Sarah Currie lives in Ottawa, Ontario
I changed jobs this week. On Monday, my first day, when I should have been primarily concerned with learning the office microwave-cleaning rota and orienting myself to a new Xerox print centre, I was a little preoccupied. At 8 pm on Sunday, I found out that my father had fallen, broken his hip, undergone emergency surgery, and was in isolation in a hospital in southwestern Ontario. Details were fuzzy. Hospital staff would not share much with my aunt, my father’s sister. He had managed to call her on Sunday morning, 24 hours after his fall, once he had come round after anaesthesia. He needed her to go to his house to make sure my mom was okay. My mom wasn’t answering the phone.
Unanswered phone calls are not uncommon at my parents’ house. My father is quite hard of hearing, after spending 37 years as an infantry officer. My mother tends not to answer the phone because she is self-conscious. She has a severe cognitive disability which means that her short-term memory is practically non-existent. I can only imagine my dad’s anxiety when she didn’t answer his call from the hospital. He had been gone for a day with no explanation. No one was there to care for her. His anxiety must have been terrible. Would she try to cook herself a meal and forget she left the gas stove on?
Eventually, my aunt was able to reach me and my sister on Sunday night. Unable to take time away from a job I hadn’t started yet, I was not in a position to make the 6-hour drive from my home. Having some vacation and sick time banked up, my sister was able to fly in from the west coast.
While my sister was in the air, I attempted to contact the hospital to talk to my dad, since my aunt has not been allowed to talk to him. On my first attempt, I was told by the nurse that she “didn’t want to have to go through everything all over again” (she had briefly talked to my sister earlier in the evening) and that she had to start her rounds, so she didn’t have time to transfer me to my dad. Not knowing exactly what sort of condition my dad was in, I spent most of that night lying awake, worrying that I may have just missed my chance to say goodbye.
The next morning, my sister still in transit, I made a second attempt to make contact with my dad. This time, I was told that he couldn’t talk to me because he was in isolation, since the nursing home he was from was undergoing some kind of an outbreak. When I offered that he was not from a nursing home, I was told that I would have to call back later while they sorted out this confusion with admitting. Later that morning, during a break from my first-day orientation at my new job, I made my third attempt to call my dad. This time, I was successfully able to talk to him… but not before being chastised by one of his nurses.
You see, dad hadn’t paid for a phone to be in his room. Not having ever needed to use a phone while admitted to hospital before, none of us knew that this “was a thing.” This would be the last time they would bring him a phone, and we weren’t allowed to call back until someone had paid for him to use a phone. This involved filling out a form and providing a credit card number … in person. It would then take up to 48 hours to be connected.
I have been able to work out with my new employer that, during my 3-month probationary period, I am entitled to 4 days of paid personal leave. With my sister quickly running out of her own paid leave, we have to use these days judiciously. She is able to stay with my mom until the end of next week, at which point my aunt and uncle will take over. I will be on standby to take my time when we finally get the call that dad can be released, so that I can set up home care and hopefully cover any gap between his discharge from hospital and the initiation of his support through the Veterans Independence Program and the local Community Care Access Centre.
Growing up, my dad was my hero. My dad was any kid’s hero. He was a soldier, a paratrooper, and seemingly invincible. He stayed relatively healthy and active right up until 10 AM last Saturday morning, when he slipped on some ice on his way home from the grocery store and smashed his hip against a curb stone. We had no plan in place for what might happen should something catastrophic happen to him. Although it was my worst fear, it was also somehow unthinkable.
That lack of planning is on us. Learn from our mistakes. Navigate the patchwork of services your parents are eligible for now, with a clear head, rather than waiting until you need to access them.