Backpacking Dad goes to New York

05/20/2008 By Shawn Burns

I’m from eastern Ontario, and I’ve lived in upstate New York (as upstate as you can get), but despite spending most of my life in that area I’ve never once been to New York City.

Toronto. Montreal. Vancouver.

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington D.C., Seattle.

London, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris, Munich, Amsterdam, Venice, Rome.


All over the world, but never to New York City.

Well kids, all that is going to change tomorrow. I will be in New York City for 4 hours tomorrow. At JFK. On a layover between San Francisco and Burlington, VT.

My mother is having a surgery to tie off a third brain aneurysm. Her first surgery was last July, which Emily and Erin and I all flew out for while Emily was still on maternity leave. Her second was scheduled for October, and I flew out on my own, leaving Erin and Emily home with Disneyland Grandma who came up to help out. That surgery was canceled while my mother was in the hospital bed getting ready to be wheeled in to the operating room; the scar from the first surgery hadn’t quite healed enough for the surgeon’s liking, so they canceled it.

Well, I got to spend a few days visiting my mother and my sister; but I also blew a ton of cash on the flight, hotel, and rental car that time around.

It stung a bit, especially because Emily had just gone back to work a few weeks earlier and we were coming off of a long stretch with no income and a new baby. So, when the surgery was rescheduled for just before Thanksgiving (American Thanksgiving, in November, for all of you Canucks reading this), I really couldn’t see how we would swing another trip. So I didn’t go.

Because it’s the Universe, and the Universe is perverse….

…my mother suffered a stroke during the surgery.

My sister e-mailed me in the middle of the night, and after I called her back and found out what happened I freaked out.

My mother was absent, isolated and trapped in her body, and my sister was on her own. Not that there weren’t other family members nearby, but she didn’t have me there.

She doesn’t like me much, but I am her big brother :}

After a couple of days of mediocre news ("she moved her arm; she looked at me when I was talking to her") I couldn’t stand it any more. I told Emily I had to go, and Emily geared up for being a single, working, mom for a few days while also being slammed at work. She was a superstar, and I love her for that.

I flew out to Burlington to see my mother laying in a hospital bed, barely aware of what was going on around her or who was there. Because I’m mean, I didn’t tell my sister I was coming; I just showed up at the hospital. I wanted to see the look on her face, and she didn’t disappoint. She was really glad to see me.

The next day, my mother was a little spacey, but could talk in sentences and move her arm and leg. By the third day she seemed mostly okay, although still lacked some dexterity in her hand and some stability in her leg.

I like to think that it’s because both of her kids were finally there that my mother recovered so quickly. It was rapid, and exponential improvement. When I finally went back home she was being moved to a rehab center where they expected her to spend a few weeks relearning how to use the muscles in her arm and leg, and recovering mental acuity.

Instead, she was only there a couple of days. Her progress was that quick.

When Emily, Erin and I went to visit over Christmas there was very little evidence that she had ever had a stroke. I kept thinking about the first time I saw her in the hospital and how helpless I felt, and how worried I was. And seeing her back to normal was intensely gratifying. Because, irrational as it is, I felt a mountain of guilt that I hadn’t flown out for the surgery in the first place, as though my absence was the cause of the stroke.

All of that is a long way of saying that I won’t be missing her surgery this time.

And until Sunday night Emily will be a single working mom again. Erin will be in daycare Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and I hope that she does better there than she has been doing at the gym the last few times I’ve gone. She’s developed a pretty strong separation anxiety when I try to go work out, and twice now I’ve just given up and taken her home instead of exercising.

So send Emily some good thoughts this week. She has begun her very own blog over at Trademark Mama, and she’s smarter than I am, so stop by and let her expand your mind. I think her latest post is about boogers.