The Space Between

THE SPACE BETWEEN

sumos quo sumos

-Lake Woebegone Official Motto

LARRY RICHARDSON
They say, (the people who know), 
the universe is mostly space. 
An empty place. 
Furthermore, these people who know 
insist that the same is true 
for me and you. 

We are all, it seems, 
just lots of nothing 
between tiny bits of solid stuff, 
just barely enough 
to hold us all somewhat together and,
to the world, make it appear 
that we are here. 

But this one thing I think I know for sure: 
a person needs a God to know 
and room to grow. 
And one place where there’s God and room,  
from everything I’ve seen, 
is the space between. 

Larry Richardson

Physical Therapists came yesterday to get Mom to stand and transfer to the reclining chair. The goals for her care have been the same for several days now. They are written on the dry erase board.

  1. Keep systolic blood pressure under 180.
  2. Increase awareness.
  3. Decrease oxygen demands.
  4. Out of bed.

The two therapists aimed at Goal #4. When they asked if she wanted to get out of the bed for a while (the orders are for two hours,) Mom said “No.” When coaxed about three times, and asked if she would help them get her up, she said, “Okay.” She helped to swing her legs around off the bed, and the female therapist said, “Well, look at you! And you’ve got a pretty pedicure, too!” When each therapist linked an elbow to each of Mom’s for support, she tried to push herself up with her hands, one of which is laden with IV needles and tubes. She got up, sort of, but she had no strength to turn herself to the near right to sit on the chair.

After the third try, they put her back in bed. She bent her knees on command and helped them scoot her up in the bed. Then they adjusted this fancy bed to simulate a chair.

She fell asleep as soon as they left the room. When her head bent dramatically to her shoulder, I lifted her head and re-positioned her pillow to make a support.

I wondered, What are we doing here? And then I thought, She really needs to be at home.

This morning, two nurses used the fancy lift in the room to move her to a chair. That machine is amazing! She ate five spoonfuls of oatmeal, drank half a cup of milk, and has been sleeping ever since. The breakfast tray sent earlier was not touched. At lunch, she tried to drink V-8 juice, but it didn’t taste right to her.

Getting her to eat is not one of the goals, even though she eats very little. I’m pretty sure I can prepare food that she won’t eat as well as the hospital does. (I threw that little funny in to make sure we see a little humor.)

The plan is to move her upstairs to what I have always called a step-down unit, a section of the hospital for those moving from ICU to regular hospital rooms or skilled nursing facilities. The criteria for that move is when she is medically able. While she is there, the caseworkers might usually plan for her move to a rehabilitation center. That is not going to happen, the move to a rehabilitation center. I’ve put that out there for everyone.

This morning, watching Mom sound asleep, crumpled in the bed, vulnerable to whatever treatment she receives and whatever is going on around her, I know she needs to be at home, in her own familiar bedroom, with Dixie, Dave, and Neil, and normal routines. (Well, “normal” for the Compound residents might not look normal, but it’s our normal.) We can plan for Home Healthcare, and we will provide true care at home.

She is more lucid than she has been, and she understands a lot of what I tell her, but she is still not completely in the real world. Or maybe it’s that she is in her world, and who’s to say that’s not the real world.

Now I wonder if she will ever be medically able to leave the ICU and at what point the doctor says, “Okay, I give up.” A nurse told me, “They don’t do that. They just keep trying different things.” Her awareness has increased. Her oxygen demands have been met and could continue at home. She’s helped out of bed each day. But there’s that first goal: If she did not have the high-powered drugs delivered by the needle in her arm, she would stroke within hours.

Today, three nurses tried twice each to start a new IV. Mom’s veins are fragile. I asked, “Okay, what’s the next step?”

A pretty blonde nurse answered, “We call in the professionals, the IV therapists.”

About thirty minutes later, a tiny woman appeared with gear in hand. She looked experienced. I asked if I could watch. On the first try, she couldn’t get the IV in, but on the second try (in the other arm), she made a perfect deep stick and entry. I learned a bit and was glad she let me watch, but that’s not really what I want to look at. I hope I never see another needle in Mom’s arm.

I like to picture Mama sleeping in a gauzy forest bed of flowers between two white veils. Through one of the semi-sheer curtains, she sees and feels the comfortable life in her apartment in the Compound and the beauty of all the blooms and foliage right now outside her kitchen window. Dixie runs over to lie in her lap every morning. Dave cares for her as he would his own mom. Neil fixes things and makes her laugh. I’m always there for her. She drinks orange Gatorade every morning followed by her favorite homemade mocha, enjoys her lunch from a tray on her lap, and eats sliced strawberries soaked in sweetened milk. Her nightgown is laid out on the bed each evening, along with night underwear and hospital socks.

Behind the other veil, there is a beckoning Bright Light, so bright that the semi-transparent drape almost disappears. At some point, the Love in that Light will become irresistible. The soul will make her choice.

At the end of this day, I watch her sleep soundly in her ICU bed. Today, she has fulfilled the requirement of getting out of bed and proven her awareness has increased by remembering her full name and the month she was born every time someone asks. (1931? She doesn’t come up with that.) She receives the oxygen well and is not struggling to breathe.

Her blood pressure spikes again and a nurse starts the IV drip.

I think, for this moment, Mama is warm and happy in the space between.

-0-

For the love of firefighters…

We knew it was going to be a rough night. There were pictures of red mornings all over Facebook, and besides, Bree Smith on Channel 5 said so. The rain started in the early evening, we went to bed, and then the weather sirens blew, all the phones sounded the alarms, and we turned on the TV where Meteorologist Kikki Dee was saying “Go to your safe place…”

I swapped my pajama bottoms for a dirty pair of cargoes and headed over to wake up Mama. See, we all gather downstairs in The Cellar, the efficiency apartment where I used to write and cook and sew. Now Neil lives there. We knew he’d be upstairs shortly to herd us down, and he was. Dave told him we were headed down.

Mama used to go down the stairs from our den to The Cellar. She can’t do that anymore, so I knew we had to get her down the lift. When I got to her bedroom, she was ready to go–except for having any clothes on. Actually, she did. She was wearing her red metallic Easy Spirits. I dressed her in a clean gown, grabbed her robe, and got her to her walker, and she began a slow trek to the lift. God bless that lift!

Dave took Dixie and headed to our safe place. Neil was at the ready.

I turned on the lights in the elevator and edged Mom in. She sat on her walker, and I pushed the button.

I said, “I didn’t get my bra on, but I’ve got it tucked into my pants.”

She looked up at me. “I didn’t even have time to get my dentures.”

“Yeah,” I said, “we’re a sight.”

We were about a foot from the floor in The Study when the electricity went out.
“Uh, oh,” she said.

“Hmmm,” I said, “I wonder how the battery kicks in.”

I felt around the outside. Nothing there. “I better call Dave.”

The storm raged.

“We’re stuck,” I told him.

“Where?”

“We’re stuck in the lift. How does the battery kick in?”

“I think it should come on automatically when the electricity goes off.”

I could hear Neil in the background. “I’m headed that way.”

Here he came with a flashlight. I guess he had to prove to himself that we were, indeed, hold up in the lift. He looked around for access to the battery.

“Don’t worry about Dave and Dixie. They’re socked in over there. Dave said he was going to take Dixie out. I said, ‘No, you’re not. You stay right here.'”

“Oh, my goodness,” Mom said.

The storm raged harder.

He tried to open the door. No, there is a safety on that door to keep it from opening to spill its contents onto the concrete floor in my study. Probably a good idea.

“I’m going to get some wrenches and try to get the door off.” He ran out the door to my dad’s old tool bench in the garage, the garage containing my study.

My mother asked, “Are we about half up or half down?” Her inflection asked me to choose between the two.

I peered at her through the dark. “We’re about a foot from the ground.”

“Oh.” She seemed satisfied–and she didn’t seem to hear the storm as it came closer and closer.

Neil loosened screws, dropped them, pried, pulled, all with no success in loosening the door.

“Maybe you should just throw us some cushions from the couch,” I told him.

“Maybe I should just call the fire department,” he said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I told him.

He walked back to the garage and I heard both him and the dispatcher talking.

After getting the correct address, she asked him, “Is this a house or apartment?”

“It’s a house,” he said.

I yelled, “It’s the APARTMENT!”

She asked him the nature of the emergency.

“I’ve got two elderly ladies stuck in an elevator.” (I made a mental note to speak to him about his definition of elderly.)

I yelled, “Wheelchair lift!”

“Are they cognizant and breathing?”

“Oh, yes, they’re breathing,” he said.

“Are they having any difficulty?”

“Well, yeah, I guess they might be having a little trouble breathing. I mean, they’re stuck in an elevator.”

I yelled, “It’s a wheelchair lift!”

“Do we need to send the paramedics?” she asked.

“Noooooo!” I yelled.

He kept talking. “They need to come through a garage door, so I’ll have it open for them. How long you think this will take?”

The storm whirred overhead and I heard crackling and something falling, it seemed like on Nolensville Road, about a quarter-mile away.

Neil called from the garage, “You hear that tree crack?”

I heard him open the garage door manually.

“Yes. Neil, you need to get out there to meet them so they know where to go.” (I mean, we still get lost from each other in The Compound, and I wasn’t sure these would be firemen who had been here before, even though we’ve had the full assortment from the stations on the South side of Nashville.)

Neil came back in The Study and said, “They should be here pretty soon. I think we just heard the worst of it pass.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I believe so. Sounds like something hit a couple streets over.”

He paused to take a picture of Mom and me in the lift. We all laughed.

“Oh, good grief, Neil,” I said.

“Don’t worry, Grandma, I only got the back of your head. Oh, I think I hear them.”

He called out from the driveway, “Yeah, right here!”

The fire truck moved a bit. Surely they didn’t drive into the driveway with that monstrosity. I still don’t know if they did.

“Right through here. I’ve got one ninety-year-old in there. The other is a young seventy-two.”

Yeah, he knows, I thought to myself. He’s trying to redeem himself.

“Are they okay?”

A good-looking fireman with a big white moustache (We’ll call him Sam Elliott) stuck his head in and then out again.

“Oh, no,” Mom said, “He got a look at us and he’s leaving.”

He came back in with two buddies. I recognized Sam Elliott and a young one with almost the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen (Leonard DiCaprio with short hair.) Leonardo spoke first. “Oh, man, I was fearing a lot worse than this,” he said.

“Yeah, you thought it was an enclosed elevator, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s what would be a lot worse.”

Leonardo said, “The worst of the storm has passed. We came from Antioch and had to dodge trees down across Old Hickory Boulevard and then trees down on side streets, and Nolensville Road has some power poles down.”

“Yeah, we heard it,” I said.

Sam Elliott and Neil talked. “What we have to do is get this door loose.”

“I tried,” Neil said. “I think I’ve loosened everything that can be loosened. It must be the magnetic lock assembly.”

Fireman #2 (I never got a good look at him) relayed that message to the others. I think he suggested a crowbar.

Nooooooo, I thought. Thousands of dollars ran through my mind. Nooooooooo.

Sam Elliott spoke to Mom. “What’s your name, Ma’am? Your last name.”

“Blair. Ethel Blair,” she said.

“Mrs. Blair, don’t worry. We’re going to get you out of there.”

“I’m not worried,” she said.

Neil asked if we needed water or anything.

Much discussion continued, and many wrenches changed hands. Neil ran back and forth, here and yon, and found exactly what they needed. Sam and #2 were able to get to the “inside screws.”

“Almost,” #2 promised.

And then they all cheered.

Neil had already set up a ladder in case they had to get in the lift to get Mom out. He took that down and set up a step-stool. Sam Elliott said, “What we need is a little stool.”

Neil came running with a Rubbermaid kitchen stool, the perfect thing.

Leonardo hadn’t been too active in the rescue, but he was fine to look at. He helped #2 open the lift door. He invited me to step out and down. First, I had to get by Mom, and that took a little bit.

Both took Mom under her arms. Sam Elliott told Leonardo, “We’re going to have to lift her down. She can’t step down that far.”

“Mrs. Blair,” Sam said, “We’re going to lift you down to the stool. Can you stand on it?”

“Yes,” she said.

“No,” I said.

Her feet barely touched the stool as they got her feet on the floor and guided her to the wheelchair that Neil had provided.

“Is everybody okay?” Sam asked. “Can you handle it from here?”

“I’ll take care of them,” Neil said.

The three of us gave our gratitude.

One of them said, “It was our pleasure.”

Thank God for first responders. Thank God the lift made it almost to the floor. Thank God for Neil.

Just as they got through the garage door, Mom said, “They can come get me any time. Whew.”

Neil and I both laughed. “Grandma!” he said.

“I can still look!” she said.

Thank God for first responders. Thank God the lift made it almost to the floor. Thank God for Neil. (Neil is handsome, too.)

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