September 10, 2022
The drive to Albuquerque was . . . hopeful. Just when I tired of the dull landscape of Texas and eastern New Mexico, the long straight road curved gently, leading us into Albuquerque. On that Saturday morning, Albuquerque held out hope.
Major construction replacing buildings with larger ones rerouted us through the University of New Mexico Hospital campus. Unable to locate the Immediate Care Clinic, Mike dropped me off at the main entrance so that I could run inside to ask for directions. Yes, we were in the right place. Mike went inside, while I parked at the garage about a quarter mile away. Although yellow tape, guardrails, and traffic tubes defined walkways and streets, I was still confused about where I was going.
I met Mike upstairs in the small urgent care department waiting room, crowded with people. A few minutes later, triage assessed him, and shortly transferred him to the Emergency Department. No visitors were allowed in the ED waiting room; the friendly transporter directed me to Jersey Jacks, the food court for this building. I wrote in the noisy café awaiting Mike’s test results. What’s a vacation without a medical emergency? This situation was unusual in that it was Mike, not the kids or me.
Mariachi music entertained me as I waited in the hall surrounded by tables left cluttered by previous diners. I grabbed a chicken roll for lunch, eating as I processed what I had witnessed: the construction, the temporary offices in the main lobby, and the cramped urgent care clinic. This was a public hospital under renovation. Mike would have a grand time in the ED. The gift shop offered the perfect outfit for LLJ: toddler-sized “Nurse in Training scrubs”, a nod to her RN mother. I had no second thoughts about purchasing it.
Mike’s texts kept me up to date. I expected imaging, perhaps a night in the hospital. I needed a day off from traveling. But not this. Except for the CT scan, all tests and consultations were performed in the waiting room, more evidence that the facility was in transition. Long periods of waiting marked the eight hours. The antics of public hospital ED patients coming and going, exhibiting signs of homelessness, mental illness, or poverty, kept Mike entertained. Security personnel and city police appeared frequently. The hours wore on. I made a hotel reservation, checking into the Howard Johnson by Wyndham about five minutes away. Curious: Is Wyndham buying up all hotels?
Although we had packed small bags for the drive home, we unloaded all our electronics when checking into hotels each night. I snatched a luggage carrier and hauled a load up a ramp, struggling to unlock the door to enter into the hallway. The room was clean but definitely 2-star with its worn furniture and outdated décor. I settled in, texted Mike to have doctor conference call with me, and waited. Eventually the call came, informing us that the injuries were two fractured ribs and did not impact any vital organs. Mike could leave the hospital. Hallelujah!
So here is my ode to Nancy and caregivers everywhere. During the three days as I took on hauling luggage and packing the car, helping Mike to stand up and lie down, listening to his descriptions of pain (as if I had never had pain), I thought often of my friend Nancy, caregiver for her husband who rather suddenly and without clear cause has become physically incapacitated. She has been a nurse, chauffeur, secretary, and housekeeper for close to two years. Barely three days in, I was ready to call Care.com.
I admit to not being a long-term caregiver. Having witnessed the horror of head injuries while working in physical rehab facilities, I warned my family that I would not care for a drooling, babbling invalid who refused to wear a helmet or wear seatbelts. I would care for Mike long-term if necessary, as he would care for me. I pray that neither of us is called to do it.