Greg and I drove up to Georgia with our Jetta packed with prettily-wrapped Christmas presents, laptops, our giant suitcase, snacks and our pillows (the secret to sleeping on an uncomfortable bed is to bring your own pillow).
We went out for our usual breakfast for dinner at the local IHOP, and the pancakes with hot syrup and butter were as delicious a treat as always.
The next morning Mom called me while we were still waking up and said she'd fallen and hit her chest on the corner of the table in her apartment. We ran, and she seemed relatively okay, but in a lot of pain. She said she felt a sharp pain whenever she breathed. I looked at her chest and she had a minor bruise, but I know (I think?) with elderly people sometimes things take longer to show up. She is typically very anti-going to the doctor or hospital, so when she tearfully asked about getting medical attention I knew she must be really hurt. She insisted we take her to an urgent care clinic, because she was scared of having x-rays and being admitted to a hospital.
We went, in the freezing Christmas Eve morning fog and rain, and found a packed waiting room run by a cold-faced woman who said she had no idea how long the wait would be and waved a long sign-in sheet at me saying, "All these people are ahead of you."
We left and put Mom back in the car, Greg holding the umbrella over our heads while I helped her in, and I told her that if she needed to get medical care, I thought maybe the best plan would be to go back to her apartment and call an ambulance. That way, she'd be taken right in, without spending hours in a crowded emergency room waiting room. I told her they couldn't admit her if she didn't agree to be admitted, and she said okay.
In the hallway, I looked at Greg. Help me figure out what to do, I said, I'm freaking out. He held my hand and told me to take care of my Mom, and he'd take care of me.
They got there quickly and a bunch of EMTs crowded into her apartment. I noticed one or two stayed in the hallway, not bringing the gurney in right away. They were all nice Georgia boys with heavy accents, going out of their way to be polite to Mom and address her as Ma'am and direct their questions to her, speaking louder when she couldn't hear them. Feeling exactly like a scared 12-year old I tried hard to be the adult in charge, and I told them directly and succinctly what had happened.
They asked her if it was okay to examine her chest, and I knelt by her chair and held her hand, knowing it's hard at any age to have your chest examined after having two mastectomies. The one who appeared to be in charge said he didn't believe any bones were broken or cracked, that he thought she had a bruised sternum. They listened to her breathing with a stethoscope and took her blood pressure, and said she was breathing just fine. He cautioned me that he didn't have "x-ray vision" and there was no way to know for sure without an x-ray.
She's 91 and has back problems and going in for x-rays will be extremely hard on her and painful for her, I told them. I don't want to put her through that if it's not vitally necessary. What would happen if she does have a cracked or broken sternum?
There's still not much they can do, the EMT told me, except give her pain medication. I know Mom's history with pain medication, and it's basically nonexistent; even after fracturing two vertebrae she took mild pain pills only rarely, and under great protest.
What would you do, if she were your mother, or grandmother, I asked them. They looked at Mom. "Ma'am, do you want to go to the hospital?"
She shook her head. "No, unless I have to."
Everyone looked at me. I said that I thought it would be best if we just kept her at home and kept an eye on her. They all looked relieved and told us to call again if she got worse and they would come right back, it would be no problem. One guy told me that that's exactly the decision he would have made, but he wasn't allowed to tell me that before.
We all apologized for bringing them out, and they said that it was no problem at all. Merry Christmas, they wished Mom as they left, telling her they hoped she'd feel better real soon.
Greg and I gave Mom a bunch of ibuprofen and she got back in bed, and by noon the next day she felt well enough to get dressed and have lunch in the dining room with me and Greg and my sister and her husband. I could tell she was in pain, but she seemed to hold up okay.
She's still having trouble moving around, but has been able to shower and get dressed and undressed, and she said today she thinks it's starting to get better.