The bed is warm but it’s not my own. I’m curled up in the fetal position, on high alert, waiting for the soft call in the dark. I go to her at midnight, at four in the morning, and again at seven. She’s weak, disoriented, and dependent on my strength. This is a vocation of love, one I willingly accept, but I’m emerging from the rubble as a new creation.
The disparity between my inner and outer reality is alarming. I thought I knew myself better than this, but it turns out, I was all wrong. Today I’m feeling judgmental, impatient, and slightly unkind. Repeatedly. Observing myself from a safe distance, I keep a close eye on this warrior woman occupying my body, I can’t figure out where she came from, or how to get rid of her. She does not budge an inch, for me, or anyone else who happens to get in her way. You go girl. This is not my usual demeanor, but I appreciate her efficacious nature, especially when she’s putting a dent in the blue shield, trying to wrestle a security code from the guy with a Napoleon complex, or battle with customer service over ones network status.
“I need the security code to the front gate tonight. We have a care giver coming tomorrow morning and she needs access.” In a calm voice, warrior woman is explaining her situation for the fifth time, to the ornery gate keeper.
“I just answer the phones miss.”
“Is this not a twenty-four hour emergency number for the front gate?”
“Everyone’s gone for the holiday. I just answer the phones.”
“There has to be someone I can call.”
“That’s my job. I called Mr. Napoleon after your last call but he doesn’t give out the code.”
“Give me Mr. Napoleon’s number.”
“I can’t do that miss.”
“We’re going in circles here, give me your name, maybe the police can help.” (I’m bluffing but determined)
(He hangs up on me?)
A minute later my sister’s phone rings. It’s Mr. Napoleon himself (He thought Nancy would be more reasonable, he was wrong.)
“We need the security code tonight. We have help coming tomorrow morning and they need access.”
“I won’t give out the code.”
“How are they supposed to get in?”
“You could meet them here.”
“Are you kidding? We’ll just make fifteen keys and give them out to everyone we know. I’m sure that’s much better than giving one person the code. Thank you for your time, you’ve been absolutely worthless. Good night.” (BooYah)
How does one deal with gate keepers? Sometimes I think the world has gone mad. Round and round we go with just about every service, appointment, and network we encounter. I refuse to give up.
“I’m sorry miss, you’re out of network, we can not see your mom tomorrow.”
“I was on the phone with Blue Shield for two hours. We made this appointment over two weeks ago. My mom is very sick and you wait until the day before her appointment to cancel. This is unconscionable.”
“Blue Shield set up this appointment. This is ridiculous.”
“How is a sick person supposed to see a doctor with such a screwed up healthcare system. No one is taking new patients, every plan has a major flaw, and the lexicon is indiscernible.”
“What do you recommend I do?”
“You need to call this number and have them update you status.”
I called, waited for thirty minutes on hold, the customer service guy was nice but uninformed. “I can’t do anything from here. I think you need to talk to someone else.”
“I don’t know.”
I call the doctor back in a rather sordid mood, “You gave me the wrong number. I had to wait thirty minutes to talk to someone who can’t help me. My mother is coming to this appointment tomorrow. You will have to call Blue Shield and figure this out yourself.”
“I’m not sure you are covered.”
“We’re covered and approved. I think the system was not updated because of the holiday weekend. And please don’t call my mother and drag her into this, she’s not feeling well, and you upset her for no reason. I am approved to make her medical appointments.”
“I’ll have to recheck your status.”
“Look, I think we got off to a bad start. I’m appealing to you as one woman to another. I could care less about policies I’m just trying to get my mother to a doctor. You are in the health care field and we need help. My mother has two insurance policies, we were assigned to this doctor, and we can’t wait another day.”
“Okay, okay, come early, there’s a mountain of paperwork to fill out.”
“I’ll bring my own pen and thank you.”
I believe in civility even when the situation seems absurd.
I remember when I was just a young girl, maybe four, or five. I was at the park with my mom. I decided to jump on the merry-go-round with the older kids but they didn’t want me to join in. I got one leg over the bar when the kids started to push the merry go round faster and faster. I had to hop on one leg, or get thrown to the ground, and stomped on by the mean girls. I was panicked. Just when I thought I was losing my grip the merry-go-round came to an abrupt halt. I turned around and found my mama grasping the bars with both hands, dragging her body across the rough gravel, using all her strength to stop the momentum, so I could get off safely. I remember her bloody knees, her dignified anger, the way she stared down those mean girls. I saw her warrior woman that day and I was ever so proud.
In the midst of all this chaos the unexpected happened. It always does. Just when I’ve lost all hope in humanity someone comes along and restores me. We struggled from the car to the doctors and back to the car. Mom was exhausted and we still needed to get lab work done. I pushed ahead, dropping her off on a bench in the shade, racing off to park the car, jogging back to the bench. The long walk to the office, the endless lines, the medical cards, the signatures, and the wait. I’m not sure she’ll have enough energy to get back to the car. The nurse who is signing us in can see the panic in my eyes and she responds like a human, “Come on in here honey, bring your mom, we’ll just get this sample right now.” Her name is Linda. Mom plops into the chair, head leaning against the wall, eyes closed. I don’t think she realizes this nurse took us in front of all these other people but I do. She is ever so gentle, “a slight pinch honey, I’m sorry, here we go, almost done sweetheart.” I’m stunned. My eyes start to water, I blink, and fight back the emotions threatening to overcome me. Linda finishes and gently places a bandaid on the wound, “all done.” In a very soft voice Mom says, “thank you.” I help her stand, looking to the ground, because the unsaid ‘thank you’ is spilling from my eyes. Linda notices, she reaches for my arm, and gives me a supportive squeeze. I can not speak. I’ve been hopping on one foot for months, when this complete stranger reaches out and stops the uncontrollable spin, with undeserved kindness.
I admit, I miss my old routines, I’m as dependent as an addict, and the withdrawals are intense. I should have known it was only a matter of time until life shook things up. Did I expect my twilight years to be endless days of leisure and ease?
I so did.
Well guess what? I’m no longer sharing my plans with God. I need a vacation from all this growth and enlightenment. Just when I get comfortable, a new normal moves in, and I’m under reconstruction. I realize the importance of flexibility, resilience, and compromise. It has to do with everything that is working in my life – husband, children, family, friends, and quite possibly my relationship with God. But there are situations that call us into action, especially when someone you love needs help, and you just dig in for the long haul.
When evening has settled around me like a warm blanket, I watch this warrior woman resting up for the next battle, she’s curled up in the fetal position, in an unfamiliar space, waiting for the labor to begin.
“Religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.”
It all begins in the comments.