready.

Tomorrow, all that changes. Tomorrow the social worker is coming to inspect the room as the last step in the approval process for 24-hour home care. Once that is done, my aunt can finally come home from the hospital where she has been trapped for two months. Tomorrow, I will have to depend on my alcoholic cousin with her who-knows-what-other-addictions (actually, I do know...) to show the social worker around. I hope the living situation will pass muster, that she'll be sober enough to give all the right answers. I am so exhausted from trying to control that over which I have no control. I have to be in the office tomorrow, and every day of the week after that. Yes, I'm back in the office full time. The alternative was to be laid off, as 17 of my coworkers were in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Time for my cousin to step up.

This last hospital stay has been terrible for my aunt. They treat her perfectly well, there, but she's become disoriented, exhibiting signs of paranoia and dementia. More than once, and often in the middle of the night, she's called me, begging me to come quickly and bring the police. The last such call was recorded on my voice mail on Friday afternoon. "Come at once! I'm being kidnapped! Don't listen to anything they tell you. They're tapping my phone!"

When I spoke with her a few hours later, she appeared to have no memory of having been kidnapped that afternoon.

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