I am a 75-year-old woman, vibrant and vital, a writer and an artist. I am married to a 75-year-old man, a retired scientist who has taken up building things, including the house we live in, two sheds — because… tools — a play-set for the kids in the community, etc., etc. If he’s awake he’s either building something or cleaning up the woods, repairing something, somewhere for someone, or climbing up on something to fix something else.
The result of his zeal for 3-D creation and repair work has both made him someone the community can — and does — rely on, as well as someone who has, during the course of our 12-year marriage, been hospitalized twice for falls of a rather dramatic nature. The first fall was from the roof of the second floor of the condominiums nearby; the second fall was the result of some scaffolding he was climbing collapsing under him. He lucked out with the first fall — kind of — landing on the second-floor deck, flat on his back, breaking a number of bones and traumatizing some of his more delicate areas. The second fall, however, the collapse, threw him to the forest floor where he landed, face first, on a 4x4” smashing virtually every bone in his face below the eye sockets.
An ambulance had been called in the first instance. The ambulance took about 20 minutes to get here because we live in a very rural area in the hills of West Virginia. It is stunningly beautiful here; convenient to anything, it is not. I followed the emergency vehicle to the hospital in my trusty Subaru. The second time, however, knowing what I then knew about how long it had taken an ambulance to arrive here, and because he was losing blood as if someone had turned on faucets, I knew there was no time to wait. As he stumbled down the hill, holding his face, I grabbed ice packs and towels and the keys to the car and headed out for the usually 45-minute ride to the nearest hospital… only it was time for school buses to be unloading and the beginning of rush-hour traffic once we reached actual civilization.
I was able to handle the school bus situation by leaping from my car, running to the driver’s window, waving my bloody hands and screaming about the man who was bleeding in my car. Rush hour traffic on the big roads leading to the nearest city, though, was more challenging. The visible blood and my obvious agitation helped a lot, though.
Once my husband was deemed likely to survive, I took pictures of what resembled his face for future reference should the suggestion of ascending local architecture arise again.
The long-term effect of his Bob-the-Builder mindset is that he’d subtly damaged his heart a bit in the process of his first fall from the roof the condos, requiring an ablation not too long afterwards. Now, just because time — and slamming his face into the forest floor — has passed, he needs to have another ablation… and we need to travel from the hills of West Virginia to damn near Washington DC. We’d lucked out the first time he’d required the ablation, as his daughter was living not far from the hospital in Washington where the operation would be done. We could stay at her place and comfortably make it to the hospital in the morning. I could spend the night there after the procedure. It was almost effortless.
This time, however, we will have to take room in a motel that is “nearby.” Time has passed since the first ablation; years have passed. We are both in our mid-70’s now. I have become very uncomfortable in city traffic and am especially uncomfortable on multi-lane highways that are new to me. I find myself dreading the drive I will have to take, alone, while he spends the night in the hospital, from the hospital back to the motel that he has booked for us. I know that I can make myself calm if I need to, but, somehow, making one’s self calm does not feel the same as actually being calm.
As I was pondering how best to retain my usually placid mindset in the face of my fears it crossed my mind that hospitals would do well to have some sort of dormitories for folks like me, and for people who have, say, children that have to be hospitalized. When a hospital is being planned and built, it seems to me that they should just build on some more rooms for those of us who come from afar. People whose loved ones are in the hospital are stressed. Driving in an unknown, highly trafficked area, trying to find someplace you’ve never been before when your mind is preoccupied with the wellbeing of a loved one is not a challenge that people in that state are up to. The situation is difficult enough without that added stress… not to mention the potential for accidents.
The hospital where we will be headed for this most recent ‘touch-up’ offers — on its website — access to dry cleaning, phone repair, bars, nightlife, hair salons, gyms, massage, and shopping. But if you want someplace to sleep, folks, you’re pretty much on your own.
Just build a short-term residence facility next door in when you plan the hospitals, guys. Build it, staff it, and make it affordable. Life is hard enough.