Role Reversals

Unexpected caretakers come through in a medical emergency.

Sheryl Kraft


Last Saturday night, instead of going out for a much-anticipated dinner with my husband and friends, I did something I’ve never done and always hoped I’d never have to do: I dialed 911. My husband’s hip – or should I say the new version of his old hip that he received just a couple of weeks before – decided that the ball and the socket wanted a separation.  

A very painful separation, at that. One moment, I was helping him on with his socks. (I was gentle, I swear.) A minute – or was it seconds? – passed, and then he, who seconds before was so excited to be getting out of the house – finally! – was transformed into a writhing, screaming, helpless man whom I barely recognized. 
Miraculously, I stayed calm; calm enough to remember the words I heard at the group orientation we had attended before the surgery. I use the word "miraculously" because I’ve always thought my emotional self would overtake my logical self in case of an emergency. I wasn’t used to being in the caregiving position; throughout my marriage, my husband had been the one to support me during two difficult births, a bout with breast cancer and the grueling treatments, and later, two neck surgeries. Not that I wasn’t capable, but I was unused to the role of being in charge in medical emergencies. But that night, I was almost mysteriously calm. "Dislocation can happen; though it’s rare," said the nurse who was in charge of educating the prospective patients and their caregivers in all things hip replacement. "If it happens, call 911 immediately." When I asked her how you would know if it happens, she didn’t hesitate. “Oh, you’ll know, don’t worry." And then she smiled tightly, as if to say, "It’ll be very, very obvious.”
It surprised me when the doorbell rang brief seconds later.  I quickly led the paramedics to the bedroom where my suffering husband lay. As they threw their jackets off and carefully assessed the situation – asking questions too specific for me to answer effectively – it suddenly dawned on me that these men who I now turned to for help were grown-up versions of the same boys my sons had attended high school with just years before. They were the same boys who had played on the tennis team with both my sons; the same boys that used to strap themselves into the back of my SUV on the way to and from the games; the same boys who played endless hours of video games in my basement, boys who would eventually pass their driver’s tests, slow-dance with girls at their senior proms and apply to colleges where they would try to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.
But tonight they drove up to my house in their serious-looking white van marked with red and blue letters punctuated with blazing sirens. Tonight they wore serious shoes, not the ratty sneakers I remembered. Tonight they were in charge, in my bedroom, and they were calling us by our first names, asking my husband if he had any allergies to medications, taking his pulse, running their hands over his displaced hip, peering into his pupils, dutifully recording the answers to the most personal of questions in their small, leather bound, well-worn notebooks.
And then it was their turn. His body supported on a stretcher, these men navigated the narrow hallways of my house and carefully transported my husband out the door into the safety of their vehicle. They strapped him carefully into the back of the truck and took off, sirens blazing, with me in close pursuit, chasing after the lights.

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