Sunday, May 21, 2017

In Which Aunt Ruby Goes to the Hospital

Here's a funny story that I've been wanting to tell you for quite some time.  First, I needed to nail down some of the particulars, and then, get permission from the original story teller, my precious cousin, Janet.  The maternal branches of my family tree are filled with lavish love, quick humor, and generous laughter.  This story comes from one of those beloved branches. 

My childhood memories of Aunt Ruby are those of her laughter that I thought sounded like bubbles and her total devotion to my Uncle Jimmy.  Her eyes sparkled when she talked about his accomplishments large or small.  After he went to heaven, Aunt Ruby was not a happy camper.  The love of her life for 50-plus years was no longer by her side.  Her one desire was to fly away to be with him.  

The dreaded move to assisted living didn't make the situation any better despite the fact that Janet visited her every day and occasionally took her on little expeditions about town.  Ruby was miserable and did not hesitate to call Janet numerous times night and day to express her unhappiness.

On this particular night, Janet's phone rang at 7:00.  Expecting to hear Ruby's voice on the other end of the line, she snapped to attention when one Ruby's caregivers began to speak.  

"Ms. Williams?"  


"You may want to come down to Tanglewood (the assisted living facility).  Some firemen and police officers are here talking to your mother."

Janet's mind began to race.  There was no mention of a stroke or heart attack or resuscitation.  The firemen and police officers were "talking" to her mother.  What the heck?!

"Your mother told someone (another elderly resident) that she was going to kill herself."

At this time in her life, "I want to die!" was Ruby-speak for "I am unhappy about _______________."  [Fill in the blank with a myriad of possibilities.]  "You NEVER come to see me."  "You NEVER call me."  "I miss Jimmy."  "I want to die" tearfully voiced to the Tanglewood caregivers didn't raise the death wish red flag, but the words "I'm going to kill myself" spoken casually to a fellow octogenarian rang the 911 gong long and loud.  For Pete's sake, how on earth was a wheelchair bound 85-year-old with no access to medications, weapons, sharp knives, or long pieces of rope going to commit Harry Carry in a single-story assisted living facility?  She would have to roll herself down to the front desk at Tanglewood and schedule a ride to Handy Dan to pick up some rope or something really sharp.  That plan would have, indeed, served as a true red flag.

Janet asked to speak to one of the "first responders."  A kindly fireman admitted that at that moment Ruby seemed fine.  She was sitting on the sofa in the lobby just laughing and talking and didn't even remember why cute firemen and policemen had come to visit her.  He said that they would love to "call it a night," but, they were required to take Ruby to the hospital to be formally evaluated.  Janet envisioned her little smiling mother being shoved into the back of a squad car and driven to some sort of psychiatric facility.  She made the drive to Tanglewood in a record-breaking 7 minutes.

No amount of begging or shedding of tears could convince either the firemen nor policemen to let Ruby just put on her jammies and be tucked into bed.  Maybe the resident that reported the alleged suicide proclamation misheard what Ruby said!  I daresay that if asked to repeat the conversation the "reporter" would have asked, "Who's Ruby?"  Isn't "mishearing" and "misremembering" common amongst the elderly residents in an assisted living facility?  No dice.  Rules were rules.  They were duty bound to haul giggling Ruby in.  Eventually, Janet struck a plea bargain.  She promised that she would immediately take her mom to the ER to be evaluated.  

So, off went mother and daughter to the ER.  At 8:00-ish on a school night.  Janet was a third-grade teacher who sorely needed her sleep.  
"Where are we going, Janet?"

"To the hospital?!"


"Because you said you wanted to kill yourself!"

"I said that?!  Well, that's a sin!  I would never do that!"

"I know that.  But, the firemen and policemen don't."  

"But, I feel fine!  Why do I need to see a doctor?!"

"Because you said you were going to kill yourself!"

For the full technicolor-surround-sound experience, repeat the above chorus for the next few hours in a relatively public place akin to an ER waiting room teeming with bored strangers starving for some form of entertainment.  Then, you will need to change the decibel range to simulate the way the conversation changed once Ruby and Janet were situated in a curtained ER cubbyhole with "roommates" packed closely on either side.  Ruby's voice stayed the same volume and Janet's dropped to a desperate stage whisper in an effort to avoid broadcasting her mom's alleged death wish.  "BECAUSE YOU SAID YOU WERE GOING TO KILL YOURSELF!"

During the empty hours they sat idly in the ER, Ruby remained calm and happy.  Janet's blood pressure rose substantially.  


"Well, Janet, you know I would never do that because it's a sin."

"But Mom, They don't know that."

A very kind female doctor came in and visited with Ruby.  The doctor and Janet carried on a nonverbal conversation with eyes and eyebrows.  Ruby was summarily dismissed from the hospital.

The kicker.  At 11:30 when a very exhausted Janet was helping ever-so-chipper Ruby out of the car at Tanglewood, Ruby sweetly said, 

"I sure enjoyed getting to spend time with you this evening, honey."  

Janet's first reaction was to roll her eyes.  Then, she realized something.  Her sweet mother had no idea what all the ruckus had been about.  She simply knew that she loved spending time with her daughter.

Now, Janet has a hilarious story to tell and a tender memory of An Evening With Mom in the ER Because A Fellow Tanglewood Resident Thought She Heard Mom Say That She Was Going to Kill Herself.  Priceless.

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