Let’s start with my mother being seventy-nine. She’s a strong seventy-nine, but still she’s actually closer to her eightieth birthday than the one she just passed. She has slowed down since her hip replacement from four years ago, but still she gardens and walks, and now that my brother has been away she’s living alone. Living alone actually gives her less to do because when my brother and his wife are at her house, she cooks and cleans for them as if she was forty years old and they were teenagers. She’s one of those tireless Italian ladies that just need to be doing something.
She lives about a half mile from my house. I stop there every day on my way home from work, just for five or ten minutes to make sure everything is OK. In the spring and summer she’s usually in the back gardening, and sometimes digging trenches and moving buckets of dirt. Half the time I shake my head and ask her why. She just does. Sometimes after digging a trench where rain puddles up, she’ll redo it if she doesn’t feel like it came out right. Some of our biggest arguments are over what I see as meaningless heavy labor. She’s incorrigible. She’ll tell me this will be the last time and I find out she did it again any way. Or I just catch her at it.
I stopped there last Thursday and no one answered the door. I knocked and rang the bell for ten minutes. The side of the house was nicely raked with dirt turned over. I used my cell phone to call. I heard her phone ring. Still there was no answer. I keep her keys, and so decided to open the door. I did and called inside. No answer. At her age I worry about her collapsing and either being unconscious or incapacitated. I went through each room and she wasn’t anywhere to be found. I sighed.
The next possibility is she walked about a mile away to where the commercial street resides. There she could have gone to several stores. Under typical conditions she would have planned walking there and being home at the time I normally get home from work. But there have been a few times where she didn’t plan that well and was out. Those times I drove toward that commercial boulevard and found her walking along the way. She would be grateful for the ride home. So I drove and didn’t come across her. I drove back and didn’t see her. I stopped back in her house—nothing. I drove back toward the boulevard again and this time I stopped at the little supermarket where she might be. I walked through every aisle—nothing. I gave up. I called my wife (at this point I was late for home) and told her what had happened and that I was on my way home. I got about a block when my cell phone rang.
“Are you Maria _____’s son?” asked the voice.
“Yes. Where is she?”
“The Emergency Room at Staten Island University Hospital.”
“What? What happened? ”
“Don’t worry. No need to get worried. She fell.”
“How is she?”
“Don’t get alarmed. It’s scratches and bruises and a dislocated finger. When can you get here?”
“I’ll be right there. Ten, fifteen minutes.”
I called my wife and told her I was headed straight there, raced over. The Emergency Room was packed and they had beds in the aisles, and I found her in a bed in an aisle. She looked rather comfortable laying there. Her right hand was wrapped and she held it up. The doctor was happy to see me. My mother doesn’t speak enough English to really understand everything. I guess they understood her since communication of pain is rather easy. She had been there at least three hours.
So what happened? She had been raking the backyard and needed to put down grass seed. She had walked to that commercial boulevard to the hardware store and bought grass seed. When she was just a few blocks from home she just fell. She’s not sure why, but she fell forward catching herself with her hands and apparently also taking the blow with her chest. A couple living nearby saw her fall, tried to help her up, but decided to call an ambulance. They even checked up on her at the hospital.
Her chest hurt all the way around. They did an EKG and chest x-rays. Her heart was fine and no ribs were broken. She had scratches and bruises on her hands and legs. The tips of several of her exposed fingers had band-aids. She was grateful (with a weird sort of pride) that she did not scratch or hurt her face. Her right hand had a splint with bloody bandages. The doctor said she dislocated at the mid knuckle. She came in with the finger bent in the middle literally at a right angle outward. Yikes. They had straightened it, and now they were going to stick it back into the knuckle. When they unwrapped it I squirmed, especially my face. The finger was swollen double the size, the color of the skin looked pale grey, and there was a slit down the inside that you could see into the finger. The doctor shoved the front half of the finger into the back half. It wasn’t going in right, so they needed to do it several times. Finally they got it in, then x-rayed again, and then when they were happy, stitched the gaping wound.
They finally let her out around eight o’clock with a follow up with a hand surgeon. As I helped her with her coat, which had been lying on the hospital bed beside her, I noticed a plastic shopping bag that was underneath the coat. I looked in the bag and it was a big bag of grass seed. LOL! She still had the bag all this time, ambulance ride and all. The white plastic was smeared with blood.
You would think that would be the end of the story, but no. I checked in on her the next day, and there she was in the backyard, smeared with dirt, her right hand full of bandages and inside a plastic bag to prevent it from getting dirty. “What the hell are you doing?” I screamed. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.” “I had to get the seed down,” she explained. “It’s going to rain tomorrow.” And then she asked me to help her with her ice pack. We walked inside and she sat down. I assumed she had an ice pack inside the bag around her hand. But she lifted her pants leg up and had a wrap with ice around her calf.
“Is it swollen?” she asked.
It was slightly swollen. “What happened here?”
“A dog bit me.”
“A little dog. It bit me.” She extended her arm and with her other hand showed the length of the dog to be from her fingertips to the mid forearm. “A little dog. No bigger than a rat. It bit me?”
“Where was this? In front of the house?”
So here’s what happened. She walked back to the spot where she had fallen the day before. For what reason, God knows. To see if her blood was still there? To see if there was something in the sidewalk that caused her to fall? She really didn’t have an answer. While she was looking at the concrete floor at the very spot she fell this little dog on a leash, possibly on one of those extendable leashes, squirted up around her leg and bit her calf. At the very spot she fell…LOL.
The dog’s owner was apologetic and what-not. But here she was now with a swollen leg and two little fang piercings. My first thought was, do I need to take her to the hospital? I was pretty sure she had a tetanus shot in the last ten years, but could the dog possibly be rabid? Given the dog was with the owner and on a leash, I figured it was fairly unlikely it was rabid. I did not want to go to the hospital again. I put an antiseptic on the bite marks, put a band-aid on that, and wrapped the ice pack again. I looked at her. “What is going on with you?” I had my hands up, almost appealing to God. She had an embarrassed smirk on her face. “I don’t know.”
So in the last week we met with the hand surgeon and she will need an operation on the finger. The front part of the finger won’t stay correctly. He will have to put pins in and reconstruct (I think) the tendons. The operation will be on the 17th. But since then we’ve had pre-op testing, medical clearences from her general doctor and from a cardiologist. Oy vey.
Here's a picture of my mother in her garden from several years ago. As you can see, she's into her gardening.