I rushed back to MB today after being in Powhatan for Christmas, and made a grand entrance into Myrtle Manor around 7 PM. Memomma Marguerite qualified for in-patient rehab after a 3-day hospital stay due to a second seizure that occurred on December 9. She had the first seizure that we knew of in November, but it’s likely there were others that we didn’t see. The first time, I was giving her a shower — her hair was soaped up, all was well, then all hell broke loose. I’d left the phone on the kitchen table and when the seizure was over, I had to prop her up against the bathtub wall for a minute to run call 911. This time, I was dressing her after a shower when it happened, but I’m proud to say that my cellphone was in arm’s reach. I’m getting this eldercare thing down pat, one emergency at a time. It’s a fine science, y’all. Requires talent. The kind I didn’t get naturally. My music education is fairly useless for this, but it helps preserve my sanity.
The seizures are attributed to shrinkage of the aging brain, so if you have longevity genes, take notes. Years ago, during one of Daddy’s laps around Baptist Hospital, we coined the term “oldage,” pronounced ‘oldige’ as opposed to ‘old age.’
You had to be there I guess, but Daddy was a real pain when his blood sugar was up. And with all the chocolate pie he demanded from every Greek restaurant in Winston-Salem, his blood sugar was always up. And rooms in Baptist Hospital weren’t private. A doctor was interviewing a hard-of-hearing patient in the next bed, and shouted, “DOES THE NUMBAGE GO ALL THE WAY UP YOUR LEG?” And Daddy answered, in the booming voice that learned to whisper in a sawmill, “YOU DON’T HAVE TO HOLLER — I CAN HEAR YOU ALL THE WAY OVER HERE. AND THERE’S NO SUCH DAMN WORD AS ‘NUMBAGE!’
We cringed, apologized, and attributed his outburst to oldage. So now, Mama’s got a serious case of it, but instead of hollering, she turns on the charm — still the Homecoming Queen, the Belle of the Ball, General Eisenhower’s Dance Partner, and Real Estate Broker Par Excellance.
She was thrilled to see me tonight, and declared that it must be mental telepathy that I came, because she had been looking for a telephone directory all afternoon so she could call me.
Her uh, ‘dimension’, as the divine Miss Malaprop calls it, is all over the map. She knew the correct names of grands and great-grands in the Christmas photos I showed her, then asked if George Holt is in Charlotte. Uh, noooo, George is in Richmond, but she used to live in Charlotte, so the dots do connect in some fashion.
“Where did you park the car?” she asked, several times. “In the parking lot,” I answered, several times. H eyes filled with wonderous delight. “I didn’t even know they had a parking lot here!” In her mind, we’re talking Disneyland.
Well, we don’t really want her to know there’s a parking lot, much less a car — this is the woman who said, “I’ll stop driving when you lock me in jail and throw away the key.” Then, she totaled her minivan when she turned in front of oncoming traffic while defying doctor’s orders. Two weeks later, she called a taxi and kidnapped her own husband from his nursing home. Took him home to her independent living apartment with nary a needle full of insulin nor a fridge full of food. A nightmare we don’t want to repeat. When people tell me how sweet my mama is, they don’t know the half of it. She has her sweet moments, but she didn’t get to be 97 years old by being sweet. But she is quite the charmer. So, if you go to see her, keep an eye on your keys.
She’s back in the fifties when it comes to phone calls, and no longer knows how to use her cell phone. “We need to write down everybody’s phone number so we can call them.” I’ve explained a dozen times that my phone contains everybody’s phone number, but it doesn’t compute. And this is the woman who got her first computer at age 70, took a class in Direct Operating System, then somehow deleted it from her computer, while we were visiting them on Sanibel Island — she lost her DOS, and barely came up for air during our whole vacation. Now she doesn’t know DOS from Windows, but every time she sees an iPhone, she says she wants one –until I tell her it costs seven hundred dollars.
She’s always had a severe case of gadget-itis. She had the first microwave oven in town, and the first of everything else, too. We had an electric ironer, for goodness sake. You probably don’t even know what that is — but it was a commercial grade ironing machine that pressed sheets, tablecloths, and the like on a big roller, operated with knee-and foot-controls. She and our maid we experts — they could even do shirts on it. And every electric cookware gadget that came on the market found its way to our kitchen: steamers, crockpots, electric skillets, fondue pots, food processors, seal-a-meal machines, you name it — hence, extra cabinets added on every wall, whether they matched the originals or not. One year — I think it was the year of the electric comb — I asked Daddy what we should get her for Mother’s Day. It was the age of under-counter everythings — can openers, radios, toaster ovens. Daddy shook his head. “Heck, honey, she has everything. I can’t think of a thing — unless you can find her an electric a** wiper. But it’d hafta be the undercounter model.”
She is still very particular about determining front from back when putting on her clothes — though she might try putting her panties on over her pants. And I think of the beautiful clothing she made, the gorgeous wedding gowns, the draperies, and the furniture she upholstered, and wonder at how a brain that could fashion such complex items can get so mixed up.
But when it comes to her shoes, she’s careful about right and left. And obsessed. It’s as if there’ll be some kind of Cinderella catastrophe if one dainty little toe touches the bare floor. We go to the restroom. I say, “Ok, Mama, now take off your shoes.” She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind, but the deer-in-the-headlights look tells me she’s lost hers, too, and she asks, “Why?”
I explain that she needs to take off her pants, and they won’t come off over her shoes. So, she carefully slips them off. I take her pants off, and turn my back to fold them up. And before I can turn back around, those deft little dancing feet slide back into the ruby slippers — and I try not to cuss, and have to say again, with as much patience as I can muster, “Ok, Mama, now take your shoes off.” And again, she looks at her idiotic daughter and says, “Why?” And we put new pants back on, but before they’re pulled up good, the dadburn feet are already feeling for the shoes.
And I say, “Mama, if you would be half as concerned with keeping your underwear dry as you are with your shoes, I will be soooo happy.” And we laugh and carry on, and the next trip to the loo, we do it all over again.
When Chip and Katie visited her on Christmas Eve, she looked at them and said, “Where are our parents?” and made several other really off-the-wall comments, so I think some medication changes plus the disorientation of being in nursing care takes a toll on her brain function.
“Where do we pay the bill here when we check out? I don’t have any money with me.” Deja-vu: Daddy asked that question a hundred times when he was hospitalized. And a hundred times, we answered, “You don’t have to pay a dime. Medicare and Duke Power are taking care of it.”
“Where are you sleeping tonight?” She asked me — several times. I told her I’d be at our regular condo in NMB, and she said she needed to go up there so she could see what it looks like — never mind that she has practically lived here for the past two years.
Physically, she is remarkably stronger. She told me she goes to physical therapy twice a day in the ‘phys ed room,’ and is getting good muscles. And she hopped up out of bed in a heartbeat — which is a little scary, because she does it so quietly. We’ll have to put the alarm back on the front door when she returns.
We have a meeting with her care team tomorrow to discuss her progress and plans for discharge, but I know she will be there at least through January 3. She was excited when I mentioned the names of family members who are planning to come visit in the New Year. Even when she is feeble, she’s the strongest woman I’ve ever seen.
Thanks for all your care, prayers, and encouragement. She’s getting torqued up. I hope soon it’ll be my turn, ’cause I’m in need of some serious torque-ing, like on a cruise ship…