It seems that around this time of year I’m writing my reflections about recent winter travels. Despite my intentions to stay put winter of 2017/18, I find myself writing about this past winter’s travels – Houston TX.
Tumultuous 2017 was filled tremendous highs and lows. The first 6 months were spent either living in NYC or traveling back and forth for shorter stays.
Somewhere in early July, Allan and I independently, came to the conclusion that we should see my dad, sooner rather than later. His birthday was in August. So, with thoughts of him in mind, we drove to Clarksville, TN for one week and then stayed in Houston for two. We capped that trip with 5 days trapped inside of a tense house during hurricane Harvey. My parent’s house was fine, but every road that surrounded the house was closed due to flooding.
By the time we were back home in early September, the last thing I wanted to do was leave beautiful Upstate New York. We talked about it and decided to stay put. Besides, hadn’t Northeast winters of late have been mild?
Early during my work day on December 7, I filled a vacant 15 minutes with a call to my parents. It was about 10:30 AM in NY so 9:30 in Houston. They had gone to early mass. Then they took their breakfast at Panera. When I called, they were just finishing up and getting ready to leave. After I said goodbye, I hopped onto my first interview of the day. While on video call with a candidate in India, my phone rang. My candidate asked if I had to get the call. Seeing the caller ID and knowing that my mom does often butt dial, I said, “no, I’ll just call my mom back – I only just talked to her”. Typically, if she really meant to dial, she would leave a message or call right back – neither of which she did.
When my interview finished, I called her back. Mom answered immediately. She was crisp and to the point: Dad fell and hit his head. He was unconscious. They are at the emergency room doing tests. Here is the doctor. I’ll call you later.
After that call, my concentration was shot. Mom could give me no more information. There was nothing for me to do but just perform my interviews. I performed some, but while I recorded all of the answers, I was just going through the motions. I started just cleaning my office waiting for mom’s next call.
They transferred dad to CHI Saint Luke’s hospital downtown. After much back and forth with mom, and several tests it seems that his fall was caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure. He fell, hit his head and then had a subsequent brain hemorrhage or stroke. Would they drain the blood? Would they just wait for the swelling to go down? She didn’t know. All we could do was sit and wait.
I started looking for tickets. I told mom I could leave that night or the next morning. I would leave my daughter, SB for a short stay or bring her if I traveled for the week. The first couple days mom would say, “maybe, let me see the progress.” Then a couple days in she said in a firm, positive voice, “no. SB has school, you have work.”
On day three Mom said brightly, “Dad woke up!” Since Dad’s phone had WhatsApp, I insisted on doing daily video calls. She spoke calmly about her day. She introduced me by video to the nurses. She told me what was delivered from the hospital kitchen and the tests the doctors were running. She was always in that room. “See, there’s K!” She would say to what looked like dad’s sleeping form on the bed. Sometimes she would bring the phone closer to him. But more often than not, when I asked to speak to dad “No, he’s just resting,” She would say. He was there on the screen. Never too close.
Mom was positive and controlled. I imagine this is what she is like as an auditor. It was a side I hadn’t really seen before.
We agreed to come after Christmas. SB should finish her semester of preschool and bounce class. We could celebrate Christmas with our friends and family. Then SB and I would fly to Houston, Allan would drive with Dolce, for an anticipated 3 week stay.
As our departure date got closer, I had an inkling that things were much more difficult than what Mom made them seem. One time when I video called, I got her when she was down in the hospital basement cafeteria. I asked her, “how are you really?” I caught a glimpse of the tiredness, pain, uncertainty, overwhelmed with what she was going through. But she smiled said announced, “there is Beltran, our friend here to visit dad!” The screen went blank.
SB and I arrived in Houston on Dec 29. Mom was never the biggest fan of driving and Dad loved driving. It was an easy arrangement. Dad chauffeured her for most of her long drives – like the airport. Mom asked her neighbor drive her to pick me up though I offered multiple times to get a car myself and meet her at home. On the way home, we went out for dinner. Mom encourage me to order a lot for myself and SB. We talked about Dad. Mom was very positive about his progress. She also talked about going back to the hospital that night. The neighbor told her she should stay with me. That was when Mom admitted she had not eaten or slept in the house since the accident. It had been 22 days.
Back at the house, I opened the fridge to put away our copious leftovers. The fridge reminded me of college: old food, energy drinks, some condiments and hard boiled eggs. In the pantry there was Nissin Cup-o-soups and rice.
The next morning, I went grocery shopping. I bought SB’s favorite snacks. I stocked up on fruits and veggies. I bought meat to make steaks, meatballs and roasted chicken. I decided I would be there to cook for her so she wouldn’t have to eat hospital food.
The first meal I decided to make was steak. Mom’s favorite uncle used to make her steak and salad whenever he would visit the country. She had good memories of that – so that’s what I will make.
I made the small filet with roasted veggies and rice for lunch. Mom ate half of what I gave her. “It was delicious,” she said. But, her stomach shrunk because she had eaten so little over the past few weeks. I packed a to go container so she could have some for dinner when she went back to the hospital to see dad. It was the first time weeks that she ate multiple meals in one day.
When Mom went back to the hospital that night, she did not want me to go with her. She wanted the doctor to sign off on my visit as SB and I recently had the flu.
It was New Year’s Eve and the end of my second full day in Houston I was bummed that I still hadn’t seen dad. Allan was still on the road from his overnight in Clarksville, TN. But, the fridge was looking a bit better, more than just energy drinks and rotten food from our stay over the summer. Mom slept a solid 5 hours the night before. She slept in a bed instead of napping in a chair. She had quiet instead of the nurses making their rounds and whizzing and beeping of unfamiliar machines. Maybe I was doing some good around here.