Old Parents vs Vacation Plans: Dilemma

It’s hard to know when our parents’ emergency events will occur. One thing I do know–on a few hours notice I was able to fly from Milan, Italy to the West Coast in the same day.

I knew my mother was having medical issues as I left for a vacation in Italy. Indeed I had reservations about going so far away. On the other hand, when we have older parents we never know when an event will happen and rationally I knew it didn’t make sense to put life on hold awaiting such an event. So we followed through with our plans to go to Italy with friends.

Some years earlier I had attended a program about aging parents. It included a clip from a film or TV show featuring an adult child whose life literally revolved around her parents and her concerns about their health issues. She was so consumed with apprehension every time the phone rang, that it seemed plausible that she would make herself sick and that her husband would book a one-way flight to a far-away place!

While the film clip seemed exaggerated and somewhat ridiculous, I didn’t forget it. For this trip I planned ahead, leaving my itinerary and contact information along with instructions about doctors and doctors’ appointments for everyone who might need them.

Night #1–Milan: the phone call came. Everyone but Mother had gone out for a birthday dinner. Mother had recently come out of the hospital and remained home with a caregiver; but she needed oxygen. Her doctor wouldn’t order oxygen and simply put, the caregiver (who couldn’t reach the family) worried Mother would die, and decided to phone me in Italy. Needless to say, I made immediate plans to return to the US.

Fortunately I had a Plan A–someone to meet me at the airport should I ever need to make the quick trip back. And that part of the plan went like clockwork. I should say, as a far-away-living daughter, many years before I had spoken with my brother about his flexibility should I need to fly back on the spur of the moment. I also discussed this possibility with a very good friend so I’d have a back-up if my brother wasn’t available.

When I got to the house my limp, semi-asleep mother could barely keep her eyes open, and was in no condition to appreciate the new sweater I managed to buy in Italy or anything for that matter. But I knew she was glad I was there.

With a list of Mother’s doctors and an updated list of her medications always in my wallet, I was ready to communicate intelligently with her doctors. Turned out medication– too much and some unnecessary–caused the problem. So simple, yet so emotionally and physically draining for everyone involved.

What did I learn? Planning ahead for emergency situations makes so much sense. When stress is high it’s comforting to know we don’t have to worry about certain things and we do have some control over others. When coming a distance, having someone who cares and shares our concerns meet us at an airport is welcoming and supportive. And keeping essential information in a wallet makes communication with professionals more effective. I also learned we have good friends who we had to suddenly abandon in Italy They survived and so has our friendship.
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