The Big House

After visiting with Gen and helping her with housework on a Sunday, I answered her call for assistance the following Wednesday. She told me over the phone that she was ill and indeed, she sounded bad-off-sick. I drove down to Reedville, entered her house, and was horrified at what I found.

Gen was characteristically fastidious about her kitchen and bathroom, yet open food containers were scattered on the kitchen floor, some covered with mold, some tipped over, contents spilled. Dishes and pans were piled up in the sink. The table was covered with more than its usual collection of clutter. The house reeked of cat urine. It was astonishing how far downhill things had gone in just three days.

I found Gen in her bed, with her back turned toward the door. I touched her shoulder and rolled her toward me. She looked ghastly. Her hair was matted and her nightgown was damp from perspiration. She clearly had a fever.

A 12-quart bedside commode that Gen insisted on using was filled to nearly overflowing. The commode had been a source of contention between us for several months. She wouldn't empty it until it was full. That quantity of material weighed over 25 pounds. Gen was a strong woman, fully capable of lifting 25 pounds, but she wasn't exactly stable on her feet. My nightmare was that she would stumble while she carried the bucket, creating a mess of unprecedented magnitude and then calling me to come and help her clean it up, which meant that I would do the work while she told me how.

Rappahannock General HospitalI called her physician's office and told them I would take her to the emergency department at Rappahannock General Hospital. The hospital admitted her right away and she spent the next four days there receiving treatment for a respiratory infection.

Gen and I had spoken about this sort of thing several times. "What do you want to do," I would ask, "if the time comes that you can't manage on your own here?" She always promised to "marinate in it," which was her way of avoiding matters that involved change of any kind.