And I can't get up

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Monday, September 29
Phyllis McGuire

I miss columnist Erma Bombeck. She was always there for me, through her books and columns, helping me to find humor in the problems that plagued me as a housewife and mother.

Erma was loyal to her fans to the end; even when facing death, she wrote "If I Had My Life to Live Over," in which she listed what she would do differently if she had a chance.

If I had my life to live over, there are two things I would want to do again: marry my dear Bill, for whom my heart has ached ever since he died seven years ago, and be mother to Christopher and Jennifer, as they are a source of joy. But I would change a decision I made when choosing shoes to wear to my granddaughter Alyssa's sweet 16 birthday celebration; I would follow my intuition and opt for my comfy everyday shoes, instead of my dressy pumps.

We celebrated that special occasion at a banquet hall on Long Island, where I fell on a tile floor, the heel of my left shoe slipping under me, as I walked to the coat room when the party came to an end.

"I can't get up," I cried out, as does the woman who appears in a commercial for a medical alert system. As upset as I was, I thought, "Oh my, we really do say that."

After spending week after week in a hospital, where I underwent hip surgery, in a rehabilitation facility and in my daughter's home on Long Island, I was able to move about well enough, without using a walker, to go back home to Williamstown. Hallelujah!

I packed my suitcase the day before Jennifer was to drive me home, taking everything I had brought with me seven weeks ago, except the shoe that was the culprit in my fall, and its mate. I had flung them into the rubbish, with a vengeance, when I had returned to my daughter's house after being released from the rehabilitation facility.

"I'm going to call and find out about getting you a medic alert," Jennifer said as she put my suitcase next to the front door.

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I protested: "I don't want one. Anyway, I won't be wearing high heels or walking on tile floors at home."

I considered the matter closed, but the next day when we arrived at my home, Jennifer said she would not leave until I had a medic alert system installed, so I gave in.

A representative of a company Jennifer selected came to my home and set up a console through which a personal response associate in a monitoring center could contact me. The representative also hung around my neck what was little more than a string from which a pendant was suspended.

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Two days later when I was once more alone in my home, I was awakened during the night by a voice calling out, "Phyllis, Phyllis." Startled, I sat up straight in bed and shouted, "Who's there?" Then, I thought "Is it my time? Is Bill calling me to join him in the hereafter?"

Since I am writing this column, it obviously was not "my time" but I did hear the voice again: "Phyllis McGuire do you need help?" Now wide awake, I realized I must have rolled over on the pendant when I was asleep, sending a signal to the monitoring center. I apologized and was graciously forgiven. "No problem. It happens, Good night, Phyllis," said the voice that I now knew belonged to a response associate.

About 2 a.m. a couple of days later, I was in my night clothes when I leaned over the kitchen sink to draw the curtains on the window, as I always do before going to bed. Then, I heard someone talking in the living room. Since I was alone, I crept cautiously into the living room, armed with a pot. I soon found I had nothing to fear, as the "someone" turned out to be a recorded message emanating from the console. "Your health call is in progress," the recorded voice said. "Please wait. Someone will be right with you."

I pressed the pendant and reported that I was fine. But I knew my words had not reached a response associate, as the message I had heard earlier was repeated every few seconds for more than 15 minutes. It finally dawned on me that I might be able to reach a representative at the phone number noted on the agreement I had signed. No one answered my call so I left a message on the answering machine.

I wanted to sleep, but that was impossible with the message constantly assailing my ears. Tired and frustrated, I was ready to toss the console out the window when a response associate asked, "Phyllis, do you need help?"

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"No thanks. I must have pressed the pendant by accident," I replied, assuming I had done just that when leaning over the sink. "It's a good thing I didn't need help," I added "Twenty minutes have passed since I was first told that someone would be with me right away. I could have died in that time."

The associate apologized for the delay and then said, "We had trouble with the telephone lines. It's the first time that's happened in the five years I've worked here."

At last, with my home peaceful, I fell asleep about 3 o'clock. At 8 o'clock, I was shaken from the arms of Morpheus when the phone rang. It was a representative from the service's office, returning my call. First, he confirmed what the associate had told me about trouble on the telephone lines. And I said, "Whatever happens, we are in God's hands." The representative uttered "Uh-huh," in a manner that suggested he was just humoring me. "Does he think I am a religious zealot?" I asked myself. Before I could continue talking to myself, the representative asked, "Is your device working?"

"I guess so, " I said.

"Try it now. Tell them you're just testing it."

So, once more I explained to a disembodied voice that I did not need help though I had pressed the pendant. I wonder if the medical alert system will only hasten my demise, causing me to be literally scared to death or to collapse from lack of sleep.

Oh well, I do believe that whatever happens, I am in God's hands.

Phyllis McGuire lives in Williamstown, Mass.


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