THE Call

My mother and I were on the plane headed for St. Louis just about a week after I’d left. It had been a long while since we’d been in such close proximity and for five hours no less. She, no doubt, had belabored this too because she had scent layers to signify she’d proverbially bottled up her demons and readied herself to be clean and capable of managing the task at hand. There was Listerine, Minty Fresh layered by Estee Lauder, Youth Dew, and a cup of morning java to top it off. I saw the goodness in her effort and without words we were a team driven by a common cause. However imperfect our alliance, it was what I’d asked of her. I appreciated her, and emotionally I appreciated not going it alone. I told her so matter of factly.

The trip to St. Louis was a series of connections with no direct flights available and some nagging last minute stress for me. The last minute stress was that the hospital in St. Louis, coincidentally wanted to release Aunt Genevieve that very day. I protested on so many levels, one of which was that I had not yet had the opportunity to talk with her doctor. I had no clear idea of what to expect. I had been telephone transferred from one hospital administrator to another, and I demanded she be kept there until we arrived at the hospital. During plane connections I was on the phone to the hospital making it clear that I was enroute. I tried to insure that they’d keep her hospitalized by calling Genevieve’s friend, April. I kept her apprised of the situation, and let her know in no uncertain terms that she was not to let the hospital force their agenda by releasing Genevieve to her either. The problem inherent in my attempt to enlist April’s support was this…

April, her niece, and a neighborhood police officer were on Gene’s back porch at 5114 Maple avenue several days prior. They were trying to enter the house because they had not heard from Gene as expected and she was not responding to their phone calls. Two doors lead to the house from the back porch; one a wooden door and the other, an iron security gate. A loathsome reminder of what years of urban decline, apathy, and ghetto sprawl had done to their neighborhood. Both doors were locked from inside. A fire trap, if ever there was one. It seemed April and her entourage had made every attempt to rouse Gene by knocking on the back door. They deduced from muffled sounds inside the house, that Gene was near the door but for some reason not able to make it to the door to open it.

I received THE call.

So, in California, I am now thrown into this time bomb scenario with people in a panic 2000 miles away. Without a moment’s hesitation I said, “Call 911!” I was talking to April’s niece, a woman of 55plus years. By anyone’s reckoning my statement was as clear as Hubble telescope glass with zero resolution required, however, there was phone silence, a bit of shuffling, and then she squealed, “Genevieve’s opened the door!” They entered the house to find Genevieve still on the floor, dazed, repeating, “I’m okay, I’m okay.”
A background discussion ensued regarding whether or not to call 911 or drive Gene to the emergency room. The hairs on my neck stood on end because I knew I was dealing with simple, St. Louis folk. They hadn’t a clue. Despite my insistence on calling 911 the neighborhood clown car loaded up Aunt Genevieve and decided to drive down to the emergency.

This didn’t work on so many levels, so let’s just put the disregard of me aside for a minute and start with the emergency medical consideration not working. Let’s say, Genevieve, an 82 year old woman, dazed and unable to open the door had a stroke. The first thing we’re taught is that time is of essence. The sooner a stroke victim is treated, the better.

Hours passed before I was able to connect with April on the telephone and get some definitive news. The tips of my ears were red hot and I wanted to be there to rescue Gene from herself and this bumbling uninformed lot she’d enlisted as emergency help. Gene always said she was “okay” when asked! She was passive to a fault! She was the caregiver, not the other way around. She needed someone to take charge now. So when I’d heard later that she’d been left to sit in the emergency room until evening the heat spread from my ears onto my face and neck. I was itchy hot with jaws clenched–stuck in California.

During the time that lapsed, I’d contacted my mother and let her know what was happening as I knew it. I also steadied my nerves by looking for flights online. Eventually evening fell, Pacific Standard Time, and Gene was admitted through emergency into the St. Louis hospital. She was in a room, so I had the chance to speak with her briefly. Gene sounded tired and out of it, but true to form, she said, “I’m okay.” She was a parody of herself—a living cliché. I gently said goodnight, that was about all I could say–goodnight. It took a concerted amount of effort for me to let go. The heat and tension drained from my head and neck, and I had to release her into the merciful hands of God. This was where she was all along, despite my hatred of the events that transpired, my disdain for the bumbling incompetent buffoons, and her blasted passivity. At the end of the day I had to submit.