In the Suburbs: Starting the new year on a medical mission
Late in the day Dec. 29, my wife and I were finalizing our very uncomplicated New Year's Eve plans. We had decided on an early movie -- "Unbroken" or "Big Eyes" -- so we could just unwind after a long, crazy year. After the movie, we'd grab dinner out.
We were joking about who would be the designated driver when my phone rang.
The call turned an uneventful holiday vacation upside down and put me in a place I'd never expected to be -- Miami.
The caller was my brother Randy. Our 94-year-old dad had been rushed from his winter condo north of Miami to a local hospital for surgery to remove a major bladder blockage. While the surgery was successful, Randy said, Dad would have to live either temporarily or permanently with a catheter, and the next steps in his recovery were a little uncertain.
What was definitely clear is that dad was going to be hospitalized for awhile, and his companion Berneice was without her Prince Charming for transportation, doctor's appointments and those more pleasurable outings.
The strategy, as Randy laid it out, was to split up the next two weeks and go to Florida. Since I didn't have to be back to my teaching job until Jan. 7, I volunteered to go first. If I could get flights and a hotel, I would leave New Year's Eve -- not my wife's favorite idea -- and return Jan. 6.
While the good news was that I could get away, the bad news was really unpleasant. First, I'd have to abandon my wife for a week, leaving her with four crazy dogs who aren't always predictable.
Next, a sinus infection that I'd developed before vacation and cured, I thought, with antibiotics had returned over the weekend with a vengeance and a hacking cough and laryngitis that completely hobbled me.
And third, I really had no idea what I was walking into with one 94-year-old surgical patient and one 94-year-old lady friend who didn't drive and didn't really know the area.
As I prepared to leave early Wednesday morning, my wife was already up. She hadn't been sleeping well, and as she brought the morning biscuits for the dogs into the great room, I looked into five pairs of glaring eyes. When I leaned over to kiss my wife goodbye, she said, "What happened to your eye? It's all red. I'll bet you have conjunctivitis. Stay away from people."
After flight delays, trying to navigate the Miami airport and finding my rental car, I finally reached the hospital around 5:30 p.m. I still had no voice, and the hacking cough and crusty eye did not make me a pretty sight.
Dad really looked great and was glad I was there. He gave me a full rundown on what had happened. Apparently, he had neglected an inflammation in his legs, which, it turned out, was caused by a life-threatening fluid blockage. Surgery had cleared the blockage, and the swelling in his legs receded.
We agreed that on the day after New Year's, I'd have breakfast at the condo (Berneice would cook), then I'd take her to her hair appointment and manicure. She was so grateful and was good company. We spent a lot of time over the next six days doing errands, shopping and visiting Dad.
I became her wheelchair guy also, because she couldn't walk to and from the elevators in the hospital. In between, I took Dad's car over to a local service place and put it into like-new condition.
The doctor also decided that Dad needed one more procedure that could free him from the bonds of the catheter. That happened Tuesday -- the day I left to go back home. But my brother and his wife had arrived Monday and have taken over the next stage of monitoring Dad's recovering.
I was grateful I could be there because, at 94, every day is a gift, and it feels good to have helped.
Steven Gaynes "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.