We begin when Mother Mary falls seriously ill and has to be rushed to the hospital.
Don't worry, this will get funny by the end.
But in the middle, we learn that her legs are swelling, which is somehow connected to her heart. This I cannot explain, and even after a week with her in the hospital, I still don't understand. I thought the leg bone was connected to the hip bone, not the heart, but that's beside the point.
Mother Mary enters the hospital in Miami while I'm on a book tour, and Brother Frank tell me it's serious, so, of course, I cancel the end of tour and fly down there with Daughter Francesca. I also asked my best friend and assistant, Laura, to come, which turned out to be essential because she served as referee.
It turns out that the Flying Scottolines cope with a life-threatening situation by threatening one another's lives.
The bad news is that Mother Mary was critically ill, in that her heart wasn't doing very well, functioning significantly under its capacity. The good news is that there were medications they put her on, blood thinners and the like. And to fast-forward so you all don't get upset, by the end of the week, she's stabilized and headed for cardiac rehab, with a good prognosis.
But the ones who need rehab are Brother Frank and me.
When the going gets critical, we get criticizing.
Let me explain.
My brother and I normally get along very well, and I usually defer to Frank's judgment about what's good for Mother Mary, especially because they live together. But something about seeing my little mommy lying in bed, like an oddly gray-haired child, brings out the Hospital Nazi in me.
Or at least, I'm in no mood to compromise when her health is at stake.
And he feels the same way.
So we fight.
We spend all day at the hospital, and the scene is the same every day for almost a week: Francesca and Laura take care of Mother Mary while Frank and I fight.
What do we fight about?
Frank thinks she needs the top of her bed cranked up, but I think it's better lower. Frank thinks she needs her grippy socks on, but I think she doesn't. Frank thinks the window shades should be down, but I think they should be up. Frank wants the door open, but I want it closed. And don't get me started on the volume level of the TV.
Obviously, we fight over the important things.
We fight in front of her, but then we realize that it upsets her, so then we take it out in the hallway, where she knows we're fighting but can't hear exactly why. At no point do we stop fighting. In other words, if she isn't having a heart attack, we're going to give her one. Because we love her so much.
Yes, we love her enough to kill her.
Now that's Italian.
Or maybe it isn't. Please tell me we're not the only family that behaves the worst when it should behave the best.
The only thing we agree on occurs on Day Five, when we both agree that Mother Mary needs to be on oxygen. You may remember this is a bone of contention from way back, as Mother Mary doesn't think she needs oxygen to live.
So Frank and I, in a rare moment of unanimity, ask the doctors if she needs to be on oxygen, and they administer a test, which shows that oxygen is in order.
For a moment.
Because the decision about the oxygen starts Mother Mary fighting with Frank and me, thus triangulating our fists of fury.
Not only that, Mother Mary segues into taking a consensus of hospital personnel on the subject. She asks the next nurse to walk into the room: "Do I really need this oxygen?"
"Yes," answers the nurse.
A different nurse comes in, and Mother Mary asks her, "I think this oxygen is on too high. Will you check it please?"
The nurse does and tells her, "That's the lowest it will go."
Then the orderly comes in for her lunch tray, and Mother Mary asks him, "How long do I have to be on oxygen?"
And he answers, "As long as the doctor ordered."
"Grrr," says Mother Mary.
Francesca and Laura go over to calm her down, and Frank and I exchange glances.
Mother Mary has only just begun to fight.
And we should know.