My new temporary office

“Where have you been?”

“What do you mean, where have I been, Aussie? You know perfectly well. Our housemate, Lori, was in a horrific accident on Thursday and was taken to a hospital in Springfield. I spent time with her down there every day, and when she came home on Monday, we switched rooms. She took my downstairs office as her bedroom since she can’t go upstairs, and I took her upstairs office–you know, my old one before Bernie died. All this takes time.”

“You’re feeding me half an hour later than usual!”

“Aussie, when someone sustains life-changing injuries like Lori, with broken ribs and hurt vertebra, not to mention a smashed foot and ankle, there’s a lot of work to be done. I couldn’t do my usual work routine, couldn’t blog, there was simply no time. And that included feeding you and Henry on time.”

“What about my walks? My two hours of walks every day?”

“Things may have to go by the wayside for a while, Auss.”

“How long is a while?”

“Some 12 weeks, easily.”

“That long? Do you know how skinny I’ll be?”

By now I know the routine when something critical happens close to home, as it did last Thursday, when my housemate sustained severe injuries after someone driving “under the influence,” as we say it, crossed a double yellow line and smashed into her car in a head-on collision. To this very day, she can’t remember what happened, and she didn’t gain consciousness till she was in the ER.

“Which ER?” I asked her when she finally called that evening, mumbling into the phone that she was in an accident. “Greenfield hospital? Springfield? Northampton?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled back.

I was gone for days down to the hospital, and now, too, she needs a great deal of care since she’s barely mobile, with lots of pain. Her sister is here and does the nursing for now, have no idea for how long.

By now, I know what happens. You know all the things you thought you had to do, that the world wouldn’t go on unless you finished each and every one of them day after day? Fuggedaboudit, as Bernie used to say. Almost all of the to-dos on the computer calendar mysteriously move down to Overdue, or else disappear completely.

Life changes for some so suddenly and radically; she will not be the same after this.

And I have slipped back to a caregiver’s role, the role I played more or less adequately after Bernie’s stroke. I suddenly remember what caregivers face, and I refer to the small things, not the shopping, cooking, dog-feeding and walking, etc.

You know how we wake up in the morning, get out of bed, go to the bathroom, use the toilet, wash, get dressed before getting that coffee? Small things, before we really do anything? Before we start working or get on the phone or on Zoom?

My housemate can’t do any of those. She has to cut up her pants, otherwise she can’t get a thickly, heavily padded, bandaged foot and ankle into them. Pivoting off the futon in my office is painful, sitting up even more so because of the broken ribs. She puts on her one shoe and winces. One of us is always there when she gets up and uses her walker, including in the middle of the night, always walking behind her as she goes heavily to the bathroom in case her one functioning leg totters while the other is left in the air. Forget showers. Forget walking or driving to work.

It’s when you start working with the small things—we need straws because sipping from a cup means she has to sit up, which causes severe rib pain—that you see how much we take for granted in day-to-day life, how we don’t need help to get up, feel the floor under our feet, swivel and use the walker correctly. We don’t have to pay attention to which foot goes on the floor and which does not, which hand can turn on the bathroom light and which stays on the walker handles. We don’t hesitate before we turn in bed because the pain in our chest is so bad.

I remembered this from Bernie after his stroke, and I see it now once more.

This is what I say to myself: You were good back then, but there are things you wish you’d done differently. Spend more time talking face-to-face, hanging out, watching TV together. Smile with genuine encouragement without denying the shock and pain. And make sure to touch and hug, reminding the other person that their body is still worthy of embrace, still beautiful. Don’t scrimp on that just because you have to empty the dishwasher or do the laundry.

God doesn’t make mistakes. Even if a formerly healthy, strong woman is now in bed, weak and defenseless, still trying to absorb the enormity of what happened to her and how her life will change. She was God’s creature then and she’s God’s creature now. I love and embrace both.

Meantime, the world goes on. Cherry blossoms flower in DC, bombings continue in Gaza, and Boris the bear may have paid his first spring visit to the house last night. As Bernie used to say: “Everything’s critical; nothing’s serious.”

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