Friday, January 10, 2014

Coming up: Cheeseburgers, Fries, and Coconut Cake

Mom's home again.

These last 18 days have had a profound impact on us both, mother and daughter. I had times where I was relieved, thinking of Mom's recuperation as a much-needed respite for me, then feeling guilty about this, and then arguing with myself about how useless and irrational my thoughts were.

Still, I felt a warmth when I watched Mom being wheeled up to the front door by the medical transport staff. That's where things got interesting. As much as I love our 1922 house, its doorways and halls were not built wide enough to accommodate most wheelchairs, let alone full-sized gurneys. So the burly gentle giants on the job had to bundle Mom up and do a blanket-carry down one hall, making a turn into another hall, and deposit her as gently as they could onto her hospital bed. As I'm sometimes inclined to do in tense situations, as I watched this process, I nearly got the giggles, with an image of a sack of potatoes coming to mind. Summoning my therapist-demeanor training, however, I was able to keep a straight face as her oxygen was reattached, and I thanked the transport staff heartily as they left.

Mom seemed distinctly under-whelmed with happiness to be home. Her first utterance was a two-part question, "Now what am I supposed to do? Am I going to be stuck here now for the rest of my life?" This caught me off-guard, and so I used my fall-back smart aleck humor to respond, "Well, what do you want me to do? Send you back to the place [meaning the rehab facility]?"

You have to understand that Mom and I have had a history of sparring with each other, tossing such barbed humorous comments, and they have usually served to take the edge off any uncomfortable situation. This wasn't the case this time. Mom stared blankly, and so I tabled the attempts at levity. I handed Mom the gift bag that had sat under the Christmas tree in her absence. She got teary when she recalled that she had spent the holidays away from home, for the first time in her entire life.

Perhaps if I distracted Mom...I quickly turned on the TV, reminding her that she could now watch her beloved Bonanza and Gunsmoke reruns, each of which she has easily seen several hundred times. Thank goodness for TV Land; except that, while we ate lunch together, I became uncomfortably aware of just how many commercials this station runs about funeral planning, Life Alert systems, and life insurance for retired folks. All Mom could say was, "Yeah, retirement's for the birds. Take my advice and don't get old."

Thank goodness for the hospice nurse supervisor who came to visit later on. At the rehab facility, I'd been handed a sheaf of discharge papers, including a confusing medication list, and no fewer than six bubble-packs of pills. Sitting in Mom's room, I was wondering just how I was going to organize everything to avoid any mistakes in dosing...and, frankly, panicking more than a little. The nurse took her time, and after visiting with Mom, sat and walked me through the medications, one by one, and also showed me how to give Mom the breathing treatments she will get three times a day for a while.

Esmeralda came back today, too, to resume her caregiving. As I retreated to the other room to try to catch up on some of my own paperwork, it lifted my spirits to hear Mom brighten up a bit and get into a lively catch-up conversation. Again, I recalled how many times as a geriatric case manager, I encouraged adult children to find opportunities for their elderly parents to socialize. Despite Mom's history of saying she never minded to spend time alone, perhaps this recent serious illness left her feeling more vulnerable than before, and so she will indeed benefit more than ever from visits from friends, family, or the hospice chaplain.

Mom's 89th birthday is coming up on January 15. While at the rehab center, she told everyone she could that she wanted nothing more than a cheeseburger, french fries, and a coconut cake. The cake--a small, square one from Pepperidge Farms--is in the freezer, ready for the festivities. A friend has volunteered to provide the best cheeseburger he can find. And dammit, I intended to herd my entire small family into the house for that important day.

These moments are becoming more precious by the day, too precious to let slip by.

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