KATE QUINTON'S DAYS by Susan Sheehan


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Kate Quinton is 80 (in 1982), long-widowed, severely arthritic, living in a Brooklyn apartment with her middle-aged single daughter Claire, who suffers from severe back troubles and depression. And social-problem journalist Sheehan (A Welfare Mother, Is There No Place On Earth for Me?) follows, minutely, the wearing days that come when Kate's health fails--requiring mother-and-daughter to turn to flawed, bureaucratic (but improving) social services for help. A serious urinary-tract infection sends Kate to the hospital;after several weeks there she is out of acute danger or distress but frail, unable to walk. What to do? Keeping her in the hospital (which she hates) is a gross waste of Medicare money. If she's low-income enough to go on Medicaid (she is), she can go into a nursing home--an idea she loathes--or get a daily attendant for care at home. So Kate eagerly opts for home--and since the Medicaid help won't come till after weeks of red tape (a notorious N.Y.C. problem), she becomes part of the ""Transitional Community Placement"" (T.C.P.) experiment: home attendants supplied to bridge the time between hospital and Medicaid-funded attendants, Both before and after Medicaid, however, the Caribbean/Hispanic women who arrive (or don't arrive) at the Quintons' apartment are an erratic array--many uncaring, slovenly, lazy, with the better helpers soon finding better jobs. There's also trouble from a nasty woman at the Home Resources Administration--the city office that oversees the Medicaid assistance. But finally Kate ends up with a regular, devoted attendant, her situation stabilized. . . with hopes of walking again by the spring of 1983. As always, Sheehan provides a wealth of precise, accumulating (if not very selective) detail in a neutral, stark, mildly ironic manner--especially effective in suggesting the day-by-day ordeal of the home-attendant parade. The basic social issues--hospital vs. nursing home vs. home care--are made clear. As a personal close-up, however, despite a brief background-chapter on the Quintons family history, this lacks the urgency and appeal of other Sheehan reports: Kate and Claire are a tetchy pair whose quirks remain largely unexplored, their viewpoints accepted with what seems like insufficient skepticism. (One wonders, in particular, about a recurring family quarrel in which Claire's sister emerges as the perennial villain.) And the essentially admirable Sheehan/New Yorker delivery--one simple sentence after another--sometimes becomes precious and sentimental here, children's-book-style. Much less substantial or compelling than Is There No Place on Earth for Me?, then, but a worthy, timely, grim/hopeful report nonetheless.

Pub Date: Sept. 21st, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin