Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Anxiety in Its Glory

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Might As Well Honor It

Tonight, I just need to write what I need to write out of self-respect, rather than out of disrespect for my mother:

Turning the corner at 8:15 am, and heading up the hill to Stamford Hospital, I imagined the river-side park across the road, full of pink tents, like it was every summer when I was a young child. My mom used to take me to the Pink Tent Festival there every year. It was a wonderful time, when I felt solidly like the child and saw my mother solidly as the mother. She held my hand as we walked by all of the booths and even once bought me The [Winnie the] Pooh Party Book, which a friend of hers had authored and was selling at the Festival.

Other times, our roles often were reversed, including today....

Blasting Kirk Franklin's "Looking for You" while racing up 287, anyone, including Jesus was welcome to help me. Oh, God, please don't let her look like a snapped-neck rag-doll. Please don't let her die. Please don't make me have to face things I don't want to deal with by myself today. Please let me rise to her occasion.

It feels good to cry with pre-grief. Can the other drivers see me? Why do I care?

Why did she back into a tree? How long was she by herself in the crashed car before someone helped? Why isn't she living with us? Because it would be unlivable for everyone. Still, why couldn't I have kept this from happening?

"The doctor's coming at 7 to tell me if I need surgery," she tells me at 6:40 am. She'd been there since 5 pm the previous day, but didn't want to worry her children till morning.

"OK, Mom. I'll be there soon. I'm leaving now," I say breezily while really wanting to collapse. I'm coming from New Jersey during rush-hour, so it won't be that soon in reality.

Sarah, you can't have an accident. You just can't. You have to reach the hospital safely. You have to!

iPod to the rescue. Favorite song after favorite song accompanied me on the drive while I tried not to imagine that this was the call I'd been dreading for the past few years.

My mother's fast asleep when I arrive. Her head is held up by a neck-brace and her face is whiter than I've ever seen it. She looks just about dead, God forbid.

I put my stuff down and go out to the nurse's station, where I see the doctor heading toward her room. "How is she?" I ask and he comes back out of the room.

"Who are you?"

"Her daughter."

"The neurosurgeon will come in a bit to determine if her neck needs surgery because it might be fractured, and she also broke her knee and sustained a lot of bruises."

Calmly: "There was a truism that once an older person broke a bone, that was the beginning of the end..." I said. "Is she going to die?"

"It *was* true -- and most typically for hips -- but now, with physical therapy, she should be fine.

I don't believe him, but I shake his hand and thank him. The orthopedic surgeon, who knows my mother, though I don't know why, comes in, saying, "Edythe, what have you done? You were supposed to be at home."

He squeezes her everywhere and concludes that more is broken than the X-rays saw, including some ribs. My little mother is lying there, just taking it. He sets her leg in a splint with a pump under it to keep her circulation going and I see gashes in her shin and ankle. I've never seen my mother cut before. How did those happen? "For someone your age, it's a big accident," he says in conclusion.

Later: "I went to get my prescription at Genovese yesterday before the accident and I hope no one opened the bag on the front seat of the car because Genovese had a sale on Valentine's items and I bought a set of red, plastic 'love hand-cuffs' as a joke for [my sister] Kathy. They were 26 cents."

How is it that my mother always gets to be the playful one, and I'm always the mother? And then she'll surprise me serendipitously, but not reliably, switching roles: "You're so cute; you're so professional, but you're really still just a little girl," says my mother, after hearing me leave voicemail for her swim-physical therapist, letting her know that my mom's had an accident and will miss the next few months of sessions as a result.

I guess that when I left the message, I sounded like a troubled daughter, rather than like a troubled mother, sibling or friend, which are the other roles I play often. The neurosurgeon concluded that she tore a ligament in her neck, but fractured no bones, and so there will be no surgery these first six weeks, and then he'll evaluate whether or not it's needed.

My sister Deb does daughter-duty on Wednesday and I'll go back on Thursday after work to see my mom once again. Meanwhile, I've earned another golden medal....When my sister Kathy became ill with breast cancer, which thank God, she survived, she gave me an extra key to her apartment. Tonight, my mom gave me an extra [gold-colored] key to her house.

I went there this evening to get some things my mother needed/wanted and the car, sitting in its destroyed state in the driveway, was sobering. On my mom's dresser, while hunting for something else, I found a photo of my mom at 19. She was really cute. And vigorous. Now, just her mind and grip still feel strong.

Why isn't there still a Pink Tent Festival in Stamford? Why can't I be a kid again?

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