Wednesday, November 05, 2008

September 26, 2008, and Beyond

What I’ve learned since Mom’s accident:

1. Life can change in an instant. A few weeks after Mom’s wreck, our daughter Rachel broke into tears on the phone. “Why did this have to happen?,” she sobbed. "Everything was perfect; why did it have to change?” Why, indeed? Because that’s life. It’s unplanned, unrehearsed, and can throw you for a loop in the fraction of a second it takes for you to decide when to turn left, change lanes, go faster in the rain, follow too closely, or even mundane low-risk quick decisions we make each day. Sometimes we all want to shout, “Rewind! Back up! Let’s try that again!” but the die has been cast, and we have to adjust.

2. If you’re in the hospital, please make sure you have a personal advocate, family member, friend, or someone who is concerned about you and can watch out for you. We have had the privilege during this time to meet some dedicated, talented nurses and doctors and hospital staff. We’ve also had to deal with neglect, incompetence, miscommunication, medication mixups, apathy, hostility, and just plain rudeness. It is a scary thing to be a patient in a hospital. You need all the backup you can. Believe me.

My sister wrote everything down - people she talked to and when she talked to them, Mom’s vital signs, condition, improvement or deterioration, tests, what the social worker said, what the doctor said, what the nurse said, what Mom ate at mealtimes, what meds she got (or didn’t get). She started her notebook so she wouldn’t forget all the loads of information she was trying to process, but it turned out to be a detailed journal of Mom’s medical journey. That notebook has been a lifesaver for us - even though it appeared to make the hospital staff quite nervous at times.

3. If life goes according its customary route, we will all get old. Plan for it. I’m not talking just about retirement living expenses, folks. I’m talking about Living Wills, regular wills, powers-of-attorney, names on bank accounts, Medicaid supplements, insurance policies - the works. Organize your information so it is easily retrievable in case of emergency, remembering to shred old documents with personal information. Fortunately, our mother still has a sharp mind and can tell us where to find these things. Some aren’t so lucky. I often use our dad as a role model. He was the epitome of organization, keeping meticulous detailed records of, for instance, utility bills that were 30 years old. He could track decades of expenses. When he died unexpectedly at age 64, we looked in his file cabinet and there was a folder marked “Death” with all the funeral/burial information we needed. Do you have loved ones? Plan ahead. Please.

4. One word - Friends. These are the times when you rely on your friends. From e-mails of support to phone calls to visits to referrals - our friends have been there. Mom, my sister, and I have the most amazing circle of friends, many of them the result of lifelong relationships, unbreakable bonds. Thank God for friends.

4. Just one more word - Family. If you grew up in an abusive or dismal household, try to break the pattern and change that for those you are responsible for. If you grew up in an incredibly supportive household, please pass that spirit on. Our family, always close, has grown closer through this maze of hospitalization, rehab, placement, with so much up in the air and so many details to attend to. My sister, who is local to Mom, has handled the brunt of this mess with responsibility and caring. I love you, Joy, and I am so proud of you. I know it’s been hard and will probably get harder. Hang in there.

So in essence, in the midst of feeling lost and heartbroken and worried, the only thing you can do in a situation like this is learn what you can and pass on what you learn. Consider it passed.

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