My initiation into The Sandwich Generation
I have read many blogs over the years and I have to admit, they make me feel like I am probably a little too late to have a compelling hook. I live in suburbia, so can’t wax heroic about the challenges of cooking for 365 straight days in a tiny urban kitchen with one burner and an underpowered oven. I have 10 year-old children and a mortgage, so I am not about to trek through the Orient, across the Sahara, all the while really journeying inside my own mind on a self-indulgent journey to its center. I have completed only 2 short triathlons, so I lack the credibility required to speak of discipline, of commitment, of transcending my limitations. I drink beer, so while I know about its self-medicating qualities, I can’t hold your attention my encyclopedic knowledge of different brewing styles. Maybe someday.
What I can write about, with authority, is juggling. Specifically, about being caught between two things that each pull me nearly irresistibly in opposite directions. You know it as “sandwich generation”. This typically refers to newly middle-aged adults who wake up one day looking after children and elderly parents, all the while fearing that the struggle to accomplish both is futile. And, somewhere in the back of their minds, they remember that they are married and would like to stay that way. And, they probably have to earn a living. And, they have made commitments to their community – their neighborhood, their hockey team, or in my case, their synagogue. All of this happens at the precise moment that their bodies start their slow physical declines, suddenly needing more running just to arrive at the same cardiovascular destination.
This is now my story.
My father contracted a dangerous stomach infection in June. He had been living on his own in the same split-level where I grew up in Lawrenceville, New Jersey for the past 2 years. He got sick on his 89th birthday and when we couldn’t reach him for more than 2 days, we knew that something had gone wrong. A neighbor told us that he was at Princeton Medical Center, and I figured that it would a quick recovery from food poisoning or something equally innocuous. Only when I traveled down there and spoke with the doctors – who, as anyone who has dealt with a sick relative long-distance can tell you, are impossible to reach over the phone – did I find out that his malady, the dreaded C Diff infection, has a 50% mortality rate at his age.
I carry with me the memory of standing by the hallway window and calling my brother to tell him to buy a plane ticket, right now, because we didn’t know what was going to happen.
My father is a man who survived the Nazis, then the Communists, and then colon cancer, and even eating his own cooking in recipes he learned after age 87, so we should not have been surprised that he beat the 50/50 odds and left the hospital 10 days later. But before he cheated death, he wrestled with it, and as a son, nothing drives mortality home like watching a father do this. I would run my fingers through his hair as he looked up at me from his hospital bed, and I could not help but see myself.
More on that experience later.
Over the course of the next 2 months, my brother and I made many trips to Princeton, first to the hospital, then to the rehab center, and finally to pack him up and move him to the Boston area to live near me. And now he is here.
So, my story is about wishing for and getting one more meal at Legal Seafood with my father. It is about best practices for making work conference calls from hospital waiting rooms. It is about a rainy night on a cellphone with a dying battery at a compounding pharmacy debating a prior authorization for an expensive Tier V antibiotic with my dad’s Medicare Part D provider. (Side note: it also is about waking up that morning not knowing what a compounding pharmacy, prior authorization, Tier V antibiotic or Medicare Part D provider were). It is about sitting on the porch with my wife, who is crying because she fears that the life I’d had this past summer was going to swallow our marriage and our limited time with our children. And, it is about the clarity of selflessly loving a (sometimes selfish) parent.
Until I start writing regularly, I can’t predict what else it will be about. But I hope you recognize enough of your own story in mine to keep reading and maybe contribute as well.