Two days ago I had a really upsetting experience. As I left a memorial service for a friend, which was held at NYU Medical Center in Manhattan, I was just outside the hospital when I saw two children, about 10 and 11, with an elderly man who looked as if he was about to keel over – he was lurching sideways. As I stopped to help, the younger child, a boy, asked me if I had a phone. I took out the phone with one hand and gave it to him. Meanwhile I reached out and held up the man to keep him from falling. The girl dialed a number but it didn’t go through. Neither of the children seemed to speak good English, and the man wasn’t speaking at all.
With the help of another passerby and an attendant we got the man, who turned out to be the children's grandfather, into a wheelchair, and the attendants said they would take him to the Emergency Room. The three had been visiting the grandmother, a patient in the hospital, and when they came out the grandfather got sick. The hospital attendant who eventually came over thought that he had had a stroke, which seemed likely. The man behind the desk spoke Spanish and was able to communicate with the children and to tell them they could go up to tell the grandmother what was happening. I offered to go up with them – I hated just leaving them there, but they waved me off and went on their way. I tried telling the grandfather where the children were going, but he didn’t seem to understand me, so I asked the wheelchair attendant to tell him in Spanish, which he did. It wasn’t clear whether he understood him either or whether the stroke, or whatever was happening with him, left him unable to grasp what was happening. I felt really bad for this family, wondering how the children would get home, who would be there to take care of them, and how they would deal with the trauma of seeing their grandfather get so sick while he was supposed to be taking care of them.
Then I thought about the implications for all of us who take care of our grandchildren. Although when we do this we're usually healthy and don't anticipate a problem like this, trouble can come from nowhere. I have been trying to figure out what we can do to be sure that if we are suddenly taken ill or are injured, our grandchildren will be cared for. One thing is that we should always have a phone with us at these times, and for children who are old enough to use one, we should teach him or her how to call for help. One precaution is to have 911 programmed into our phones at the top of the list. But what else? I would welcome any suggestions from other grandparents.