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The Call That Never Came

The first call came when Dad and I were browsing through Sam’s Club. The second interrupted our drive to admire the fall foliage. By the tenth call, I stopped counting.

The content of each conversation was always the same: “Your mother fell,” the aide from the memory-impaired unit of the nursing home would shout. “An ambulance is transporting her to the hospital. You need to come.” The consequences were also always the same. We found Ma sitting in a bed in the ER, nibbling on Jell-O and confusedly asking, “Where am I?”

Emotionally exhausted by living in this “the boy who cried wolf” world, Dad and I spoke to the director of the facility. We reminded her that Ma’s bed had been lowered to about two inches from the floor, and a thick gym mat lay on the floor to cushion any fall. We begged the director to return Ma to her bed when she fell, but she refused. She worried about insurance and lawsuits, while I focused on the stress that these faux emergencies were causing both Dad and Ma.

I also concentrated on the more frightening issue: the torn skin on Ma’s skeletal arm. Dad and I repeatedly asked the nurses to medicate and bandage it, but there were too many times when they forgot. Then, one morning when Dad and I arrived for our daily visit, we got off the elevator and heard her wails of pain. From far away! Ma’s room was at the opposite end of the hall. We dashed to her room to discover a real emergency, one that no one had bothered to call us about. Ma’s body was fiery hot; her left arm looked as if Captain Hook had ripped off her skin. I used my energy to deal with Ma, not to confront the unpleasant aide who might have resented me and taken it out on my mother. Dementia had brought out the worst in Ma, but she was still a human being who deserved compassionate care.

Within fifteen minutes, an ambulance transported Ma to the hospital. Two weeks later, she died in a hospice due to MRSA.

Even fifteen years after Ma’s passing, I still feel resentment about the call that never came: one that might have given my mother a more peaceful end to her life.

Ronna L. Edelstein
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania



4 thoughts on “The Call That Never Came”

  1. I hope I never have to go to a facility. Your story reinforces my feelings. A friend who is a nurse used to run an assisted living. Periodically, she would get up in the middle of the night and let herself in. Anyone found off their unit sleeping was fired on the spot. During the day when she was there full time they did their jobs. Hers was one in a million. A long time friend from college days had a TIA and went directly into dementia. The staff has sent her out for appointments with her blouse on inside out and bedroom slippers on. Other, worse things, too.

    1. Ronna Edelstein

      I always read your responses because you write with insight and empathy. I appreciate your comments on my essay. Be well!

  2. Patricia Shahamiri

    I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your mother in such a terrible way. It is what frightens so many of us about entrusting our loved ones into facilities for care.

    1. Thank you for reading my essay and responding to it. I hope that neither one of us ever has to enter a facility. May you be well.

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