Crushed

I am splayed and barely conscious on a massage table in my living room.  The phone rings; my husband takes the call.  He enters the living room where Sue the Incredible Massage Therapist stands kneading the knots from my tired body.

“I hate to do this.  But I have to.  Your mom called.”

I sigh on the outside, but I suddenly feet a knot in my stomach and a rush of fear.

“What’s wrong?”

“Your dad fell on her.”

“Oh no!  Is she okay?”

“She’s calling an ambulance right now.”

Sue’s hands freeze for a moment on my thigh, then move up to cup my neck and head.

“I have to call her right now.”

I heave myself off the table and dial.  A strange man answers the phone, and then I hear my mother’s voice.

“Your father fell on me.  I’m hurt.  I’m on my way to the emergency room.”

“What hurts, Mom?”

“It’s my back.”

“I’m coming.  I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Okay, Honey.  You have to come take care of your father first.  And feed the dogs and let them out.”

I can barely breathe as I rush around to pack a bag.  All I can think of is the weight of my father, almost 300 pounds, landing on top of my tiny mother, crushing her.  I try not to think too much about it.  I’m afraid if I do, I will break inside and be useless.  There’s no one else to do this.  Just me.  I sternly tell myself to move forward.  I will have plenty of time to replay the scene in my mind— I’m a runner.  There’s always mind time on a run.  So I grab my running gear, all of it, and start throwing other random stuff into my carpet bag.  Sue and Craig are following me around, and I keep asking them what I need to bring.  I decide to eat before I leave, too, knowing I will not have the chance again for many hours.

I wolf down the dinner I had made for the three of us, hopping up from the table every few minutes to grab something else I think I might need.  I cannot taste the food— the fresh Vietnamese rolls with peanut sauce and the corn from the farm stand down the street.  I barely chew, and when I cannot stand it for one more minute, I hop up again and leave.

Neighbors have come to sit with my father until someone comes.  They know he can’t be left alone for too long.  I arrive and free them for the night.   I take out the dogs, feed them, get my dad settled, and finally rush to the hospital.  The emergency room is packed— full-moon-crazy packed with crying kids and wounded looking men and women waiting to be seen.  I think it’s good my mom arrived in an ambulance, otherwise she’d be sitting out here in this crowd waiting to be seen.  Arriving on a stretcher through the back door is the fastest route to care on any evening at South Shore Hospital.

An orderly takes me to her.  She looks even smaller on the stretcher where the nurse has left her in the hallway.  All the rooms are full.  There are many other  patients lined up in the hallway, not just my mother.  Some of them sleep fitfully, some look glazed; others seem to be fighting off the urge to scream out loud in pain or frustration.  My mother is quiet.  I see her from behind at first.  I recognize her silver ponytail.  When she sees me, her face crumples and she begins to cry softly.

“Lizzy.”

“Oh, Mom.”

I cannot cry because she is taking up all the crying herself, so I choke back my tears and instead ask her to tell me what happened.  As she talks, I form a picture of the two of them struggling through this part of their lives.  I have to force myself to listen to her speak, turning my mind away from what their lives have become while I have been off living mine.

My dad had not been feeling well, and collapsed in the parking lot of their doctor’s office after his appointment.  The nurse there told my mother to take my father home and get him into his chair and he would be fine.  With the help of some kind young strangers in the parking lot, she got him into their car and drove home.  He made it up the front steps and into the house.  When he tried to get to his chair, right by the door, he felt his legs give way.  He told my mom to grab the back of his belt to stop his fall.  She did.  He fell backwards, landing his full weight on top of her.  She landed on her back underneath him.  With what must have been a rush of adrenalin, she crawled out from underneath him and managed to get herself down the hall to put on clean underpants and shorts.  She called me.  She called 911.  X-rays have been taken and are waiting for the ER doctor’s assessment.

I stay to take care of my father while my mom is in the hospital, driving back and forth between their house and the sterile cool of South Shore Hospital’s second floor to see her as much as possible.  I set up camp in their spare bedroom, living out of my suitcase.

I run every single day, getting up earlier than early those first few days, logging mile after mile in a strange town.  I run long loops, never taking more than two turns before retracing my steps, then looping around again.  I listen to the soundtrack from the film Away We Go, featuring the music of Alexi Murdoch.  His music comforts me with it’s soulful lyrics, keeping me company as I try to sort out how to help my parents.  The upbeat sound of George Harrison makes the rest of the music on the soundtrack bearable as I struggle along these strange roads littered with bits of trash and odd shoes, lengths of  tattered rope and empty liquor bottles.

After my mom comes home, I run later in the morning— between their first and second breakfasts.  The stress relief makes every step worth a thousand steps, every mile more important than any marathon I will ever run.  There is healing here for me, too, in both the care taking and the running.  I give up the soundtrack and revert to my runner’s delight mix, focusing on the upbeat music of The Corrs and Jason Mraz, Belle and Sebastian and The Black Eyed Peas.  I don’t see many other runners out these mornings, but pass the same woman who is out walking every single morning.  We have already been through the waving hello stage and now stop and chat for a minute or two each time we meet.

My mother has two acute compression fractures in her spine. She will be in pain for weeks, with only Tylenol to alleviate the deep ache in her low back.  The fractures should heal on their own.  She will not be able to drive for at least a month.  She is getting a bit better each day, but is not able to jump back into her life and do all the things she does— like caring for my dad, her two dogs and her cat, her home and her yard.

My mom came home four days after she was admitted to the hospital, but has needed care and assistance such that I felt it best to stay with her and my dad for a while.  I was able to come home twice during that time— my sister relieved me for one overnight the first weekend, and two the next.

Before I left to come home for good, I filled their freezer with homemade meals, cleaned up the laundry pile, mowed the lawn, and made sure they seemed like they could manage the basics.  They are set up with a visiting nurse, a home health aid to supervise showers, and a physical therapist.  My sister did weekend duty, taking her turn in the midst of her own full life.

I have missed writing my blog.  My parents have dial-up internet; I would not have dared tie up their phone line for this.  I confess, though, that even if they didn’t have dial-up, I would not have had time to write.  It seems to be the one thing to go when I have to make a choice.  Taking the time to run wins over taking the time to write— I can catch up with writing later, but running is like eating and breathing.  It’s what I do, and part of who I am.

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2 Comments on “Crushed”

  1. Debbie Says:

    Elizabeth, You are such a wonderful daughter to your parents and I know how much they must appreciate you and I know how much your family has missed you and I know I have…..I love you Debbie


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