Uncle Tony was sick, so sick that we had to take him to the emergency room. His finger has become infected, and it grew to three times its normal size. The “Doc in a Box” decided that he needed to be seen at a hospital, so we loaded him into cousin Randy’s van and me and Frank took his car to get Auntie Rose.
It took a while, but we got settled and began the ride to Miriam Hospital, some fifteen miles away. Auntie Rose told us about her last few weeks, how at ninety years old there was no reason that she couldn’t take care of her husband. She made a remarkably strong case, and I was starting to believe that she could indeed handle her ninety-two year old husband, and his ailments.
Uncle Tony couldn’t walk, and his kidneys were failing, and he needed help getting out of bed, and bathing and taking his medications. He had told me that this was the most difficult battle he had yet to face-growing old. This from a man who fought the Germans at Anzio, marched with General Patton into Rome and helped liberate Auschwitz. When he came home he started an oil delivery and service company, eventually becoming president of the Rhode Island Oil Dealers Association.
But that was all ancient history, and Auntie rose cried as we traveled toward the hospital.
The three of us were lost in our own thoughts when a white car sped past us on Rt. 146, lost control and crashed head on into the median, then swerved twenty feet in front of us, veered out of control and crashed into the guard rail on the other side of the highway. It was a violent crash, and the car sustained heavy damage from the impacts. Frank pulled to the side of the highway, Auntie Rose sat in silence and I got out and walked toward the wreckage.
A young man stumbled from the drivers seat, his wife sat stunned in the passenger seat, recovering from the impact from the air bags, and a four year old child sat in the rear booster seat, an ugly lump the size of half of his head growing as the seconds progressed. Frank had joined us, and he handed me his phone that had been connected to 911. I told the operator that we had a single car accident, heavy damage, three passengers, one ambulatory, one still seated and a child with a head injury.
“What is your location?” he asked.
Twenty-three years of experience responding to 911 calls all culminating in a moment where I was just as useless as the people I used to take care of.
“Rt. 146…” was in South? or East? I was certain it wasn’t North or West, but at that moment I honestly couldn’t remember if 146 went North and South or East and West. And where was I? We started in Lincoln, RI and were headed toward Providence, but there were three or four towns in between, and I had no idea which one I was in.
The dispatcher coached me expertly, and we figured out exactly where we were. It was a humbling experience. After an eternity that was more accurately five minutes, the State Police arrived, followed by an ALS Unit and the Fire Company. I gave a quick report, saw that things were under control and went back to the car with Frank, whose nursing skills helped the accident victims considerably while we waited.
Auntie Rose continued to explain how her mind was as sharp now as it ever was, even if she sometimes forgot things. I listened, this time understanding just how helpless she felt when people half her age told her that she shouldn’t be taking care of her husband of seventy years.