I’ve spent the past few days hunkered down, recovering from the holidays. I’ve stayed in bed until nearly noon the past three days, surrounded by cats. My refuge from reality.
My trip to Houston was overwhelming. I arrived to pick up my mother at the acute rehab hospital mid-day on Christmas Eve to take her home. When I entered her room, I found her belted into a wheel chair. The restraint-like nature of the belts was disconcerting. I immediately unbuckled them. I completed the discharge papers and the nurse wheeled my mother to my car, while I carried her belongings. Slowly, deliberately, my mother counted to three and moved from sitting to standing. She held on to the car, turned, inch by inch, and lowered herself onto the car seat. She lifted one foot, placing it onto the floor board, and then moved it farther into the car. She lifted the other foot onto the floorboard. She then shifted so that she was sitting further back in the seat, rather than sliding off the front onto the floor like a sack of flour. I encouraged her throughout, finding it excruciating to not help; to allow her to do for herself. We repeated the process again when we arrived at her assisted living apartment–car to wheel chair, wheel chair to toilet, toilet to wheelchair, wheelchair to recliner. And over again when we went to dinner later that afternoon, and again when she got back in the car after dinner, and again when we arrived at AL.
At my sister’s house the following day, my sister’s head was nearly exploding at the thought of getting my mother from the car into her home through the too-narrow door. I told her to go inside and check her roast. I could handle it. It’s really rather simple: I wheeled mom to the door, she stood, walked a few steps inside the house, held onto the kitchen counter while I squished the wheelchair together to get it through the door, opened it back up, positioned it behind mom, and she sat back down. No need to pop a vein. Mom needed my help lowering herself onto and off of my sister’s low toilet. (She has a lift on her AL toilet.) She also needed my help wiping herself. Yes, mom saved her poop for my sister’s house. I find this symbolic. I’d helped my mom with her toileting once before, many years ago, when she was very sick. I have no children, so wiping poop off bottoms is not familiar to me. And yet, I did not find it difficult. It had to be done. My sister, on the other hand, refused to help my mother with her toileting. She claimed she was too squeamish.
“How did you change your children’s diapers?” I asked her.
“I barely managed. When they threw up, I threw up.” Her husband handled much of the poop and vomit duty.
My mom’s new physical challenges may improve with continued therapy. I fear we’ve now entered a new normal with cognition, however.
As I often do, I awoke at 4 a.m. this morning. I noticed I had two consecutive voice messages from my mother from around 2:00 a.m. Both were about her concern that I’d sent dog food instead of cat food because the food had a photo of a dog on it. First, it was odd that she was up and worrying over the cat’s food at 2 a.m. Second, it was odd that she called me at that hour. I couldn’t call her back at 4 a.m. when I got the messages as I assumed (hoped) she’d gone back to sleep. Since I didn’t have a call from AL, I felt reassured that all was well, or at least okay.
I called her this morning.
“Mom, why were you up in the middle of the night worrying about the cat’s food?”
“They kept waking me up. Coming in and doing things.”
“Doing what things?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why do you think I sent dog food? Because there’s a dog’s picture on the food?”
“Yes, there’s a dog picture.”
“Is it on the bin you poured the food into?”
“Yes, it’s on the bin.”
“But it wasn’t on the actual bag of food, was it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter whether the bin has a dog or cat picture on it. What matters is whether the food you poured into the bin has a dog or cat picture on it. Didn’t I send you cat food? Did the bag have a dog or cat picture on it?”
“I don’t know if the bag had a dog picture on it. I don’t have the bag any more.”
“Is he eating the food like before?”
“Well then I think it’s okay.”
“But it has a dog picture on it.”
“Mom, I have a coffee cup that has a picture of coffee on it. But I can fill the cup with water. Or coffee. It doesn’t matter what picture is on the cup. It only matters what I actually put in it. Just because there’s a picture of coffee on the cup doesn’t make the water I put in it coffee. Does that make sense?”
“The cat’s eating okay, right?”
“Well then let’s not worry about the picture. He’s okay.”
This is mom’s new cognitive normal. And while I want to be there for her, I also dream of the day I can escape from my current life. Not just from the stress of worrying about her deteriorating health and her finances, but the stress of getting up every morning to do a job I abhor. Escape from BigLaw. Escape from the cognitive dissonance of enjoying the holidays with my sister and her family. Her husband. Escape from my loveless, vanilla, monotonous, life.
Escape from my current reality, which bites.