The Phone Call
I have put off canceling his cell-phone service as long as possible. His children, friends and family from all over the world still call to hear him say "Leave me a message," then weep and pour their hearts out into his voice mail.
But money is tight. The phone has to go. It really wasn't much good, when none of his doctors would call him on it when he so desperately needed them.
It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.
I knew Amy wasn’t doing well; when I had seen her on Friday, she just laid in bed, breathing heavily. She didn’t even turn to look at me, much less talk. I had sat with her for a while, sang Amazing Grace almost inaudibly, and left the small bag of bananas and salt prunes she had requested on the small table beside her bed.
I had left strict instructions with the nurses that night—Please, call me if anything happens. Call me if she passes. I want to know. I didn’t know if they’d be able to reach any family for Amy, as family contact had been spotty at best the entire time she’d been in the hospital. I wanted there to be someone who could bear witness to her last moments.
Unable to get through to my step-mother, I step into the next exam room to see Mr. P, a 72-year-old man with stable coronary disease and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). He has difficulty hearing and is here with his protective wife for a routine checkup.
My twins were born just twelve hours after I came home from work, but six weeks earlier than expected, so I extended my maternity leave for as long as possible. My partners were accommodating and generous while I was away, but they were plenty glad to have me in the call rotation when I came back. So, after my four months' leave, I was on the schedule within a week or two of returning to work.
On a cold December day, I heard a knock on our clinic door. "Hello? Can someone help me?"
Her name was Sara. She wore an oversized blue jacket, black rain boots and a scarf over her head. With my bright blue Health Leads patient advocate polo shirt, I greeted Sara as she sat down in the chair next to me.
"I need some childcare vouchers. They've stopped giving me money and I can't seem to make ends meet any more," she told me quietly.
The phone call came just as Dad and I had finished lunch and were about to enjoy some window-shopping at the mall. It was the nursing home informing us that Ma had again fallen out of bed and was again being taken by ambulance to a nearby emergency room.
The call came twenty years ago, but it stands out in my mind like it was yesterday. I was a student nurse on a psychiatric rotation, and my clinical instructor called to inform me that the patient that I had been caring for had died. The death occured after discharge from the hospital. And the cause of death was suicide.
It is 1959; it’s my first night on duty as a medical resident at a VA hospital. I am called to the ER.
I enter the ER where the nurse, appearing frightened and perplexed, is talking on the phone. She places her tremulous hand over the receiver and says to me, “It’s a Korean war veteran. He thinks he’s in action and is speaking to his command installation and is screaming for more back-up, more shelling. We are trying to trace the call.”
She hands me the phone.
My parents and I were rushing to D.C. to be by my grandmother's side--I from Boston by plane, they from Pittsburgh by automobile. It was a cloudy morning.
Upon reaching Reagan National Airport, I switched my mobile out of airplane mode and saw a text from my sister: call mum right now. Despite being the older sibling, I always followed my sister’s instructions and obediently called our mum.