I called my aunt's daughter this morning. If you've been reading here awhile you know that this cousin of mine is an addict and because she is abusive when under the influence, she had to be removed from her mother's home. Her brother got the court to issue a restraining order and it is being actively enforced by the security guards at our complex and that is a good thing.
But no one had told my cousin that her mother was in the hospital. It wasn't sitting well with me so I called her cell. She complained about no one calling her, asked what had happened, and then immediately began to shake this tree for money. She wanted me to meet her somewhere and give her money so she could do her laundry. She explained that she had left the group home associated with the outpatient rehab program; it was just horrible, she said. But weren't they working with you to get permanent housing, I asked. Not really, she said, and I didn't know what the heck that meant. I think it just meant she didn't want to follow the rules at that place and so now she is back to her precarious existence, staying with a friend. I didn't ask who. Nor did I ask if she planned to make arrangements to come and see her mother. She would have to come with a police escort. All she would really need to do is go to the precinct and ask them to accompany her, but she sounded high, so she probably wasn't thinking in those terms.
She insisted she had no money at all, and she did push my buttons a little, because I was considering meeting her on the street to put money into her hand. Definitely not my brightest move, and one I would likely not share with my family. All the same, I wish I hadn't called. I preferred being able to imagine that she was making progress in her rehab, that somehow, with her usual safety nets unraveled, she was learning to walk on her own. But now I know it's just business as usual out there. And today, I'm her pawn, if I choose to give her money.
My aunt comes home from the hospital this morning. Yesterday, when I went by to see her, she was sitting amid crumpled sheets, her hospital gown falling off her shoulders, her face unwashed, her lips cracked, her undergarment needing to be changed. She was sitting there looking trapped and scared, unable to get anyone's attention because she couldn't get the words out and couldn't uncurl her hand enough to press the button, if she even remembered the button. I knew it wasn't simple neglect, that the nurses were scurrying around trying to get to everyone. And no doubt the squeaky wheels were getting the first oil. My aunt just needed a squeaky wheel to speak up for her. I wiped her face with a warm cloth and made her gargle with mouthwash and arranged the bedclothes more modestly around her and combed her hair then went to the nurses station to ask someone to come and change her.
They said they would get there as soon as they could. I had also learned that morning that she had developed a urinary infection for which she is being treated. So I asked to speak to the doctor in charge of her case. They led me over to a nurse practitioner who didn't meet my eyes as she answered my questions and seemed indifferent to the fact that I was standing there. I didn't get upset right away. With my aunt, you always have to consider that her son might have talked to this same person and been as curt, rude and unappreciative as he can be. Trying to compensate, I was being my most polite and conciliatory self, because I wanted them to treat my aunt well when I wasn't there. But this nurse just touched my last nerve. I asked if she had paged the doctor and without looking at me and with irritation in her voice she said she had and would let me know when the doctor responded. I said with a little tartness, well I had no assurance of that.
She looked at me sort of startled and asked why I said that. I responded that her whole demeanor suggested a lack of care and she said, well, in 30 years I have never heard that. I said, well I'm sorry, but I have to go to work and I can't really leave my aunt in the condition that she is, and it's hard. And then I was crying, and I had not had a clue that tears were so close to the brim and now they just overflowed, and I felt embarrassed and undermined, and I walked away from the nurse's station looking for a place to get a hold of myself. The nurse practitioner and my aunt's assigned nurse both followed me down the hall, full of sudden sympathy. It was as if now my aunt was someone with people who cared, and that made her real.
Her nurse went straight to her room and began to change her adult diaper while the nurse practitioner stayed with me in the hallway, trying to talk to me. I wished she would let me gather myself, because her gentle assurances only made the tears flow more, but I appreciated her then. She treated me with a humanity I hadn't seen in her before. I wiped my face and thanked her and then went back in to my aunt and her nurse was almost done and my aunt looked clean now, and she was even smiling as they propped her up on her pillows and raised the head of the bed to a sitting position so that she could look out the window. The nurses assured me again that they weren't ignoring her, it had just been a hectic morning, and I thanked them again and they promised to take care of her, I could go to work and not worry.
I sat with my aunt for a little while longer and then left for the office, thinking how we are all just doing the best we can, and I still hadn't talked to the doctor, and if you have an old person in the hospital it is so important that the people tasked with caring for them understand they are connected to people who love them, and the nurses need to be appreciated, too.