Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Angels Are in the Details

I'm trying to decide whether to postpone my return to Brooklyn. My niece is due to arrive in Phoenix on Wednesday but we have her in mind for my mother's release from skilled nursing to home and we know Mom won't be home for several weeks yet. I haven't gotten hold of Lisa and in the meantime, Dad has a doctor's appointment and I witness his struggle with tasks like his remote controls and hearing aid batteries and his peremptory attitude toward Mom and the staff. If one stays a week in this environment, there's going to be one Breakdown Day. Mine started the day before yesterday and finally cracked open last night. There is a question as to whether my mother's fall was caused by a small stroke and her records from the hospital and accute rehab don't include a CT of her brain. Dad is a little flippant about it while I want her attending doc to schedule a work-up.

In short, it's all very complicated and sad and I often find myself at loggerheads with my father about any number of things.

I am a Daddy's girl, so when I say that my dad can be a bastard, I say it after I've given him a LOT of latitude.

Still, the nursing home has been a revelation to me and not entirely in sad or scary ways.

It takes so little to brighten a few moments of the residents' day. Yesterday I wore a red and white toile skirt and every woman I passed who was sentient remarked on how pretty it was, how much they miss girlie dresses and skirts in vivid colors. There was a traffic jam on the way from my mother's room to the lobby, which is sunnier and more comfortable than the nooks that are a jabble of television non-watched by residents who are wheelchair and dementia-bound, and I had to ask a woman if I could move her wheelchair so we could get through. She didn'y understand at first but acquiesed when I explained again. I found a spot she seemed to like and, as I walked away, I trailed my hand across her shoulders.

She said something as I began to push Mom on. I bent down and asked her to repeat it.

"You'll be back soon, won't you?"

What could I say but yes?

One insentient patient had dropped the lambie she holds and nurses on. I stopped to pick it up and lay it in her lap. The woman next to her looked me deeply in the eyes and said "Thank you." So, too, I was able to communicate in a normal voice Mother's tablemate's desire for a second bowl of clam chowder last night, the first semi-solid food she's been allowed in quite a while. She thinks the staff ignores her when it's more a matter of not hearing her soft voice and tendency to tuck her chin into her chest. That soup was the best thing she'd ever tasted.

Of all the treats and sensible things that have made my mother's life more bearable are the down quilt my niece gave her for Christmas and the plush yellow Lab puppy I sent her. She calls it Taffy, after the first dog my parents had, and she takes it everywhere, as many patients do. I'm surprised that she remembers she has it, given her memory loss, but it was an instant success.

This stuff breaks my heart, although the facility is the most loving environment I could imagine, with jolly nurses' aides and PT staff who pass through the seas of wheelchairs and stop to talk and touch, two resident dogs and a cat. I wish the chaplain guitar trio that performs every week would switch from Jesus music to the Marine Corp anthem, which I got Mom's dinner companions singing last night, or to "Dancing Cheek-to-Cheek" -- songs that these people know in the recesses of their minds and need only the tune to bring them to sudden animation. I wish the food was better (one of my father's and my fights has been over taking dinner to Mother: he says it insults the staff).

Mostly I wish I didn't have the feeling that I'm fucked if I stay and damned if I leave. If I stay, I'll eat and lose valuable time and time with my beloved Henry, who is moving to the suburbs in August. If I leave, my brain will be three hours behind, wondering if Dad is OK, if Mom needs lotion rubbed on her swollen legs, if the doctor is pressed to order a neuro work-up. That worry drains the value of my time at home as well.


April said...

Your story makes me want to find a nursing home to volunteer in. When I was in college, I worked as an assistant cook in a nursing home ~ an upscale place where they had all the physical comforts money could buy. I was extremely people-wary and stuck to the kitchen as much as possible, never wanting to serve in the dining room where I might make a mistake and make a fool of myself (aren't we silly and self-conscious in our youth?!). But every once in awhile, they were short wait staff and I'd be roped into delivering meals to residents too sick to attend in the dining room. I learned to love those trips because as you said any little kindness was greeted with such pleasure. What a sad thought... that kindness and human contact was so rare that these people were full of gratitude just to get the smallest bit of attention. These people came from $$ but their families rarely visited. In my family, where $$ was scarce, at least my grandmother came to live with us when she could no longer manage on her own. In the end, I quit that job---not being able to handle losing resident after resident. I remember Olive ~ when she died, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. I've never thought about volunteering since then (and it has been nearly 30 years) but perhaps the time has come.
Frances, remember to take care of yourself as you are working to balance the needs of your parents, sibling, family members, etc... In some things, you have to put your needs first. Really.

Unknown said...

I think you're doing a lot of important work where you are, if you can hold onto your sanity. You're at least thinking about standing up to your dad, you're caring for your mom. I'm thinking about you.

FunnyBits said...

You are such a good person selflessly to all around you. Yes frustration sets in and yes it can be overwhelming..but you continue to march on and you give and you give.

You give to the humans and the dogs and the plants and the flowers....and I am sending uplifting waves of good ness your way.


Anonymous said...

Patt J:
I used to volunteer at a nursing home. I wish everyone in America could read what you've written here.
PS: The staff would not be insulted by food from home. They understand the comfort of things from home. Really.

Lori G. said...

I think you're doing very important work, Frances. Even on the bad days, your dad is probably revitalized by your presence and spirit.

It's very true what you said about the small things; my grandfather loved ice cream and that was one thing I could do as a 16-year-old with a newly minted license: go to the Tastee-Freez. I agree with the others; the nursing staff is not insulted by your bringing in food.

Can you tell the chaplain trio that you got good responses from show tunes? They just may not know or have thought about it. (OTOH, they may believe it's all Christian all the time.)

Maybe there's a family group support group? Or you can look at Meet-up dot com and see if there's something you can do one evening to hang on to your sanity. Your niece will be a big help, I know, to you.


Unknown said...

This post moved me, Frances. It brings back so many memories of my dad's months in assisted living and nursing homes.

Whatever you decide -- stay in AZ, return home to Brooklyn -- will be OK in its way. Seriously. There are tradeoffs either way, but none will precipitate the end of the world.

While I realize none of this is funny per se, sometimes I envision myself as an 80-something year old humungous "baby" in Depends, clutching my stuffed lamb or turtle, groaning loudly with every ache, and making inappropriate advances to handsome young male nurses or orderlies. Or quoting lines from "Star Wars." Etc. Yes, my dignity will be lost, but I get a smile from imagining the spectacle I'll present to the sane around me.

Regina said...

When my mother was in her wonderful nursing home, my three sisters and I all had a different routine with her. I watched Millionaire and Jeopardy with her, which she still enjoyed even though she really didn't understand them anymore(she had had multiple strokes), My younger sister used to bring her milkshakes- that was their thing. The staff never minded. I agree that they know how important the comforts of home can be.
I think whatever you decide to do will turn out ok. You can't put your life on hold forever, and it sounds like your parents know you care. Best of luck with whatever your final decision is.

Quilting Martha said...

Hope you are ok, Frances.