There are actually two stories involved in Sara refusing to ever help us out again. They both involve the infamous NANA, of nail scissor fame.
In the first, we asked Sara, who was in college, but on summer break, to please come home for a weekend to watch the animals, and be home for my mother just in case something untoward would happen. My mother lived with us and I took care of her for ten interminable years. My mother at this time was living one block away in a Retirement Village. She tended to have “incidents.”
The bottom three kids: Tim, Lenore and Ben were in summer camp and it was Parents’ Weekend. (Lonny was in Cambridge, England, I think, studying something artsy.) We were gone for four days, what with the driving up to and back from the wilds of Wisconsin, land of fudge and lakes. This was, (are you young ones even aware of this?) a time before cell phones and computers. She agreed to come. We left for Wisconsin. (FOUR FRIGGING DAYS!)
My father had actually pulled me aside when he was alive, (I know that seems obvious, but we are a strange family,) to ask me to promise that we would never ever, ever, under any circumstances, take my Mom into my house or my town, no matter what. I promised. Then my mother had a heart attack in Brooklyn and was left on a gurney in the hospital where she worked as an RN for umpteen years, for an entire weekend. Then on Monday a doctor saw her and told her that she had had a heart attack. How could I keep my promise to my father when my mother spent the weekend on a gurney in the hall of a hospital and wasn’t seen by a doctor for three days when she had actually had a heart attack and didn’t find out for three days? We moved my toxic mother to Champaign. I had to break my promise to my Dad. They were planning a retirement home a block away. She was one of the first to sign up for an apartment. She could have had any apartment she wanted. She lived with us until it was built a couple of years later, then after she moved in she hated it and moved to a different apartment. She hated that one too.
If you want to drive in Illinois, you must get an Illinois drivers license. That means a written test and also a driving test.. My mother wanted to drive in Illinois. My Mother failed the driving part it in the huge metropolis of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, so her friends told her to go to a small town nearby and take the test there. She passed. In my thinking that meant that she really only had a license to drive in a tiny small town with no traffic whatsoever. But, what do I know? Logic does not seem to be the driving force in the machinery of Government.
In this tiny four day interval in time, when we went to Wisconsin and asked Sara to be there, my mother got into her first and only car accident. It was massive. Her car was totaled, and, because she was old and befuddled, the Police gave HER the ticket, when, seriously, it was not her fault. (I would be the FIRST person to tell you if it had been, trust me on this.) So Sara had to deal with my mother and the Police and it was assuredly not pleasant. On the other hand, no one was hurt. Things could have been worse. Sara did not see it this way. She was very angry with us.
But it turns out that that was just a practice run for Sara.
The next time we asked Sara to watch the animals was when we had a chance to finally go somewhere. There was a retinal meeting in Israel. We had FIVE children. We never had time to go ANYWHERE. It was only ten days. Across the entire world, for TEN FRIGGING DAYS. (I’m sorry, I think I’m shouting. I apologize.) Tim and Lenore were at regular camp and Ben was, naturally, at Science camp. I believe that Lonny was at NYU doing something artsy. The only place we ever went was Wisconsin for Parents’ Weekend. I really wanted to go somewhere exotic where the economy was not dependent on fudge. Israel was genuinely unconventional and they were not into fudge. Sara agreed, reluctantly, but she agreed. Ten days in our house watching the animals with the slight but inescapable possibility of another “incident” with NANA.
We flew two million miles to get to Israel. We flew El Al. Those people really know how to keep people safe. They separated Victor and me and asked us questions to make sure we were not terrorists. This was fine with us, since we were not terrorists, rather we were tourists and we were realty hoping to fly on a flight that was entirely full of tourists and terrorist-free. Some woman on the flight got sick and had to get off after we had boarded, so we had to wait for them to find her baggage and remove it, since her baggage might very well have been C-4 in a suitcase. We felt so safe.
When we finally arrived in Israel, it was hours before the room would be ready. We had had no sleep and Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State at the time, was staying at our hotel. There was a lot of security. There were dogs everywhere. I said to Victor:
“Look, honey, we could have brought our dogs! This is a really dog-friendly country.”
Victor then explained that they were bomb-sniffing dogs and our dogs would probably not qualify. Oddly, this came as a huge surprise to me. I was not in paranoid mode yet. We discovered that every time we got on an elevator a very huge burly man with a big bulge on his hip accompanied us. None of these burly men ever got off on our floor. They just escorted us. Victor had to explain that to me too. I was still not in paranoid mode.
Victor and I visited all the requisite sites for tourists and were having the time of our lives. I loved seeing the teenagers in uniform walking around with uzis. We were never afraid for one minute the whole time we were there.
Halfway into our visit we ate somewhere where it was unwise to eat. We were very open-minded. (Did I say we were not in paranoid mode yet?) We got a case of food poisoning the likes of which we have, gratefully, never seen again. To be delicate, let’s just say that we needed a two-bathroom hotel room. The both of us were very, very sick for four days.
We were in Israel, in our hotel room, alternately running to the bathroom all day and all night. In the middle of the night at about the third day of our poisoning,
THE PHONE RANG.
This was Israel. We didn’t know anyone, and yet the phone rang. That was when I switched into paranoid mode.
“Mom, is that you?” asked Sara.
“Uh, yup, it’s me,” I answered, “ What are you doing calling Israel in the middle of the night?”
“I am never doing anything for you and Daddy for the rest of my life,” she said.
“Uh huh, and why is that?” I asked.
“I AM NOT MAKING NANA HAVE HER FOOT AMPUTATED!” she yelled.
‘THIS IS NOT WHAT I SIGNED UP FOR!” she yelled.
“Uh huh,” I said. “What exactly do you mean?” I asked, needing to make a run to the bathroom.
“Here!” she said. “Talk to the doctor!” She handed the phone to a surgeon.
“Your mother has no circulation to her right foot and gangrene has set in,” the disembodied voice said.
“If we amputate now, we can get a below-the-knee, which is, naturally, far superior to an above-the-knee.” The voice said.
In the background, I heard my mother yelling:
“YOU WILL NOT CUT OFF MY FOOT!”
The disembodied, apparently medical voice said:
“Your mother does not want the amputation. She says she wants to die. This is precisely what will happen if she does not get the amputation immediately.”
Then my mother got on the phone.
“If you interfere with this I will never forgive you,” she said.
“It is none of your business,” she said.
“I want to die NOW,” she said.
“This has nothing to do with you!” she said.
“If you hadn’t left me in the lurch none of this would have happened!” she said.
“This is all your fault!” she said.
“I will never forgive you!” she repeated.
I said: ”Mom, the doctor said that you will die without the surgery. Your foot has gangrene. You need to have the surgery right away or you will be left with the far harder above-the-knee prosthesis, or, what’s even worse, you will absolutely permanently die!” I pleaded.
“I damn you to hell, Irene!” she said to me.
”I hope you die in a plane crash!” she said.
“I always hated you and knew you would ruin my life,” she said.
“Mom, please let me talk to the doctor again,” I asked.
The doctor told me that she would die an appallingly horrific death without the amputation and that time was of the essence as she already had gangrene and sepsis was likely to set in very soon and death would surely result and it would be a painful death.
“Your mother does not appear to be of sound mind and it is up to you to decide,” the doctor said.
“But there was nothing wrong with her when we left.” I protested.
”Well, there’s certainly something wrong now and she will die if you don’t decide to save her right now,” said the doctor.
“Amputate her foot,” I said.
Sara got back on the phone and said:
“I will never forgive you.” (If you are counting, that made two people in my family who said they would never forgive me inside of a few minutes while I was on vacation, sick as a dog, two million miles away.)
“But Sara, Nana was fine when we left,” I said. “We had no way to know this would happen”
“You will never get me to do anything for you for the rest of your lives!” Sara said.
“You are acting as if I planned this to happen, Sara. She was perfectly fine when we left,” I reiterated.
“I may never speak to you again,” she said, and hung up the phone.
I ran to the bathroom.
Victor was already in the bathroom.
“I need to use that toilet you are on,” I said
“”So do I,” he said, “That’s why I’m on it.”
“I just told some surgeon to amputate Mom’s foot, against her will,” I said. “It was gangrenous and she would have died of sepsis in the most horrible way, the doc said, so I gave my permission because he said she was nuts and only I could save her life.”
“She’s really going to be pissed,” he said.
“How long are you going to be on there?” I asked.
“Not long,” he said. “Why didn’t you just let her make the decision?”
“The doc said she could get a great prosthesis below the knee and she’d be just like new,” I explained. “If we waited at all she’d need an above the knee and that’s way harder to get used to, and if we waited any longer then she would die of sepsis.”
“Are you done yet?” I asked.
“Not yet,” he answered.
“So?” he said. “Why do you want to get in the middle of this? She’s made her decision.”
“Because my mother will die if I don’t,” I answered. If I knew then what I know now, I would have just let Mom die. It would have been better than what followed, but how was I to know that then?
When we were well enough to travel, we flew back to Champaign. Sara was still very angry, as though we had set the whole thing up just to trap her. My mother alternated screaming at me that I had ruined her chance to see my father, (my father was already 10 years in the ground at this time,) and turning her face to the wall to shun me. She only had one foot.
The saga of my mother does continue, but this is as far as I’m going to go this time. It is remarkably draining.