Dispatch from the Sandwich Generation | Page 2 of 2

Dispatch from the Sandwich Generation

On feeling spread too thin

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I had moved her from Pennsylvania a year earlier after she suffered a stroke. Now I wondered if she’d suffered another; they hadn’t tested for that.

At the end of my visit, I told her I was returning home. “Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “Don’t drive all the way back home. Just spend the night in my apartment.” It took me a few minutes to realize she thought she was still in Pennsylvania.

We drove Daniel to the same hospital early the next morning. No stranger to hospitals, he was nervous nevertheless. When he was 16, he suffered a “blow-out fracture” of the orbital bone that held up his right eye in yet another ice hockey incident. He was in tremendous pain, and his eye had sunk partially into the sinus cavity. Even after surgery to implant a titanium shelf to support the eye, he still has double vision when looking up and numbness on the right side of his face.

Thinking of the spinal surgery, we couldn’t help but wonder: What if something goes wrong and he becomes paralyzed? What if this doesn’t help the pain?

When they wheeled him into the operating room, all we could see was his worried expression beneath the blue hospital cap.

During those long hours of the surgery, I frequented the elevator, traveling to and from my mother’s room. It was clear to me that we needed to get her out of there. Lying in bed all day and taking a multitude of drugs was only disorienting her more. I lobbied hard for a speedy discharge.

She refused to eat the meals they brought, so I ran down to the cafeteria to get her pizza—a Friday night staple when I was growing up—along with pie and her favorite vanilla ice cream. As she ate, her eyes started to twinkle and she became coherent. The staff agreed to put her back in bed without restraints.

Energized by this success, I returned to the second floor to await news about Daniel. That energy slowly dissipated as I watched the hands of the clock move past the anticipated conclusion of the operation.

Hours later, Daniel’s surgeon finally pushed through the O.R. doors. The surgery appeared to have been successful, he said, but time would tell.

“There was much more disc material that needed to be removed than I had thought. It kept coming and coming,” he said. “The nerve was so impinged that it literally snapped back into place like a taut rubber band. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The next morning, Daniel was sitting up in bed, eager to get home. The pain had diminished, but he had been told it might take months to improve fully because the nerve had been impacted for so long.

While waiting for Daniel’s discharge papers, I went up to see my mother. They had decided she would be discharged that morning, too. I wasn’t sure how I could juggle both patients at the same time, so I contacted a home health care agency and arranged for an aide to stay with my mother at her apartment for the next 24 hours.

We drove Daniel home, got him settled in bed, and then I returned to the hospital for my mom. The home health care aide helped me get her out of bed and dressed. Then I drove them to my mother’s apartment and got them settled, as well.

As I drove home hours later, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Both Daniel and my mother were doing well; the worst was over. Not only that, but Nicole would be arriving home that afternoon.

A few hours later, with Daniel sleeping and my mother cared for, my husband and I left for the airport to pick up Nicole. She had been gone almost three weeks and apparently had a blast.

The flight from Amsterdam arrived early, and she was smiling brightly as she and her friend strode out the door from the customs area. But no sooner had we gotten into the car than she blurted, “Mom, I need to see the doctor tomorrow. My fever is gone but my throat is still killing me—and look at this huge lump on the side of my neck. I can barely turn my head!”

I let out a sigh as my chin fell to my chest.

Two courses of antibiotics and a few weeks later she was in the hospital getting her tonsils removed. After the surgery, the doctor announced, “There was a collective gasp in the operating room when we saw her tonsils. We had never seen any like them.”

I need a vacation, I thought. But not anytime soon.

Epilogue: Daniel went on to finish his collegiate hockey career at Dickinson College, helping his team win the Conference Championship his senior year. Now in his second year of law school, he’s too busy to play ice hockey but has taken up boxing.

Nicole’s tonsil surgery was a success. Her soprano voice was unaffected and she sings at Vassar College.

My mother still has her ups and downs living with Parkinson’s but soldiers on. At my insistence, her medical chart now reads, “Allergic to Haldol.”

As I write this, my husband and I are on a weeklong vacation in Costa Rica, sans kids. So far so good. (Knock on wood.)

Desirée Magney is a lawyer who lives in Chevy Chase.

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