Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Where do our responsibilities lie? How much are we accountable for others?

I found myself in the uncomfortable position of righteous indignation yesterday. This was an unfamiliar feeling as most of the time I feel ill prepared for life and it's surprises whether it be grand, tragic or somewhere in between.

My Mom has a lifelong best friend named Joan Rhea (Rhea is her middle name) whom I was named after. My grandparents and Joan's parents were best friends their whole adult lives and Joan and my Mom were born close together, growing up like sisters. They even looked somewhat alike and having been raised in the same neighborhood and going to school together all through adolescence, they were often mistaken as sisters.

In their hearts and to each other, they would indeed refer to each other as such.

They are both now nearly 77.

Joan has two grown boys, one of whom is a vagabond; frequently homeless whose whereabouts are often unknown and the other is quite successful living in Oregon with his wife and infant daughter.

Joan (being long divorced) lives on her own, as she has for many years now, in a retirement community (not an assisted living but rather a lovely condominium complex) in northern California.

Many times my Mom over the years has visited Joan, often sitting on the balcony over-looking the beautiful grounds and enjoying watching the deer.

Joan has become quite reclusive (and a bit odd, to be frank) so it's always my Mom who had to visit her. Due to my Mom's increasing transportation issues, the visits have become less frequent but they talk by phone several times a week.

To lose one would be like losing a part of themselves. They are that close.

So imagine my Mom's worry when after four days she was unable to reach Joan by phone.

I told my Mom she needs to call the retirement complex in which Joan lives to have someone go check on her but she was unable to locate the number.

So, I got on-line yesterday, looked up the name of the complex and found the phone number and explained to the woman who answered the situation with Joan, who then connected me to the security gate.

I spoke to a security guard who immediately took down my name and number, asked for my Mom's name and immediately went to go check on Joan, with a promise to call me back.

He did.

Joan was thankfully alive but had been lying on the floor for four days unable to move or call for help.

Security naturally called 9-1-1 and I could hear the sirens in the background. She was taken to the local hospital where she is due to have surgery today due to a fractured hip.

I called the hospital and told them who I was -- they had to go ask Joan permission to give me any information, which I then relayed to my Mom followed by her great relief. My Mom was positively frantic during this ordeal.

No doubt Joan was dehydrated and weak and when my Mom finally was able to speak to her by phone, hours later, she wasn't very lucid. A stroke perhaps, medication or simply a weakened state from her experience, we're not exactly sure.

I found out through the nurse that in the hospital emergency room sitting next to Joan was a woman named Arlene (yes, I am using real names!). Arlene and her husband, Jerry, live directly upstairs from Joan and have her apartment key. Joan PAYS them to do her grocery shopping for her as Joan has been in a weakened state due to health issues, mostly having to do with her needing a breathing apparatus.

They are also supposed to look in on her. They didn't. Obviously.

Only upon hearing the sirens entering the gated community did Arlene put on her Florence Nightingale act and proceed to accompany Joan to the hospital.

When my Mom heard of this, I swear there was a thump from her hitting the floor!

Not only that, but Arlene is the only one who had Joan's sons phone number. Joan has refused to give my Mom his number because she knew my Mom would call him with concerns for Joan's health and living conditions.

Due to Joan's increasing health risks and her spending habits (she is flat broke after blowing money on QVC and such), her son has tried to convince Joan to move to Oregon to be closer to him and his wife but she has refused to leave her home nor has she permitted a visit from him because she knows he will see the condition she has let herself and her place get and demand that she move to be closer to him where he can keep a watchful eye on her.

So, Arlene has his number but, of course, didn't call him. The hospital got it out of her and was able to contact him.

My Mom was livid. So, Joan's son was eventually reached and he then called my Mom (she now has his number locked and loaded in her address book) to thank her and I for getting Joan help.

Joan will be having surgery today on her fractured hip and will no doubt have to re-think her place of residence and whom will care for her.

Joan's accountability for her condition and refusal of common sense will now no doubt have consequences.

And what about Arlene, this "friend" who was supposed to be looking in on Joan?

The son is quite appalled and will be removing the key from Arlene upon his trip to see his Mom tomorrow, as well as making some big decisions while his wife and baby are at home.

When one takes on the responsibility of accepting a key and taking money from someone to do their grocery shopping (even though you go to the store anyway) with the understanding of checking in daily just to make sure everything is all right, with that comes an obligation, yes? A sense of responsibility.

This is not the time, place or situation for compromise -- and this is where Arlene failed.

"We need to restore the full meaning of that old word, duty. It is the other side of rights."
~Pearl Buck


Brooklyn Book Lover said...

I am sad for your mom. It’s a terrible feeling when a friend or family member refuses to accept help from those who love them but then turn around and entrust someone else with their care. I have fought that battle and sadly, I did not come out a winner. It is heartbreaking. Be strong for your mom. Try to keep her mind occupied on other things. I know this is no easy task since they are like sisters. My prayers are with you.

Meeko Fabulous said...

That just pisses me off! WTF?! I am outraged that they didn't check on her! Joan needs to give in and move with her son. Unfortunately, there comes a time in our lives when we're unable to care for ourselves and we need to learn to accept help. I hope everything works out.