I have never summoned an ambulance before; and I have never been so glad to see anyone. Ever. They did beat the train and were there within an eternity. They arrived quietly, which I just this moment realize I was grateful for: there was quite enough trauma without screaming sirens. Rebecca arrived moments later, having gone around the train. She must have been flying, and without even having taken time to grab her wallet and driver’s license.
Mama is remarkably calm and has stopped expecting to see the bright light beckoning from the Great Elsewhere. She says she’s okay, and that her legs feel fine, “I will still be able to walk,” the most important thing. She tells me it’s not my fault; and asks several times if I’m hurt. I assure her I am not.
The two EMTs are calm and efficient, and deftly defuse the fear with a bit of appropriate humor. They immediately see that her nose is broken and quickly ascertain nothing else is. They bring the gurney into my garden, load her up, and into the ambulance. Telling Rebecca to ride with them, I race down to the house and grab the emergency suitcase that I had just the night before finally prepared, 18 months after we didn’t know to have one the last time we went to the hospital. It contains the packet of legal papers: medical power of attorney, Physician’s Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (none) that we didn’t have executed 18 months ago; warm socks, Mango Burt’s Bees (the creamiest flavor I’ve found). I throw in Mama’s favorite blanket/shawl—which turns out to be “dirty” and she won’t use it—my phone cord, a book, my Bucky pillow. (We both use the cord, nothing else.) I grab Mama’s bag with her ID and medical cards, and the notebook we record all doctor visit details in so there will be no forgetting or misconstruing later.
Racing to the car, I blast up the driveway and come to halt behind the ambulance at the road. Rebecca texts me they are pausing to splint Mama’s arm. I follow them across town: no speeding, no sirens, no life-threatening injuries. I can see Mama’s face through the back window: she looks terrible, but alert. They sit her up a bit and I watch her conversing with the EMT as we drive. I start breathing again. I feel horrible for her. I’m relieved. I feel sick, and cry most of the way to the hospital.
Arriving by ambulance gives the patient a Pass the Waiting Room Free card. No one asks us 47 times what medications she’s on, like they did last time; just once. Last time I had only been here three months and had to depend on Rebecca to tell them. This time I know, not only the two prescriptions she takes, but what changes have been made in the past 30 days. But they know that, too. All her medical records are now in the computer, both here and at her doctor’s office. Electronic progress. I know her weight, and what her blood pressure was at the last ten doctor visits. Not that I need to know that, but I can compare it to what we are seeing on the monitor. It’s way higher; but gradually comes down as the night progresses.
X-rays and a CT scan are done and nothing is amiss other than an uncomplicated broken nose. Head is good, no concussion, no bleeding on the brain. They bring a portable machine in later and re-Xray her hand that she complains of pain in. Everything takes a long time; we are not the only customers in the ER. But the staff is wonderful and we all feel well attended. They, in turn, are impressed with Mama’s support system and tell us of the appalling number of elderly who come in alone. Mama is patient. No one sleeps. I wonder if the good experience will change Mama’s bad opinion of Centralia Hospital. Three bad things have happened here: to her and to my father; I don’t blame her for wanting to go 30 miles down the interstate. But she forgets she had an unfavorable experience at the Olympia hospital, too. And it’s 30 miles down the interstate. She tells the doctor the last time she was at the Centralia hospital they gave her Lorazepam and it made her blind. “No it didn’t,” he said. “What did you say?” she says. He repeats, “It didn’t make you blind.” Rebecca and I suppress smiles. How many doctors have told her that? But it’s her story and she has stuck to it for 18 months.
A dear friend sits all night in the waiting room, and Rebecca and I take turns going out for her comfort and love. We are sent home at 3:30am with a splint and a sling for the arm she complains of and a prescription for Tylenol with Codeine, not to be taken for a few more hours. I would rather have spent midnight in Paris, than in the ER, but we are grateful not to be admitted. We think.