Sunday, December 20, 2009

Water and Snow

We're spending a quiet day, doing Plague-related housecleaning and watching the snow fly.  After the Patriots' game, we'll put up the tree and try to ignore the odd, Plague-inspired, Indian-bedspread decor marring our traditional holiday living room.

My mother-in-law called us frantically a few hours ago. She asked if her son would drive to her house if he possibly could. She said she had a bad leak in her ceiling from the snow and needed help soaking up the water. She was using rugs to sop up the water pouring into her study. I could hear a sound like rain in the background as we spoke.

With heavy snow falling and no plowing in the alley where he parks, there was no safe, easy way for him to get there. It normally takes 20 to 25 minutes; today it would take well more than an hour. Normally, we'd dash over there to help her, but this morning a storm was raging. His sportscar is not great in snow, and there's a long hill up to her house. "Never mind," she said when I told her how difficult it would be. "It's okay. I'll deal with it."

"Don't use rugs," I said. "Use plastic. Anything absorbent will get moldy. Like those skirts you used last time." We hung up.

"Like last time...." I thought. When she called back a few minutes later (and she always calls us back shortly after she hangs up), it all made sense.

She said, "Can he take a cab? I'll pay. I can't stop this leak!" I said that, if it wasn't safe for him to drive, it wasn't safe for him to be in a cab, either.

"Are you sure the water isn't coming from a plumbing leak?" I asked. "Isn't there a bathroom over your study? I think you might really need a plumber. Because it's cold out. The snow can't be melting unless you have a huge hole in your roof."

"Oh, no!" she yelled. "You're right! I've gotta go!" And slammed down the phone.

When she called again, she told us she'd gotten distracted while running the water in her bathtub. She was trying to soak the special humidifier-rod for her grand piano but it needed a weight, so she went downstairs to look for something, and got sidetracked.

"You're so smart!" she said. "So smart, so smart, so smart! Thank you! The leak is stopping and I've got a big cardboard box underneath it." "Use PLASTIC!" I said.

"All my buckets are so full of stuff that I can't use them," she said.

If I'm so smart, why can't I persuade my mother-in-law to move out of that house into a place where someone can look after her? Her family has been telling her for a long time that she's got a lot of age-related issues and she shouldn't be living alone anymore. Her house is piled with papers knee-high in every room; it's a fire trap. We worry about her falling all the time.

We've been told by several people with professional experience in these situations that we all can do is to wait for the big crisis — the one she can't mop up with rugs, something catastrophic like a fire — before we can finally take action and move her into some kind of senior housing where she'll be safer.

Until then, all we can do is worry.

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