“Please drivy to me me to hospile”
My mom was nauseated and disoriented, so she hadn’t called. She had only texted one of us, but at least it had been the closest. My brother dropped her off at the county hospital emergency department entrance, and he wasn’t allowed in any further.
She was alone and too unsettled to provide much history, including when the apparent stoke symptoms had started. The doctor called me since I was the emergency contact. After I had been widowed, I had considered moving in with her. She had told me then, unequivocally, no.
I raced to the hospital, only to be met by staff in masks and shields, gloves and gowns, telling me I might be able to get in later. Thirty minutes later they told me I couldn’t get in at all.
It took 16 hours to hear her voice again.
We assured her my brother had picked up her dog. My brother’s wife, always ready to step into a role as the dependable point person, dropped off Mom’s glasses, newspaper, Kindle, and teeth. We left them at the front desk in a bag with her room number on it.
I joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of Americans waiting outside for a family member inside a hospital room. I was lucky: Mom was getting better.
It’s alarming to see the spikes in transmissions, hospital admissions, and deaths from COVID19. It’s also alarming that people infectious with COVID-19 have to be turned away to quarantine at home because their symptoms aren’t yet severe enough to qualify for a hospital bed that has to be allocated for a sicker patient.
However, that’s only part of the picture of this pandemic.
Mom is negative for COVID-19, carefully quarantining at home and turning down even an outdoor Thanksgiving get-together with her family. But now that she is in the hospital, just as for many residents, visiting has been limited or prohibited.
Visits to emergency departments and admissions for hospitalizations have changed nationwide. People have fewer car accidents, but they are more deadly, probably because speeding is easier. Children are injured more, since they can’t be watched as well at home, as parents try to supervise their kids’ remote learning as well as their own work. Domestic violence, predictably, is up, as household budgets are squeezed, frustrations mount, tempers flare, and guns are so easily accessible. Child abuse, and children shooting themselves and others, are up, as children are home and guns are out.
Burns are up as more people cook three meals a day at home, every day. Electric shocks are up. Broken bones also have increased.
I sport a burn from the gas stove, even though it had been turned off. The pink scar crosses my wrist like self-harm gone slightly crooked. After a hard fall while jogging on one of the last beautiful days of summer, I sit here with a sprained ankle and a sprained wrist. I can pop my broken rib back into place when it moves. The only treatments involve ibuprofen and ice, and I hadn’t bothered to let my doctor know until more than two weeks after it happened.
My fellow Americans likewise are showing up at hospitals with bones that were broken weeks ago, and burns healing awkwardly. We don’t want to sit alone in hospital waiting rooms, or get admitted and then not see our family members for days. It’s not until we finally admit we need a prescription painkiller that we show up with our old wounds.
Sunsets in Maryland, across the hills and waterways are always beautiful. But the coming winter means sunset is early and days short. We are all wanting to hug the growing children and older mentors and family members in our lives. We are frustrated and annoyed at the masks that fog our glasses and the one-way arrows in supermarket aisles and staircases that we forget to look for until it’s too late. Decisions to turn on our Zoom cameras or not are fraught with uncertainty for those of us who never before thought that much about how we looked at meetings. Christmas may come and go without the usual gatherings.
We are tired. Many of us are sick and tired.
Mom will return home. Medicare will pay for everything. She’ll look around for her glasses and her teeth, and we’ll have to retrieve them at the hospital, from the guard’s desk where they never left. Mom will tell me not to move in with her. And we’ll wait for spring.
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Andrea Chamblee is the widow of Capital Gazette reporter John McNamara, who was murdered on June 28, 2018, when five staff members were killed in a shooting. She is co-author with him and David Elfin of “The Capital of Basketball.” She writes from the pastoral splendor that is near the Howard and Carroll county line, with no fire hydrant within range. She can be reached on Twitter @AndreaChamblee.