Good Neighbors

NOTE: Once again, this was written months ago. This was originally written 8/13/08.

Last Wednesday . . .

It happened suddenly, unexpectedly, as most disasters do. A great crash–like one expects to hear when an entire bookcase collapses–sent me rushing out of the bedroom. I found Grandma sprawled on the hall floor, a container of greeting cards scattered everywhere. For the briefest microsecond, it is as if everything is suspended. What, why, how, and how bad?

A quick glance shows no obvious blood on the floor, no clearly broken bones. Grandma is conscious, and, if looking a bit stunned, does not appear to be in any significant pain. A flicker of relief, then, grasping the conclusion that no bones are broken and no critical crisis has unfolded. But still, why the unexplained fall? A sudden stroke?

“What on earth happened?” I asked, over-loud in my alarm and relief.

“I stumbled on the top step coming up the stairs, and hit my head,” Grandma said, clamping a hand to the front of her head and making it to a seated position. “I’m all right. Am I bleeding?” She took the hand away to look at her fingers. “Yes, I’m bleeding.”

I came over to look, feeling both greatly relieved that she did not appear seriously hurt, and still appalled at how loud a crash she had made hitting the wall. A quick look at her scalp modified my assessment. Thick red blood welled up from a gash that was no tiny scape. Oh, great, I thought. Though clearly not a serious wound, it was not something that could be covered over with a little band aid. As a scalp wound it would be–in short order–bleeding profusely. I needed to get something to contain the blood (quickly), prepare for the possibility of a panicked Grandma, and figure out how I would get her to the appropriate care.

Because–of course!–this had to be one of the few days in the year when the car was in the shop for repairs and we were without a vehicle.

I launched into action, trying to think, take care of Grandma, and answer her questions all at the same time.

Ice pack and washcloth for the head first. “No, Grandma, it isn’t serious. It’s just a scalp wound that will bleed a lot. No big deal.”

Go to the emergency room? Call an ambulance? I’m already familiar with the ambulance and emergency room routine from past experience, and I’m loathe to take that path unless I must. It is expensive, and time consuming, and Grandma hates it as much as I. First I call Doug to see if he can take Grandma to the emergency room, or a walk-in clinic. Nobody picks up the phone. I know Grandma is growing increasingly agitated as she discovers the growing amount of blood, and wants assurance that everything is being taken care of. I call Mom and Dad. With a thirty-minute drive, getting help from there is less than ideal, though the one sure standby. In a few short minutes Dad is on his way down, and Mom and I have agreed that a walk-in clinic is a better idea than the emergency room.

I explained to Grandma the plan of action, and stress to her that it is fine and there is no hurry, and it is okay for us to wait until my Dad arrives. I sensed she was trying to not panic. By this point she has two handfuls of blood and wanted me to help her get off the carpeted hall floor so she wouldn’t drip where it would be difficult to clean. I got her up and seated in the kitchen. By this point the bleeding had slowed, and would soon stop, and a ride was on the way to take her to the clinic. As far as I was concerned, everything was under control and set. But I realized Grandma might not feel that way.

“Dad will be here shortly and it is all right for us to wait,” I told her. “But if for some reason you want to go right away, I can see if there is some neighbor home that will take you in.”

“Okay,” she said. “Well, maybe you better, because I’m concerned about all the blood I’m losing.”

Two handfuls of blood was nowhere near a dangerous amount. If you donate blood you give more than that. But if you don’t understand that, or are panicked by the sight of blood, all the assurance in the world won’t help. I understood her sentiment, and as much as I didn’t relish knocking on neighborhood doors, (Would you mind driving my Grandmother to the clinic? Is it okay if she gets blood on your car?) I dutifully complied.

I probably would not have made inquiries if I had never spoken with any of the neighbors previously. It wasn’t a true emergency, and I didn’t want to make that much of a cold call. But as it happened, I had spoken in passing with two different neighbors who–on learning of the elder care situation I was in–had both graciously offered, “If you need any help with anything, just ask.” I would never want to ask a briefly met neighbor to bring my bloodied grandmother in to get stitched up–but they had offered “any help” and, well, now I was asking.

One of the neighbors didn’t appear to be home, so I went trudging up the street (not so much as knowing their name, much less their phone number), taking the parked truck as a good sign that the second neighbor was home. It was mid-afternoon and the front door was open to let in the fresh air, revealing the middle-aged neighbor lounging on the couch, perhaps just home from work. It felt awkward, to say the least. I knocked on the door and quickly plunged into an explanation, trying to not think about how much of an imposition I was creating, or what he was thinking. Thankfully, Art, (as I later learned was his name,) did not look horrified or as if he really regretted his previous offer. Saying he needed to pull himself together and would be down shortly, he quickly agreed to help.

I returned to Grandma and began the hasty preparations to get her ready to go–mostly consisting in trying to dig up her insurance cards which were in “some purse.” Shortly, she was on her way to get four staples in her scalp which would hold an approximately 3-inch gash shut.

She left for the clinic, and in the silence of the house I let out a mental breath. In the end, only a small disaster. It was nothing. It could have been much worse.

And it is nice to have good neighbors.

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