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Excerpt 5: Sarah thinks back on the years of difficulty with her mother and wishes she had Aunt Ida’s faith to keep her strong. The interview with the next physician is just as dismaying as the one with the detective…
“Hang in there, Mom, you can make it.”
A torrent of memories laden with love, anger, guilt, and shame reminded Sarah of how much of her life she had sacrificed to take care of her mother—even giving up the love of her life. What would Dan say if he knew what had happened? Would he even care? She shook her head, opened her eyes and forced herself back to the here and now.
Aunt Ida sat down in a chair beside the hospital bed and held Ethel’s hand beneath the covers. Tears slid down her wrinkled cheeks as she whispered, “ShemaYisrael, Adenoi Elohenu, Adenoi Echod,” over and over.
Usually the Serenity Prayer helped, but tonight it failed to bring Sarah the peace she craved. She wished for the comfort of Aunt Ida’s direct pipeline to God.
A tall, handsome African-American in a lab coat and chart in hand entered the cubicle. His name tag said Dr. Johnson. “I’d like to ask Ms. Wright a few questions in private.”
“Mrs. Katz,” Detective Engelman said, “how about you and I go find a cup of coffee?”
Sarah had been so engrossed in her own thoughts; she’d forgotten the cop was in the room. She hoped he’d gotten over the idea that she’d somehow caused her mother’s accident.
Still weeping, Aunt Ida kissed Ethel’s hand before standing with the support of the bedrail. Detective Engelman took her elbow and guided her out the door.
Sarah watched them leave, worried that a blow like this would crush her frail aunt. Without taking her eyes off the pair leaving the room, she asked, “What do you need to know, Doctor?”
“Age, medical history, medications, allergies, all that good stuff.”
Sarah turned to focus on his dark brown eyes. “I’ll tell you whatever I can. She’s seventy-nine years old, retired from a federal government job. Moved to Baltimore ten years ago. Last year, she got drunk, had a car accident, and broke both legs. I moved home to take care of her. She just started to walk with a cane last week. Even when she’s not drinking, she’s pretty unsteady on her feet. After her car accident, she stayed sober—until recently.”
He scribbled some notes on the chart and frowned. “What happened?”
“I got a job and Aunt Ida was out of town. I guess she got lonely. She missed her boys.”
“She has sons?”
“One biological son—my older brother. The ‘boys’ are her drinking companions. Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker, Mr. Bell, those kinds of boys.”
“I see.” He nodded and made some more notations.
“How many drinks would you say she has in a day?”
“Half a bottle. The regular size, not a gallon jug.”
“More than eight ounces of liquor? Each day?”
“Give or take.” Sarah felt as if Dr. Johnson was calling her a bad daughter. She had to make him understand. “Look, I’ve tried everything to get her to stop: watered down the bottles, hid them, emptied them, called the liquor stores and told them to stop delivering. Even disabled, my mother managed to stash bottles everywhere. She’s wily.”
Dr. Johnson handed her a box of tissues.
She wiped her eyes and nose. “What else do you want to know?”
“Ever heard of Al-Anon?”
“I’ve been going to AA and Al-Anon meetings ever since I started nursing school. I’ve accepted the fact that she’s an alcoholic. I know I can’t fix her. It doesn’t mean I stopped caring about or for her.” She knew she sounded defensive. She didn’t care. No one understood what life was like with her mother—except her brother and sister.
The doctor nodded. “Then you know that more likely than not, she’s physically dependent. We’ll be watching her for signs of alcohol withdrawal. She could become tachycardic, with fast erratic heartbeats and have seizures. We want to avoid that because of her head trauma. I’ve ordered an MRI.”
“Do whatever you think is necessary.”
“Okay. As soon as we get the scan, we’ll know better. When the EMTs first arrived, her core body temperature was eighty-eight degrees. Below eighty-six degrees, atrial fibrillation and death occur. Lucky the dog was with her. I’m sure he kept her alive.”
Sarah dabbed at her nose and sighed. “What do I do now?”
“You and your aunt should go home and rest.”
“I can’t leave and I don’t think my aunt will go either. She’s pretty hard-headed.” She managed a weak smile. “Just like my mother.”
“Well, they are sisters.” Dr. Johnson stood and headed out the door. “You’re free to stay with your mother until they take her to imaging.”
Sarah reached down and grasped her mother’s cold hand. Tears ran down her face as she groped for the right words. “Hey, Mom. Sarah here. We’ll get through this, just like we always do.”
Ethel didn’t move. Sarah thought of Dan’s prediction a year ago and shuddered. “Hang in there. Please?”