Leaving Edna at Panera

My sister periodically locks herself out of her house, without her keys and sometimes her child.  I am no longer surprised to pull into her driveway and find her launching a log at her window or engaged in some other frantic-driven break-in attempt.

Today I was surprised to pull up to her house and learn that it was the frame shop 30 miles away where we were expected to be at that very moment and not in her driveway.

T made lunch plans with her great aunt in-law, Edna age 88.  Everyone in our family dies by age 70 so I made plans to go with her and to bring along Beatrice.  Exposure to the elderly population would be good for my six year old. 

Once we got on the highway T called the frame shop letting them know we would be there in ten minutes and they let her know that Edna, who travels via retirement home van, had already been there for 45.

I tell her with a laugh, “She may die of starvation before we show up.”.

T says nothing.

I follow with, “Old people like to eat early.”.

Still nothing. 

I turn to see she is staring at me instead of the highway and somehow I know.

Me:      “No”

T:         “Yes”

Me:      “No, you cannot turn back” (this is how sisters who talk 15 times a day communicate)

T:         “E” 

She forgot the birth announcement.  The reason for meeting Edna in the first place was to frame this announcement.  We discuss the options, none of which are turning back, and settle on lying. Yes, manipulating an 88-year-old was the best we could come up with.

We arrive and don’t have to lie.  Edna brought the announcement.  However, we do need to stop at the craft store before going to lunch.  Edna assures us this will be a quick stop.

(A little background on myself up to this point:

I had pretty much walked away from my career and the truth was I had been a bit of a basket case since that whole decision.

For the past five years I had been taking three prescription blood pressure medications.

I was recently experiencing some strange physical feelings and describing to my husband that it I felt light headed and nauseous, but he said it was anxiety about not having a job combined with the fact that I was leaving for a third world country in a few days.  )

There was nothing quick about the craft store stop or Edna it was like she was shuffling her feet with an invisible walker.   We followed behind whom I now refer to as Edna the craft store explorer. My sister was visibly irritated. “She better pick a color or I may strangle her with that yarn”

Out of nowhere my heart maneuvers into the lower part of my lungs and my skin heats up, turning me into a human radiator.  I don’t know if it’s because of the fluorescent lighting or my pissed off sister or all the people milling around the yarn section or that mothball-nursing-home scent emanating off of Edna but what I did know was that I was seconds a way from a full on freak out.

I tell T.  She asks if I need a Xanax.  I explain that I already took two back in the bead aisle.  She instructs me to go sit on the bench outside of the store. My palms felt as moist as a third grade boy at his first dance and the pounding of my heart was starting to interfere with my hearing.

Beatrice joined me outside on the bench and informed me that she will die of starvation and is glad we don’t have any old people in our family and that she’s out here with me because Aunt T forgot to pack a bottle and Baby Sunshine is Sunny no more.  I can’t muster up a single response.  So we wait in silence.

It is close to 130 by the time we pull into the parking lot for Panera. T, rockets out of the car, baby on hip and a trail of profanities following her, marching straight through the doors of Panera.

I am using my six year old as a human crutch, while I sort of skip-run to keep up.  I look back to the car and all I see are a pair of what looks like tire rubber soled shoes stretched down the side of the car in search for the solid ground below.  Edna is still getting out of the car.  I stop T mid-stride. “Go help your great aunt she’s almost a hundred. I would but the probability is high that I may crap my pants right here.”

I get to the bathroom, pants at my ankles, arms on my knees and head in my hands. At this point I am vacillating between blank-minded dread and imagining scenarios where my adult daughter is explaining to a therapist how it all started when she found her mom sprawled across the bathroom floor of Panera, dead with her pants around her ankles. 

I somehow extract myself from the bathroom and find them seated with food. I sit and stare at my salad.  My heart has now moved into my throat making it impossible to eat. My forehead has beads of sweat and I know that at any minute I will feel the coolness of the lettuce against my cheek.  I am positive that I am moments away from a facedown blackout.

Edna is telling a story but all I heard is the teacher from Peanuts. I put my hand on T’s knee.  She turns to me as I say, “take me to the hospital.”.  She looks me over, her head nodding at whatever it is that Edna is saying but I can see her concern and she tries this partial mouth-talk thing and says to me, ”you have to wait”. 

And so I try. I stare at my plate like I am trying to decide which bite to take first and I occasionally half look up and tilt in the general direction of Edna’s WHAH WHAH voice. But after what feels like eternity but was probably about a second, I announce to my sister that I am going to die.

T asks, “What do you want me to say to her?”

I respond, “Tell her you have to take me to the doctor. “

T half chuckle-asks “and leave her here?” 

I look at Edna, still cutting the same piece of lettuce and tell her to call 911. I stare back down at my food, twisting my hands together when I hear T talking, “Edna, Elizabeth just remembered that she has a doctor appointment so I am going to drive her over there.  The office is around the corner.  I will be right back”. 

Maybe this is how it is when you are 88 and have years of life experience under your belt or maybe she had a touch of the senile, because when I think back to this moment it appears that this out of the blue information did not strike her as unusual or odd in any way.

Edna offered to keep Beatrice and my niece while we ran out and after a few minutes of back and forth and a “hell no” under T’s breath, me, my daughter, T and baby Sunshine left Edna at Panera, seated alone, eating her salad at a table for four.

We leave as my sister murmurs, to no one in particular, not to worry that she eats slow, she won’t even be finished when she gets back. 

We pull into the ambulance only area and I jumped out of the car, running into the hospital, screaming that I am having a heart attack. 

They place me in a wheel chair and rush me to the back, and hook me up to a couple of monitors and an IV. The nurses are trying to ask me medical questions but all I could say is that I am unemployed and leaving for Nicaragua in two days.

Needless to say I didn’t die nor was I experiencing a heart attack.  Unfortunately, the woman behind the curtain next to me was actually having a heart attack and I felt bad about that but something was wrong with me, regardless of what the doctors were telling me.  Even my white-coat fueled blood pressure was surprisingly low. And it is this fact (my blood pressure reading remaining normal during this episode) that leads to the discovery and ultimately my remedy for what ailed me.  

After a night spent Goggling blood pressure + over-medicated + side effects to make sure my assumption was correct, I was able to give myself a proper on-line, self-diagnosis. I was over-medicated.

So, I stopped taking my high blood pressure medications and flew off to Nicaragua. I figured without the stress of a job I no longer needed those prescriptions. 



T, my daughter, baby Sunshine and Edna had a wonderful lunch. T explained that I was so sorry and that I had forgotten all about the doctor appointment.  Edna said she understood how that could happen. 

As for me, I would learn the hard way that its not smart to suddenly stop taking your medication especially while traveling in a third world country. And that it was divine intervention that led to me having my sister’s entire Xanax prescription in my possession, because without all 40 of those tiny peach pills, I would have died there.  

Elizabeth James