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Going it alone: The realities of COVID-19

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about hospital stays during the pandemic. In February, I described medical circumstances involving my sister-in-law’s father, who lives smack dab in the middle of China. In March, I mentioned the early arrival of our grandson and his lockdown days in the local NICU. And while April proved uneventful, May made its mark. My mom needed emergency surgery. In the middle of the night.

After being a part of the sandwich generation for a while, I know a few things about taking moms to the hospital, as well as dads and parents-in-law. Grab blankets and pillows. Bring the medicine list. Be the advocate. But this time was different. It was a sort of coronavirus curb drop. Hard. Disturbing.

“She can’t hear very well,” I explained to some guy named Justin, who whisked her away from the ER door after taking our temperatures. “And she may say she doesn’t need a walker, but …”

And off they went around a corner. I think I heard her asking him if he went to Loyd Star.

So I was left holding the bag, the one with the dentures that would be too hard to remember and the hearing aids that don’t do much good anyway. I signed some papers and went back through the doors of the ER. Outside, a family of four was standing six feet apart on the pavement, waiting to hear a report about their loved one. Something about a broken collarbone.

I found my dad sitting still and silent in the Suburban. No radio. No screens. I gave him a summary of the situation, which basically went like this: This woman you’ve been married to for 68 years has to stay. We can’t. (I left out the part about entrusting her entire care to complete strangers who, in all likelihood, we will never meet.) It was a sad drive home.

He opted to spend the night alone, and I opted to clean out closets. Over the course of the five-hour surgery vigil, I managed a major overhaul of an upstairs closet in our bonus room. I moved every single board game known to man to a new spot that’s more accessible to the grands. (Still not sure that was smart.) The new spot is a cabinet that once housed an overly active Xbox and all its paraphernalia.

Let me insert here that when my adult sons later learned that the Xbox (doesn’t work) and its slew of games (out of date) were headed to a heap, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. There was also a string of group texts in which the decrepit gaming system was hailed as the sole link to “their greatest Christmas ever.” Son No. 3 happened to ride into town in time to save the day, helping me retrieve the console from a trash bag abyss, as well as a stack of their most beloved games. I decided to keep the whole shebang and put it on display like some sort of artifact. I even grabbed two controls to complete the shrine.

But back to my vigil.

While I was trying to figure out how many boxes of Monopoly to keep, my mom was doing something that would have been unimaginable to us before this virus stuff. She was sitting at the hospital — in pain and facing surgery — with nobody to hold her hand or talk to or pray with. She was going it alone.

Or maybe she wasn’t.

Nurses called me and let me know she’d had a scan. She needed surgery. She was getting ready to go into surgery. She was in surgery. She was still in surgery. She was out of surgery. She was in recovery. She was a hoot.

Then, at about 2:30 in the morning, the surgeon kindly called and let me know how everything went. (Really well.) I relayed the news to Dad, and we rejoiced. The rest of the family did, too, at a more reasonable hour.

Over the next few days, I got to know ICU nurses by phone and had a helpful update from the doctor on call. We even managed a Facetime call with our favorite patient. Then best of all, we got to bring Mom home on Mother’s Day. What a gift.

These days, frontline medical workers in the battle against COVID-19 are getting lots of attention, and rightly so. But if our recent experience at KDMC is any indication, there’s a bunch in the background who are doing good work, too. Keep it up.

You can contact Kim Henderson at kimhenderson319@gmail or follow her on Twitter at @kimhenderson319.