And then there’s that

I was coming out of a large clinic on the west side of the city early this afternoon and it was clear there was some kind of fracas ensuing.

Now, this clinic is designed primarily for orthopedics, physical therapy, exercise and the like with a little bit of cardiology thrown in. So the people you see coming and going are either fabulously fit or, more like me, a little flabulous. We are in various states of repair and disrepair. At any given time you’ll see slings, boots, casts, and wheelchairs. There are plenty of athletic shoes.

Located in a section of the city which is considered by its inhabitants to be the more upscale of the two slices of the city, the clinic serves a broad range of clientele.

I was heading out after my own physical therapy session and feeling pretty snappy about myself even though I’ve been kind of burdened of late with life as it has taken a swipe at my serenity. As I emerged through the electronic sliding doors, I noticed a well-worn van, burgundy in color (isn’t that one of the Pantone colors of the season?) sitting under the loading and unloading canopy. I may not have even noticed the van had it not been for the loud male voice inside which asked, “What the f___ is the matter with you?”

From inside or the other side of the vehicle, I heard a loud but not very clear response. By the time I got around so that I could see what was going on, I heard the response repeated very clearly by the woman in a wheelchair, “You seem to be on time for your whore!” Bear in mind, this was the second time she had said the same words. I just didn’t think I heard them right the first time. And she didn’t repeat them for my benefit.

Now, these two folks who were yelling at each other were no spring chickens. I didn’t get a clear look, but I would guess at least 60 years old or older. I’m not sure how the woman had gotten out of the van and into the wheelchair, whether it was under her own power or with the help of the younger man standing nearby. Nevertheless, as I kept moving, I heard her say to that younger man, “Get me inside.”

I looked at my watch as I headed to my car. It was 12:40 p.m. My guess at the moment was that perhaps she was late for a clinic appointment that started at 12:30. When I turned around to look again, the van, the wheelchair, and woman and her attendant were all gone.

And I reassessed what life has been like for me lately.

“Pretty good,” I breathed deeply. “My life is pretty good.” And, I thought, “You never know what people are going through.”

Last week, my brother was sent to the hospital from his group home in Missouri. I’ve written about Tony before and the challenges he has every single day. Then we throw in the normal geriatric issues that might be expected of a man of 76, and those trials just compound.

When he was admitted, the docs said it was pneumonia along with a recurrence of cellulitis. Serious enough. But after a few hours, it was determined that he had a heart attack.

“The pneumonia isn’t too bad,” the nurse said. “But he’s going to have a heart catheterization late this afternoon. If there’s any blockage, the doctors will remove that and, if necessary, insert a stent or more.”

The words scared the bejeebers out of me but in light of the 500 miles between my brother and me, and my complete lack of medical instruction, there wasn’t much I could do but pray. And I asked others to pray too.

The next day I got the report. No heart damage. No blockage. No sign of a heart attack. It seemed to be a miracle of some kind. The nurse told me the pneumonia was already clearing up and the antibiotic would take care of the cellulitis. He would be going home the next day.

When the next day arrived, and without warning, the nurse told me my brother would be going to live permanently in a nursing home. He wouldn’t be able to return to his group home.

Had he been told? I asked. “No, I’m working on that now.”

Any one of us who has had to deal with the transition of a loved one from home to nursing home knows the gravity of that situation. Add to that a mental illness with which the group home has been working, well, it’s a whole new can of worms. Nursing homes are not generally equipped to work with people with schizophrenia. Nursing homes for the mentally ill, and especially with schizophrenia, are locked down. My brother was about to lose all of his independence. With no warning. Absolutely no warning. And just 24 hours before, he had been given a virtually clean bill of health.

I was devastated. I’m not fooling myself. I know that day will come, but I didn’t expect it right after I was told he was just fine.

I inquired again. “Are you sure the doctor wasn’t just talking about a couple of weeks of rehab in a nursing home?” The nurse said no. It would be permanent.

My head was swimming. I contacted the agency on aging where my brother lives. They confirmed my worst fears about what lay ahead, but at least they offered to be helpful or as helpful as they could. None of the options were good, however.

Then I contacted the social worker or, perhaps they are called case managers now, at the hospital. I explained the situation. And thus began a systematic process of putting everything on hold until my brother’s situation could be re-evaluated.

And what do you know? Suddenly he was fine again and he would be going directly back to his group home and the regular assistance of Home Health.

The next time I called the hospital, he had been released.

In 36 hours, I went from fearing for my brother’s life, to thanking God for a miracle cure, to hitting rock bottom in fear and calling on the Lord for help, to praising God for rational and educated decisions by a case manager who knew her stuff and knew how to address a situation with a mentally ill man.

I was exhausted. My brother is none the wiser. He’s just glad to be back in his own bed. He’s tired. He has a lot of resting ahead of him along with a lot of physical therapy. But his near future is a whole lot brighter than it was even a week ago when he took that ride in the ambulance for a combination of emergency issues. I will be with him soon for a good visit and to tie up loose ends as I investigate additional options for his future (and without worrying him in the process).

I know from way too much experience that those of us who find ourselves in and out of orthopedic and cardiology clinics have a lot on our minds. We may be in a lot of pain. We may be scared. We may be actually celebrating our healing (that’s where I am right now). But good or bad, those trips to see health professionals are mixed in with whatever else, whatever other challenges there are in our lives. As much as any of us want to be healthy, there are times and people whose demands on our time seem like they should take precedence over our own healing.

And then I have to remember that getting myself well puts me in a position to help all the others in my life who cry out for my help or the help of anyone for that matter.

I wonder about that couple swearing at one another at the entrance of the clinic this afternoon. Yes. And then there’s that. My heart goes out to them. And to all whose futures seems frustratingly uncertain.



1      Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2          Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

5      I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6      my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning. – Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6

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