The following story is true. I originally submitted it as a blog, but upon the advice of one of my kind readers, I am reposting it as a short (at least, I HOPE it qualifies as short!) story. I swear I am not making this up.
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Five years ago this December, one of my sister Jannieís plethora of cats climbed up into the rafters of her garage. Now, I love cats as much as the next cat lover, but I subscribe to the theory that if a cat manages to get up some place, the cat will somehow manage to figure out a way to get DOWN from that place once it finds its true motivation (i.e., hunger.) As a friend pointed out to me at the time, "How many times have you seen a cat skeleton in a tree?"
Jannie, however, has a strange allergic reaction to cat dander: it causes her to lose all semblance of reason and common sense. Rather than pull her truck into the garage to allow the cat to jump down onto the roof of the cab (which is probably where it jumped UP from in the first place,) she climbed up a ladder to rescue her poor kitty so that it would not die a horrible, lingering death in the eaves of the garage. She promptly fell off the ladder, shattering her elbow and chipping a bone in her ankle. I think the cat ended up jumping down on its own.
As my sister explained to me later, she didnít call an ambulance because she "didnít want to put on a show for the neighbors." She proceeded to drive herself AND our mother Ė who has Alzheimerís Disease but was still living at home with Jannie at the time Ė to the Emergency Room. It was only after arriving at the ER that Jannie finally called me, though my husband Tom and I live only about 15-20 minutes away, and sheepishly explained to us what had happened.
We did what we could to help get Jannie and Mom through this little crisis, which included surgery on Jannieís elbow. A week or so later, knowing that Jannie was in no shape to do so, I offered to come over one evening with my teenage stepson Andre to carry their live, cut Christmas tree into their house and help them decorate it. Before Jannie left for work that day, she told Mom, "Linnie and Andre are going to come over tonight to bring in the Christmas tree." Unfortunately, the only part of that comment that Mom apparently retained was "Öbring in the Christmas tree."
As far as we can tell, Mom later dragged the tree from the back patio, down the driveway, then about halfway up the steps to the front door before she fell and broke her leg. Somehow Ė we will never know how Ė she managed to drag herself through the front door and all the way to the back of the house, where the only phone was mounted on the kitchen wall near the back door. She managed to call the garden center where Jannie worked. All Mom could say to the person who answered the phone was, "I fell." Miraculously, the receptionist in the garden centerís landscaping office figured out who it must be on the other end of the line, and she summoned Jannie from the retail store.
This time, Jannie called an ambulance.
To her further credit, she also called me at work. As I rushed about, trying to make sure any "gotta doís" got done before I joined them at the hospital, I must have been more flustered than I realized. A co-worker finally pointed out that I was obviously distracted because I was either making mistakes or making no sense whatsoever. Or both - I canít remember. She told me I might as well just go ahead and leave.
Jannie and I stayed at the hospital with Mom until she came out of surgery. Mom had broken the ball off the top of her upper leg bone, so she needed a partial hip replacement. It was late evening by the time she was out of post-op and settled into her hospital room. We got her tucked in for the night and went home.
In the wee hours of the morning, the hospital called Jannie to let her know that Mom had gotten out of bed. Amazingly, she didnít undo the surgeonís work. Jannie drove back to the hospital and spent the rest of the night in Momís room, busted elbow and all. When I heard about this the next day, I Ďlowed as how Jannie was in no shape to be sleeping on a fold-out chaise lounge next to Momís hospital bed. I told Tom and Andre to go on to St. Louis (to spend Christmas with Tomís family) without me Ė I was needed in Ohio. Specifically, in Momís hospital room to keep her from getting up and re-breaking herself.
For about the next three nights, I slept, after a fashion, on the not-very-comfortable chaise lounge. When Mom woke up in the middle of the night and started to make moves to get up, I talked to her soothingly and told her she needed to stay in bed like a good girl. By day, I tried to finish getting ready for Christmas, albeit with some significant changes in my original plans. Thank goodness for the 24/7 drug store across the street from the hospital! I finished my gift shopping there, (I think thatís when I got my brother-in-law that Elmer Fudd Chia Pet) and bought tons of decorations for Momís hospital room. I bought three sets of static-cling window decals with Christmas scenes. I bought stockings and stocking hangers to put on her windowsill. I bought Mom a stuffed animal to help her stay calm at night.
By Christmas Eve, I must have started sleeping a little harder than before. I was awakened in the wee hours of the morning by the bright lights being turned on in Momís room and by a nurseís aide walking Mom back into the room and asking me if this woman belonged to me. At that point, I was probably just about as disoriented as Mom was. The aide probably thought, "Oh, great! Now Iíve got a pair of them!" I somehow conveyed to the aide that yes, that was my mother and no, she really didnít have any business being out of bed. Mom got settled back in with no apparent harm done.
My two sisters, my brother-in-law, Mom and I celebrated Christmas morning and opened our presents in Momís room. After I while, I excused myself to drive home for a little while to take a shower. On the way out of the hospital parking garage, I rolled down my window to hand the attendant my complimentary parking pass from the hospital. At the time, I drove a little silver1991 Ford Festiva (read: "roller skate with a roof.") Its drivers-side window had a tendency to get crooked when you put it up. I would just grab the glass and pull it straight before putting it up the rest of the way. This time when I went to close the window and it went crooked, I couldnít pull it straight. It was stuck. I pushed the window crank a little harder.
It really is amazing how auto safety glass shatters into about a million little bite-size nuggets that arenít really sharp at all. Itís especially fascinating to witness up close and personal when all the little nuggets land in your lap. The parking garage attendant expressed her sympathy, but there wasnít a lot I could do in the moment but drive on. I drove home from the hospital on Christmas day, in December, in Ohio, with no driverís side window. I donít remember if we had much snow that Christmas, but it was really cold and really windy. I got home, took my shower, and called my sisters to let them know that it would be a little while before I got back to the hospital.
Luckily, we had plenty of clear tarp and duct tape in our garage. Unluckily, we had so much other crap in our two-car garage that I couldnít even park my tiny, wounded car in it to work on covering its gaping hole in relative warmth. I stood on the driveway wrestling with tarp and tape. Did I mention it was really windy? I tried very hard not to turn the tarp into a parasail, nor to go wind surfing down into the street. I finally succeeded in taping the tarp around the doorframe at the top and across the bottom of the window to keep it in place.
This made it necessary for me to enter the car from the passengerís side. I opened the passenger door, climbed in, and slammed the door.
Itís amazing what happens to the air pressure inside a small car when you slam the door with the (existing) windows shut. It increases just enough to pop out a taped-on tarp from a broken window and leave the plastic dangling in the breeze down the side of your car.
I repeated the process, slightly more proficiently than before with my newfound experience and hard-earned wisdom. This time, when I climbed in the passenger door, I rolled down its window before I slammed the door. The window on THAT side worked fine. And my tarp pseudo-window stayed in place, after a fashion, as I drove back to the hospital.
Several weeks later, after Mom was home from the hospital, I was on my way home from spending the evening with her. I stopped at my favorite sub-and-pizza joint to pick up a couple of subs for Tom and me. I had phoned in my order ahead of time. When I arrived, the manager was arguing with a couple who were returning a couple of half-eaten subs, claiming the subs were no good and demanding their money back. The manager tried to calmly explain that store policy didnít allow for cash refunds, but sheíd be happy to make them fresh subs. The "gentleman" of the pair was having none of it. He reached over the counter, grabbed an open, full, food-service-sized can of pizza sauce and flung the sauce all over the front of the sub shop, all over the manager, and all over me.
Fortunately, the couple then left and the manager locked the door behind them. She was visibly shaken and admitted sheíd been reminded of some recent robberies sheíd heard about in the area. I calmly cleaned as much sauce as I could from my coat so that Tom wouldnít think I was covered with blood when I walked in the door. The manager apologized profusely and repeatedly and offered to pay for dry cleaning my coat. I accepted the offer, but then I gave her the executive summary of my Christmas experiences: "My sister broke her arm, and my mom broke her leg. If getting hosed with pizza sauce is the worst thing that happens to me, Iím pretty damn lucky."
Sometimes it just takes these sorts of life experiences to help you put things in perspective.
Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. - Groucho Marx