My mom suffered a crushing pain in her back this past April when an undetected sarcoma caused her T-11 vertebra to collapse.
She wanted to die.
The Maui emergency room personnel diagnosed a urinary tract infection and sent her home with some stiff antibiotics.
A couple weeks later the doc recommended an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) screen but her insurance company denied it. Mom’s husband said simply, “can we get one if we pay for it?”
Nope. Against protocol.
It was a terrible time.
My mom is one tough old bird. Raised in Hawaii before the islands were considered paradise, she did not have much calcium in her diet and inherited her mother’s severe scoliosis. Her back is the shape of an S.
But she swims in the ocean every day. Or she did until this back injury occurred. Now, eight months later, she is able to swim independently again but she sticks to the calm waters of her condominium’s pool.
I consider this recovery somewhat miraculous. You see, my mom is 84.
But she couldn’t have done it alone.
First my son, “Chance,” a recent college grad finishing up his first directorship project was waiting for the editors and colorists to finish working on his full-length feature film. He dropped what he was doing and flew out from Colorado to help his gramma. When the MRI was denied, he called the insurance company and demanded the names and credentials of everyone who had seen gramma’s file and asked who their HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliance officer was. I was somehow proud that my son was itching to, in his words, “sue the shit out of them.” For the record, this is Humana Healthcare we’re talking about. But he was right. Suddenly the door opened, the MRI was conducted — and showed a 70 percent compression fracture.
Chance stayed for two months preparing elaborate breakfasts, washing dishes, clothes and countertops meticulously. I was shocked; he’d never demonstrated those skills at home. He also had to deal with his step-grandfather, known here as “Chas.,” whose own bone marrow cancer was becoming debilitating.
Chas. couldn’t sleep and often kept mom up too. It was a tricky situation. Chance made separate hospital beds appear, each with it’s own set of controls … and their monstrous king went away. The vast countertop detritus disappeared also. Who knew lovely green granite lived under there?
Soon Gramma and Chas. became spoiled rotten. But instead of complimenting Chance on the lovely sliced papaya, mango and pineapple next to the scrambled eggs, toast and yogurt, Mom commented the eggs were too runny.
“Yup, welcome to my childhood,” I told my heroic kid, “that’s my mom.”
“But,” I added, “she’s my mom.”
Finally, worried for his sanity, I went to visit and noticed the caretakers that my son had finally brought onboard to help were quite helpful. Not only did they provide cleanliness and food preparation, they cheered mom up and made her do her exercises. And Mom and Chas. had to be on their best behavior for them. Not surprisingly, every week or two the help changed out and a new face appeared. The caregivers just didn’t want to come back.
Except for one.
One woman in particular struck me as both competent and caring. Thick-skinned, but delicate, she understood what they were going through and forgave them their bad behavior.
We’ll call her “Honey.”
Honey could tell “Mamafaye” that the eggs were just right and that she should be thanking Chance instead of criticizing him. All without falling from favor herself. She was all absolute tact.
Soon my mom was thanking Chance every time he turned around.
But alas, when you say “Thank you” accompanied by a large sigh, the truth outs itself.
It was time for Chance to be emancipated.
Fortunately, Honey was willing to stay on with longer hours and soon she was running the household, not only carefully leading mom in her daily exercises but also doing all housework including grocery shopping.
Chas. continued to moan and sigh. ‘I am dying,’ he would say simply. And grace simply escaped him.
Soon he proved himself right and mom was alone with Honey.
Fast forward to December 1, 2018.
Honey contacted me, as she does almost daily. But this time she sounded a little worried.
“The bathroom window is always open when I get here in the morning,” she reported. “Mamafaye can’t reach it. And I know I locked the door.”
I was worried. But on the sixth floor with no exterior floors below the window, I reasoned, my concern was invalid. I searched for other answers. But Honey knew and was succinct. “It’s Charlie,” she intimated. “His ghost is here.”
“Well,” I advised, “ask him to keep the window closed so Mamafaye doesn’t get cold.”
I couldn’t hear Honey’s response … we were communicating via text.
But I sensed she was considering her options.
She wanted to know why he was there, what did he want? What unfinished business did he have? And why was he opening the window at night?
I too considered it. The bathroom was referred to by my mom as “Charlie’s bathroom.” I would open the window when visiting to get airflow through the condo, often to dispel the steam from the shower or other bathroomy smells.
He’s trying to clear the air, I thought. He left somewhat gracelessly. Maybe we just need to let him know that we loved him despite his expert curmudgeonry.
So hey, Ghost of Chas., if you’re reading this, please know we love you.
And we’d love you even more if you kept that window closed.