Thursday, June 9, 2011

On being a daughter

Note: I initially wrote this post two weeks ago, the day my mother came home from her hospitalization, then promptly forgot about it, caught back up in the whirlwind of my busy life. I just re-discovered it, while searching for something else in my blog's draft hopper, and so having given it a polish, I send it out into the world today:

My 88 year-old mother came home from the hospital today, after a four day, probably-not-necessary-but-that-can-only-be-known-in-hindsight sojourn there.

I was with her for much of this time, only returning to my home for brief shifts of not-anywhere-near-enough sleep, and to reassure my children that I still existed and cared for and about them. (And to do Jacob's extensive vitamin/medicine pours.)

By the end of this journey, I have realized that I was in no way prepared for this. Throughout all my father's many hospitalizations in the last few years of his life, I had my mother to share the burden of the care and time with. And also, often, a third party, their very caring aide Mina.

This time? There was just... me.

And there is just not enough of me to go around.

But go I must.

After remaining awake for 99% of her 30 hours in the ER before being finally admitted into a real hospital room, my mother spent much of her remaining hospitalization sleeping.

And I, equally exhausted, dozed on and off in the chair beside her, keeping a lazy vigil made possible by the excellent care I knew she was receiving.

The thousand tests they performed have shown that all the scary things we worried might have been going on were not: no stroke, no heart attack, no bisected arteries, no clogged carotids, no normal pressure hydrocephalus, no heart failure, no silent pneumonia.

The vascular specialists, the neurologists  have walked away satisfied. But oh, yes, my mother was still deeply dizzy, the condition that had led her to call the nurse where she lives and begin this whole chain of events on Monday afternoon.

After hours and hours of wait, wait, wait, there is suddenly rush, rush, rush. My mother must arrive back home to her assisted living community by 6 pm or they cannot accept her (rules, rules, rules).  So once the green light had been given, her wristbands cut off in both a functional and a symbolic gesture, a surgical rupture of the umbilicus of her care there, I am left to dress my mother.

Ever attempting to be helpful, they sent the nurse's aide to assist; however, I know this is my task, and shoo him (him!) away.

My mother had been hooked up to all sorts of machines and monitors, which means she had a lot of... things... stuck all over her body. And so after removing her hospital gown, it was time to de-tag her.

My father used to hate help with dressing, even when he could clearly no longer function on his own, a man deeply fond of his dignity. So we would often find those little EEG tags, or, stranger still, full monitor buttons, like extra nipples stuck onto his body in odd places, weeks (weeks!) after a hospitalization.

When I would attempt to remove them he would become upset.  In his mind, the doctor didn't tell him specifically to take them off, therefore they should remain attached. Likewise those little cotton balls band-aided to blood draw points designed to apply pressure briefly after the event, to help prevent hematomas from developing.

My parents have been known to wear them for days after a doctor visit, having never heard, absorbed or remembered the instructions: "Keep this on a few minutes, maybe an hour,  to make sure the bleeding has stopped."

My mother's skin has gone all crepey, nearly translucent, in spite of its always olive tint; it stretches tremendously, so as I pull at the tags I am begging the glue to yield before I cause her any pain.

As a mother, I think about how my mother must have painstakingly cared for my physical needs when I was a baby. And now here I am, full circle, caring for my mom.

When the technicians had asked her to move into positions that caused her pain, I would rub her back, hold her hand; simple reassurances, but making all the difference in the world.

And then, at the very last, a pair of eager ENTs came down, fresh faced residents full of cheer. They put my mother through some moves -- lie down, turn her head, turn her whole body, sit up this way and not that -- to help re-set the gyroscope of her inner ear.

"Watch us!" they'd said, "This should help, but it often needs more than one session.  You can do this with her at home until she's all better, or if it happens again." Their enthusiasm was infectious. I learned the moves.

We made it back before six. They let us in, welcomed her home. Willie, poor ancient cat, was beside himself with joy to see her.

And then, miraculously, after days of somnolence in a hospital bed, Mom was eager to go down to the dining room, to take back up the reins of her social life: dinner and a (closed-captioned) movie with the other two feisty old broads who call my mother friend.

They are the three musketeers, the nonconformists of the bunch, aware of life's absurdities, always peeking behind the curtain, looking askance at the dour little-old-lady types who populate much of the elder brood.

And thus I leave her, at the dinner table with her friends. Laughing.

And so I can leave with a lightened heart, as they lighten hers; for with them she once again laughs. Oh, how they laugh.

Mom and her friends

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