That’s the text message I received from my mom late on a recent Friday night, and my heart sank. If she was texting, she was conscious, and most likely not bleeding from the head. But she’s in her 70s and lives alone and there were many other unpleasant scenarios and questions running through my mind (including, I’ll admit, “Who died?”).
Fortunately, while it was a real emergency (a bad fall leading to multiple broken bones), it was a “practice emergency” when it came to figuring out how capable—or not—I was of making the necessary arrangements for an aging parent’s care. Due to the severity of the injury, she would need weeks of round-the-clock assistance, and it needed to happen fast. There were wonderful friends – both mine and hers – happy to offer helpful advice and recommendations, but ultimately as her only child, the choices and logistical responsibilities would be mine.
This unwanted reminder that my parents have entered the senior stage of life was not exactly surprising; after all, I have plenty of laugh lines that don’t disappear once I stop laughing. And my oldest child’s latest professional aspiration is YouTube star. So we’re all getting older.
What struck me was how unprepared I felt to fill the role of next of kin, patient representative or the various other labels I heard in the days following my mom’s accident. I found myself thinking, there’s probably someone who’s about to handle this or at least tell me what to do. It reminded me of when I had my first child and the first thing I did after coming home from the hospital was look around, like, oh god, where did the nurses go?? No angel of calm efficiency saved me then, and no one was saving me now either.
Truthfully, I got lucky. There were no harrowing, life-or-death decisions required this time around. My mom will be fine, and the arrangements I made were hardly the stuff of medals. (The true heroes are the doctors and nurses who cared for her in the hospital, and the home health aide who cooked for her, bathed her and listened to many, many grandchildren stories.) This practice run also gave me valuable insight into the world of eldercare and I now know what kinds of questions to ask the hospital staff, which agencies to call and where the nearest medical supply store is located.
I don’t want to know these things. I don’t want to accept the natural declines that come with age. But they are coming, and we owe it to our parents to start to prepare.