Greetings from the 95+ plus degree Detroit area heat. It’s day 25 of 32 in my parallel universe.
I arrived on the eve of Memorial Day in the Detroit area 26 years ago to the day after I packed my bags to pursue a new life out west.
My original plan to enjoy June 2022 and celebrate my birthday — fully vaxed and double boosted — went right out the window when my mother phoned in agony about her right hip. She’d reached the point of no return with bone-on-bone pain and needed my on-site assistance with imminent surgery. Three years earlier, my sister spent a month nursing her through her left hip replacement. It was now my turn.
Suddenly I was back in the house I grew up in, driving the roads I once navigated with ease — without smart phone maps. Behind the wheel of my mother’s 24 year old car, everything was the same but very different all at once.
While determined to live independently after my father’s passing last year, my mother’s debilitating pain and lack of mobility (coupled with two years of COVID isolation) meant the car and house had fallen into sustained neglect and disrepair. Everything, including my mother’s hip, opted to fail simultaneously.
That left me ping-ponging between the hospital, car repair shop and home each day with a different set of projects, problems and puzzles to solve. Serenity now!
Parallel Universe Projects
The scariest moment? That was the complete car brake failure as I nosed the car into the hospital parking lot curb on surgery day. I’d just finished asking the patient-to-be how long her brakes had been so sponge-y. “A few weeks,” she casually responded.
We’d apparently narrowly avoided a severe, or worse, deadly intersection accident. I soon joined the tow truck driver in his truck’s front seat. While my mother was on the operating table having her hip joint removed and replaced, the auto technician informed me the car’s serpentine belt and A/C compressor were on the verge of kaput. It would take a week to get all the necessary parts and repairs in place.
Hello, Enterprise Car Rental…?
Then there was the kitchen. It was a full-blown disaster zone — a different sort of parallel universe. The refrigerator and microwave oven were locked in a fierce battle to see which could grow more science experiments. Meanwhile, the stove top presented 90 minutes worth of scrubbing in rubber gloves to remove the debris and grease caked on it. Upstairs in my parent’s master bath, the 50 year-old toilet mechanism lacked the energy to properly flush. Mildew and mold blossomed in the shower. And the once off-white carpets on the stairs and covering the living and dining room floors? Years of dirt and spills had turned them a virtual Rorschach test. The outdoor deck — weather-beaten wooden planks off the family room — carried heaps of dirt and dregs.
Splitting wood and sharp splinters presented a mine field of potential injuries. Just as the temperature’s outside reached for 95 degrees and a heat index of 104, the house A/C unit, installed in 1995 and never serviced, stopped pumping cool air. Of course! Why operate when everything else wasn’t?
Since I became an adult and moved West my approach to life (and how I organize and prioritize my daily living) shifted 180 out from my parent’s approach. Apart from genetics and a love of film and books, we now share very little in common — particularly when it comes to personal fitness and home and car maintenance.
Back in the hospital, the nursing team informed me my mother’s weakened condition and intermittent atrial fibrillation qualified her for transfer to the hospital’s rehab wing. There they could provide needed oversight as well as physical and occupational therapy to strengthen her languishing muscles. The team wanted to know my plan B should she not regain adequate mobility. Five days in they asked me to look into assisted living accommodations as they feared she would lack the necessary strength to live alone once my one-month stay was up.
Suffice to say, there are few things more nerve-wracking and unpleasant than researching and visiting facilities housing elderly in the waning days of a pandemic. Understaffed and overwhelmed, all five facilities I visited wreaked of despair and exhaustion.
The Never-Ending To-Do List
A week’s hospital stay turned into two. The mere mention of assisted living lit a fire in my mother’s belly. She redoubled her efforts in PT and OT determined to show the hospital social worker and me she possessed the capability for independent living. The added rehab time allowed time to for me to re-arrange and move furniture to make room for the re-assembly of dad’s hospital bed (since stored in the basement) and portable commode. Back to the phone to line up several weeks of in-home PT therapy visits post-hospital release.
Next up: scrubbing bathrooms and floors; emptying drawers and closets of long-abandoned objects and compiling dad’s clothing for donation; arranging a plumber to remove and install a new toilet; carpet cleaners to deep clean; deck power washing, sealing and repair; a handy man to mount grab bars in the garage entry and shower as well as an A/C repair. Phew…all completed in time for the patient’s return and at-home PT sessions.
Parallel Universe Warnings
No rest for the weary. Not even at night. I lay awake in bed the past month wondering not just about my mother, but about me and others in my shoes. Without children to call upon, women (and men) in my situation face still more aging challenges. This entire odyssey sharpened my focus on the essentials. Now more than ever my health and mobility remain top priorities. That and carefully looking after my home, car and finances. My husband and I have always made a point to ‘de-content’ and donate items we’re no longer using. I look forward to returning to a well-maintained home and a (mostly) orderly, well-oiled life.
Equally, I’m glad for organizations such as the New Legacy Institute. I’ll participate in a new contributor call led by Christine Erickson June 28. Beyond workplace policy issues, you can well imagine the policy issue I now see as a critical: aging without children. Two days later, June 30, I’m booked on a flight west.
Meanwhile, I’m now in week three and half of a strange and surreal gauntlet of care-giving, home and car repair, and cleaning and fix-it projects. Somewhere in there I had a 59th birthday. Here’s hoping my 60th birthday in 2023 proves less stress-filled and more enjoyable.
Now, what’s on your minds and calendars?