The Boy and I spent the beginning of December in Phoenix. The primary reason for our trip was to visit my mom, who is suffering from Alzheimer's, and lives in a nursing home. She had her latest health scare about a month ago - I decided that one last visit was in order, while we still had the chance to see her alive.
I was apprehensive. I have very little experience with nursing homes, and have read too many articles about the poor treatment received by patients. Also, I was nervous about seeing my mom's health and mental status deteriorating from the once vital woman I knew.
The Boy and I last saw her at Christmas time, in 2004. She was just in the beginning stages of her dementia/Alzheimer's. She was forgetful, cranky; at times, belligerent.
She's always had a potty mouth, and could teach sailors on shore leave a phrase or two.
That hasn't changed too much. My brother Gary said that she curses out the nurses, and is prone to make outrageous comments about staff and visitors.
She's a lot like The Boy in that regard.
They park her wheelchair near the nurses' station for their entertainment. She still can come up with witty, but totally inappropriate, comments about others.
One afternoon (after we saw her), Nancy found her sitting on the floor by her bed. She had apparently slid right off onto the foam mat on the floor. When asked if anything hurt, Mom responded "Only my pride".
I don't know how he and Nancy (yes, he's also married to a Nancy) go there day after day, always cheerful - not knowing what kind of reception they'll receive, or what insults will be hurled in their direction. Never getting credit for all that they have done for her.
Gary greets most of the patients and staff by name - he and Nancy say that she gets better care if you acknowledge the employees. Nancy worked in the nursing home payroll/HR office, but got laid off while we were in town.
I had a nice chat with an older gentleman, and I know The Boy shook hands with another. We quickly fall into the pattern of saying good morning to anyone who is not asleep.
Our first day at the nursing home, she actually knew who I was, and knew my name. She knew The Boy's name, too - and remarked how big he has gotten.
In subsequent days, I was referred to as "Mom", "Gary's sister (Gary is my brother, so that is accurate), and The Boy was "my son" (also accurate). Other times, she simply did not know who I was. Once, she told Gary that he "sounded a lot like Gary", though she didn't recognize him.
Any comments about her clothing (she's always liked holiday-themed sweatshirts) resulted in her saying, "Stan and Nancy bought me that"...even though Gary purchased the clothes in question.
Mom's hair is white now, she no longer gets her hair colored. The lines etched on her face have deepened. She is 86 years old, and has earned every wrinkle. Her nurse attempted to curl her hair before we arrived for the first visit, but my mom would have none of it. She told her "to get the f**k out of her room".
Her nurse takes her abuse, and her bigoted comments in stride. She loves my mom, and cried when they thought she would die after her stroke last month.
Mom will comment on something and then immediately doze off (probably due to her medication).
She is wheelchair-bound - a recent fall resulted in a hip fracture, so walking is now out of the question. Her feet are swollen, her heels bandaged - the toes of her socks hang limply from the ends of her feet (the bandages make pulling her socks on an impossible task).
Her hands are extremely dry. As I applied lotion, she sat there, patient and child-like. Gary says that she sometimes licks the lotion off.
Every visit, we wheeled her out to a courtyard, so she could get a bit of sunshine. A nearby pink grapefruit tree was an item of constant interest. She wanted to eat "one of those apples over there", if only someone would get her one.
If we told her once that the grapefruits were not ripe yet, we told her one hundred times.
But it's all immediately forgotten. It's a lot like the movie Groundhog Day - we relived the same question and answer period each day.
She asked The Boy if he had a girlfriend, and commented on how big he has gotten. She most often said that "he was a good looking boy".
She asked me if I had other children.
She loves to eat, yet forgets that she has just eaten. She's gained weight since the last time I saw her (when her failing memory and unstable emotions made eating fall much lower on her list of priorities).
Her food must be pureed, since she is prone to choking. Gary shows her the menu every day, and she reads the selections aloud (or tries to, as she has lost every pair of glasses Gary has bought her). We wheeled her into the dining room, and put on her big bib.
The liquid in her juice glass is quickly dispensed with (pink lemonade, perhaps?) - as is the drink of her dining partner (she gulps it all down before the woman is even wheeled in). She eats all of her food - but will remember none of it. Currently, she can feed herself, but is already in the "feeder" section of the dining room - someday (maybe soon), an aide will be spooning the food into her mouth.
Our final visit was the hardest. I wanted her to make a connection to us; I longed for recognition in her eyes. The Boy and I both gave her a gentle hug and a kiss goodbye, and I told her I loved her. I got no response, as she was ready to dig into her roast beef lunch.