Alison had a theory in life: when you’re in over your head, it’s all about how big of a risk you’ll take to keep yourself afloat. That mentality had made her a successful young woman, and there was no denying that her mother was proud of her for it. This time was different, though.
Usually, Alison’s risk taking didn't interfere with someone’s health, let alone her mother’s. She tried to tell herself that it could only get better, but, even knowing this, it still took all the nerve Alison had in her being to be able to confront her step brother about his care – or lack thereof – for her mother.
Alison’s mother had been very sick for a long time. When she had first fallen ill, she had gotten better and had been discharged from the hospital into her step son’s care. Almost immediately, she started getting worse again. She was hospitalized again, and again discharged into her step son’s care, but the same thing happened. When her mother got worse a third time, Alison checked in on her step brother. She stopped at her step brother’s house one day after work to visit her mother. As soon as she walked in the door, she knew what was going on.
The house was dark, filthy, and stuffy. Medication bottles were jumbled on the table, some half empty and others completely full. Picking her way through the clutter in the house, Alison made her way to her mother’s room. When she saw her mother, she immediately called 911.
Alison’s step brother met her at the hospital after getting her call. “What’s going on?” she asked him. “Look, if you can’t take care of her, I can help,” she added when he didn’t answer. “This isn’t healthy for her.”
“I don’t need any help,” he said, and left.
It was the third time Alison’s mother had been hospitalized for the same illness, and after speaking with her step brother, Alison knew why. She also knew that he wasn’t going to let her help care for her mother. The only course of action she could think to take was to file for custody of her mother – which was the biggest risk she had ever taken.
Not knowing where to start, Alison went to the government’s website and found the forms necessary for filing for custody. She printed them out and read through the directions. Then she reread the directions. Then she read them again. The instructions and lists of requirements were so confusing that they had even Alison’s strong, detailed mind in a knot. She decided to ask the nurse about it the next day when she visited her mother in the hospital. If anyone knew how to figure this out, Alison thought, it would be the nurses who treat abuse victims.
“I can’t help with that,” the nurse said apologetically. “Unless there’s obvious physical evidence of abuse, I’m supposed to stay out of affairs like this.” She started to turn away from Alison, but thought better of it. “If I were you, I’d go downstairs to the Errand Solutions desk. They might be able to find someone who can help you.” Alison thanked her and left.
Alison found the Errand Solutions desk with no problem, but found that she was incredibly nervous about telling someone about the situation. The nurse could see the effects of what had happened, and knew her mother’s condition, but how was she supposed to convince someone else that her mother’s life was at risk if there was, as the nurse said, no physical evidence of abuse?
“Hello,” the woman at the desk said when she notice Alison standing there, trying to muster the nerve to ask for help a second time. “How can I help you?” The woman introduced herself as Amanda, and Alison started to explain what she needed.
“I have these forms I need to fill out,” she said, holding the papers up for Amanda to see, “but I’m not sure how to go about it.”
“Let’s have a seat at the table over here and take a look,” Amanda said, pointing out a table and chairs next to the desk. “So,” she started when they had sat down, “what exactly is going on with your mother?”
Alison told her story from the beginning and found herself describing in vivid detail the state she had found her mother in when she visited her step brother’s house. Amanda let her talk without interruption, and as the story went on, her brow became more and more furrowed. Between the details of the story and Alison’s emotional state in telling it, it didn’t take long to convince Amanda that Alison’s mother was suffering from abuse due to negligence, and that something needed to be done about it.
“Okay,” she said. “Let’s go through this paperwork.”
Together, they sat at the table for several hours, poring over the paperwork, figuring out the instructions which had left Alison so confused, and reviewing all the information that was filled into the boxes. When they had finished filling out the forms, Amanda went over them again, looking for any tricky language or exception clauses that they had missed the first time through. Then, she and Alison went over the information one more time, making sure that the correct information had been entered into the correct boxes.
“Phew,” Alison sighed when they were done. “I don’t think I would have done this right without your help.”
“We’re not quite done,” Amanda said. “It says here that the forms need to be filed at the office in person, so you’ll actually have to take these over there yourself. Here’s what I suggest: you probably don’t want to spend too much time away from your mother, so I think we should fax these over and have the clerks review them to make sure there aren’t any mistakes or anything like that.” Amanda pointed at the Errand Solutions desk. “We have a fax machine here, so I could do that for you right now. That way you don’t waste a trip.”
“I probably wouldn’t have thought of that, either,” Alison said.
The next day, Alison stopped at the Errand Solutions desk on her way to visit her mother in her hospital room. Someone else was sitting at the desk, and Amanda wasn’t coming in that day.
“Are you Alison?” the associate asked. “She left a note, saying that the office called and said the paperwork was in order.” The associate looked a little confused. “I suppose you know that that means?”
“Yes,” Alison said, smiling. “If you see Amanda, tell her I said thank you.”
A few weeks later, Amanda arrived at work to find a voicemail message for her on the machine. “Hi Amanda, it’s Alison,” Alison’s voice said. “I just wanted to let you know that the paperwork was approved, and my mother’s going to be released into my care.”