Sometimes as a Sandwich Generation father, you find yourself in the hospital not with your parent – and right now, my father is as healthy as he’s ever been – but with your daughter. Such was my situation a few Thursdays ago. It turns out that when performing a gymnastics trick called a round-off back handspring, there is a penalty for not landing it correctly: a right hand that is swollen, black and blue, and probably broken. With that, you also win the right to visit the Newton-Wellesley Hospital radiology waiting room with your parent on a Thursday morning. Or so Sophie found out.
After so many trips with my father, it was particularly strange to be in a hospital with my daughter. The last 2 times I’d been bathed in that very particular neon light with the corresponding low air conditioning hum, I’d been with my father at Mass General for his treatment for C-Diff and in Framingham when he had hip pain so powerful that he couldn’t stand or walk. But that more than a year ago, an eternity when your father is pushing 91. It is a small miracle that this isn’t a more familiar experience for me. I suppose in time it might be.
Most radiology waiting rooms are filled not with parents who brought their daughters, but more often daughters who brought one of their elderly parents. That’s just the target market. When you sign in, you fill out the “Did you just have a fall?” card that warns you of the possible problems a spill might cause. They don’t have one for round-off back handsprings. (By the way, the possible side effects are not the hospital’s fault – they want to make sure you know that).
And 11 year-olds in hospital waiting rooms behave differently than their 90 year-old grandfathers. They ask a lot of questions because to them, hospitals are new. Why do we have to register first? How long do you think we’ll have to wait in this waiting room? They bemoan events they are missing, especially on a school day. They exude restless energy and fidget. By contrast, my father does a lot of staring and sitting still.
They also require more entertaining. We ran through the pictures on the wall of every doctor in the department and decided based on their headshot whether they liked their jobs or not. I ran through a long riff on what the likelihood was that they would have to amputate her arm. She laughed and told me it was ridiculous. I responded that it might be, but how amazing would it be if I was right? She laughed again and went back to asking questions about why we were in a second waiting room.
It was in that second waiting room that I noticed the biggest consistency, which is what a difference a friendly doctor makes. Both Sophie and my dad were anxious in that situation, Sophie because she is anxious by nature and my father because he is convinced that it was the hospital that killed my mother, and his world-class survival instinct puts him in high alert. Sometimes I can disarm him, sometimes I can’t. The radiologist totally disarmed Sophie, took her x-rays almost sweetly, and then took her into the back hallway to let her see the results. Sophie had never seen an x-ray before. “That’s so cool,” she said. My father doesn’t say that anymore. There the similarities end.
And then there’s this note for Sandwich Generation dads out there: when you take your daughter to the hospital, it is a special bonding experience in a totally different way than caring for your elderly parent. So when it happened to me, I commemorated it with a milkshake, just like my mother used to commemorate my broken bones with a slice of pizza.