|My mom turned 81 toady. We'd both thought she wouldn't live to enjoy this birthday. She and I talk around the inevitable, like mentioning that she has a pre-paid funeral plan, and the card's in her purse.
I try to tell her "I love you" a lot. Mostly I act like I love her. Mostly I don't "act." I do love her dearly, but at times she drives me crazy.
She gets into these spells of varying states of confusion. The most difficult challenge for me is to tell her something tactfully, without telling her she's wrong.
To insult her intelligence, or mental acuity, would be the worst possible act. She most values her independence and ability to do accounting. She's losing both rapidly.
It was seven months ago that her health took a dive. For no particular reason (except osteoporosis), her spine crushed onto itself, and pressed on the nerves feeding her right leg. She couldn't walk. She was in tremendous pain. Finally, she began to take pain pills as prescribed. They eased her pain, stole her memory, and changed her personality.
I was at my wit's end because I didn't know how to be as responsible as I actually had to be for her. It was more than just overseeing her eating, bathing, washing clothes, and medication consumption.
I had to make sure she followed directions, and had a clear enough concept of time to do so. She was having a difficult time, with time. Every time she woke up, she thought it was a new day. Some days she took five or six naps, and she'd swear it was morning when the sky was lit with only the white of the moon. I eventually figured out that opening the blinds, at least a bit, could help her with that.
The worst, for me, was empathy. I could tell what she, herself, was thinking. The subject was either the intensity of pain she was experiencing, the activities she wasn't capable of doing anymore, or both.
So many simple things--opening a door, rising from a chair, finding something to do with your brain when it didn't work--showed in the anguish on her face as she lay in bed, ambled with her cane, or napped in the recliner.
I not only watched, I smothered her the way she'd always taken care of me. It was the only way I'd known, so she got back what she'd given me. She didn't like it. She told me to stop it, but I counldn't.
We'd been together every day for about five weeks, and I decided her physical needs would be met fine by "staff" if I got away for a couple of days. I needed a brain break.
I went to Harrah's for three days, on a limited budget.
When I returned to her side, her recovery seemed miraculous. She was thinking, making decisions, walking without a cane. She had an important visitor when I left.
Without realizing it, I handed the situation over to God, and He took care of it. Things always work out well when I do that, but I don't always remember.
I just feel that there ought to be some way in my power to fix things. I need to remember God is in charge of the hammer and nails, and his architectural plans don't include me being at the center of everything.
So Mom seemed pleased with our little birthday celebration today. It was she, I, and her dog.
I brought a fat free loaf cake, candles that said "81" on the top, she made a wish, and we had cake and pears.
I put the ribbons from the packages on the dog for decoration. That sweet little Chow lets me get away with a lot, especially since I'm not the "mommy."
When Mother turned 79, I threw her a surprise party at her favorite cafeteria with about 15 of her friends. An actress from a comedy service came in, sang a birthday song for her I'd written ("Oh Happy Birthday"--to the tune of "Pretty Woman"), and had a biographically based "routine," as long-lost Cousin Shirley from the trailer park. She was so surprised, and the whole thing was unique for her aged friends. Because of her failing health, she wouldn't have been up to the excitement now.
I thought the best gift I gave was for her to receive a birthday greeting from the President and Mrs. Bush. Citizens over 80, and couples married for over 50 years can receive acknowledgement through correspondence your congressman's office. I was more excited about an envelope from The White House than she was. But she seemed to appreciate material trinkets of clothing and shoes.
We both really appreciate our quality time. It's not the fancy restaurant, it's not the commotion of a bunch of people getting together. It's the one-on-one situations where two people exchange thoughts and feelings that are most important. Just being together counts. We don't even have to talk.
She's scheduled for surgery on Monday. Twelve weeks have past since she lost her balance, bounced off some furniture, and landed on her tail bone. She's got a fractured/compressed disc at about waistline height.
It just hurts all the time. It hurts most when she lays down, and some nights she doesn't sleep at all. That's not good for the body or the brain. She's taking a low dose of pain mead, and has had three epidural shots in the spine.
Her surgery on Monday will be what's called "glue surgery." More into is available on this procedure at www.balloonsforbones.com. They also have an incredibly interesting holographic pamphlet visually explaining the procedure.
The compressed disc is inflated, and synthetic material is injected into the disc to reshape it to its proper size. The surgery itself isn't particularly dangerous, and three doctors have "okay" her for the procedure.
After she'd decided to have the surgery, her congestive heart failure reared its awesome head. She can lose five pounds and a shoe size overnight, or she can gain. She has two new sets of pills for that. She takes as many pills volume wise, as she does food.
When she sleeps, I can hear the fluid and congestion rattling in her lungs. She's gone from being "tired" to being "weak."
I was with my father's sister when she passed. I stopped at the nursing home after a Sunday afternoon at the lake. The nurse told me the end was at hand, catching me by surprise.
I sat with her for about two hours, listening to breaths of shallow sighs, and then violent gasps for oxygen. I held her hand, and talked to her. I remembered so many wonderful times we had shared. I cried.
I believe she's "up there" helping me get through these difficult times. So is my father, my step-father, my great aunt, and a plethora of other family and friends who have passed from this realm.
Mom's color is so ashen for summer. She's always gotten a tan from watering the yard, but she can't do that anymore. That's how she tore the rotator cuff in her shoulder. She moved a segment of water hose that was too heavy.
It's difficult for her to admit how many ordinary things she can't do. I understand. I empathize. It's like when I was a kid and she told me "NO," in that tone. Now, God's telling her the same thing. The ramifications are the same. Lots of activities are "off limits," and she hates it.
The rotator cuff problem in her shoulder was scheduled for surgery, but then a steroid shot took away the pain.
Steroid shots are a great thing, but they don't always work. I've seen them work well enough with her, that I'm semi-planning to get a shot in the neck for the pain I've been having. Not that I look forward to having a needle stuck in my neck. At least I wouldn't see it.
Tension surfaces itself in my neck. I don't know if I'm having sympathy pains, or if I'm carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. I do have my own neck x-rays that show beginning arthritis, and a rather misshapen spine area.
I'm learning and remembering lots of medical knowledge during all these experiences. I want to know more, and understand all the interactions between organs and medications. I took anatomy, but I dropped the vet tech program before I could take physiology. I used the same textbook as the nursing students. I enjoyed studying, but it really took effort. English comes easily for me, whereas math and science require lots of focused attention to details.
I might want to go to school to be an RN. I'm hungry for knowledge, for self-preservation if nothing else. Some doctors fucking lie. I found that out from experience. And some doctors are fucking stupid. And smart ass punk lawyers suck too, but that's another story.
Ten days ago, Mom had a TIA, or what's called a mini-stroke. Again, I want to rave about HOW GREAT the staff and facilities are at the emergency room at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, Texas. They're so calm and nurturing always, even when packed to overflowing, and they were that day.
In the summer, Dallas sometimes has serious air pollution problems when the temperature humidity index gets up to 107 degrees, and there's no wind to blow away all the ozone in the air. The ER was full of heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory problems that day. I was lucky to have a chair to sit in. Her assigned area consisted of a bed in the hallway by the staff restroom.
When Mom was disrobed for an EKG, the nurses put up two privacy screens. Five gurneys, pushed by EMS workers had wheeled past up up to that point in time. God was with us in the hall that day, because no one could have rolled by when the EKG machine was there, even if they had needed to.
Within three or four hours, Mom had a CAT scan, blood work, and three doctors consulted on her situation. "Just a TIA. Stay at home and take it easy," as if she hadn't already been told that enough times. So far she has taken it easy, because she's too weak to do otherwise.
When you're in the grocery store, notice the old people pushing their market baskets. I gripe to myself when I pick an unruly cart, and the aisles are too tight for passing. How blessed I am to have only those kinds of problems.
I'm a "stock up" shopper--fewer trips to the store, but purchasing as much as possible. Mother, on the other hand, can only purchase as many pounds of foodstuffs as she can push, and then hoist into the trunk of her car.
She wants to do it herself: drive herself, pick out the items, and saunter about the store as she pleases. That's not a good idea when purchasing a case of water and a week's worth of dog food, plus pre-packaged healthy people food.
Being tall, I always offer to retrieve items on high shelves that other people can't reach. To see the grateful eyes of a gravity worn face smiling back, is so rewarding. Most people are too busy themselves to even notice other shoppers. As a nation, we've already lost that binding patriotic love for one another that blossomed after 9/11.
If I could change the world (like Steve Martin's SNL skit), I'd wish for world peace--and that the world slow down enough that we would be able to notice, help, and love one another. Amen.
It frightens me that my mother speaks freely of being ready to die. It shouldn't bother me. She's blessed to have a person from St. Thomas Church visit with her and deliver the Eucharist every weekend. If I'm around when Mary comes, I make myself scarce. I figure what they say is private God stuff, and maybe I don't want to hear what they discuss.
Mary is the church's grief counselor. Although I don't call myself Catholic anymore, I know that Mary will stand by my side and be of great comfort when the time comes.
Sometimes I visualize funeral things in my head--sort of as a rehersal to be prepared for protocol dictates. I imagine I will be a numb zombie.
It won't "sink in" that I'm alone until after the "things to do" are over and done. I'm not going to have a husband, or sister, or brother, or father, or aunt or uncle to lean on. Family has converged into nobody. They're all already gone.
If it were my place, I'd advise parents to have more than one kid for this reason. But who knows, if there were two remaining, they might spend all their emotional energy fighting with each other about materialistic things. That happened when my aunt died. The brother and sister don't even speak anymore, and he's got a doctorate in psychology. It's not always easy to practice what you preach.
I consider myself spiritual, rather than religous. I'm open to wisdom from all religions, like this tidbit from The Upanishads:
"As a heavily laden cart creaks as it moves along, the body groans under its burden when a person is about to die. When the body grows weak through old age and illness, the Self separates himself as a mango, or fig, or banyand fruit, frees itself from the stalk, and returns the way he came, to begin another life."
It's painful for me to watch Mom's decline from vitality. I've actively jumped off the fence, and fussed at medical staff with no compassion, and too heavy a workload. It's amusing the fellow in the office, who I consider an ostentacious pain in the butt, remembers my name, but can't remember my Mom's. Health care workers aren't perfect, only human.
I've slid off the fence, and given my cell phone number as the primary means of communication regarding her health, because Mom's having trouble with short term memory and important data.
And sometimes, I slide off the fence the other way, letting her make her own decisions, and be responsible for whatever happens.
She and I were both concerned about her pre-registration for this upcoming surgery. With a 10:00 am appointment, it was most convenient that I spend the night at her house. I don't live real close to her, I'm not an early riser, and having another human around gets me going faster.
Mom asked, "Will you get out of bed on time, so I don't have to get nervous and suffer a wave of high blood pressure from worrying about being late?"
I enjoy my sleep, and I can be "ready" to walk out the door with minimal preparation, if necesssary, in ten minutes. She condones this as premediated 5-10 minute "lateness." It really bothers her, but I can only be me.
I told her I was doing the best I could. I'd spend the night at my house and meet her at the doctor's office.
I planned to stay awake all night at my house, and meet her at the doctor's office. If I stay awake, I avoid the problem of pulling myself out of bed, a situation akin to pulling a tooth if I've taken my medications as prescribed. I put her needs in front of my own. It's not a problem as long as I don't do it all the time. Sometimes, even she forgets I need to take care of myself.
It hurt me that Mom couldn't handle waiting five minutes, as opposed to me having to fight morning traffic from my location. It would be SO much easier to spend the night at her house.
What I really, really needed to make the time schedule work for me didn't seem like that much a sacrifice for her, but my needs didn't outweigh her more important needs.
I stayed awake all night. I'd been awake 30 hours when I called her at 9:00 am to ask if she actually needed me to go. She fully intended to drive herself. I realized I'd been awake too many hours to be at my best.
Despite cataracts and meds, she feels conscientious enough to drive. What can I say? When she goes for her driver's license renewal, I suspect she'll have her driving priviledges revoked by the state DPS. That'a a matter to be dealt with after surgery.
She did fine going by herself. She's forgotten some of her verbal instructions, and she keeps confusing the name of the building to which she's to report. She knows what's going on, but she gets confused.
To what extent is her confusion my responsibility? If she says she can, am I devaluing her by insisting on assisting?
So I sit on a barbed wire fence. And as I traumatize her health situation, I recollect that I haven't eaten today (I wasn't hungry, I forgot), I'm not sure I took all my meds, and if I don't do a better job of taking care of myself, we'll both be worse.
It's hard to be perched on a proverbial barbed-wire fence.