"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Monday, November 30, 2015


Tomorrow is December 1st. We have had worse years in this family but by gosh, I have to say we've damned sure had better ones. To begin with, my mother (“our mother,” as my father refers to her) lost her balance during a stupid power failure in August, fell backward, banged her head and back on the kitchen radiator, and couldn't move. My father crawled on the floor to get the flashlight, dialed my brother and his wife on the rotary phone, and they hurried over. By then the lights were back on but everybody was really scared for Ma, so they called 911. The ambulance took her to the local satellite emergency clinic where she spent SEVEN HOURS on a stretcher, very uncomfortable, but I have to say they did some pretty thorough testing.

There were no breaks or fractures, but Ma couldn't stand up by herself or breathe without supplemental oxygen. Why, we don't know. They shipped her off to the hospital where she spent three days in observation having even more tests. They still couldn't get her to use her legs or, for that matter, get her off the oxygen, then it appeared she had pneumonia, so they transferred her to the rehab wing of a nursing home here in town. They tried like hell getting her to get in and out of bed by herself, up from and back into her recliner by herself, and back and forth from the bathroom by herself (with a walker). They tried to wean her off oxygen. Neither effort succeeded. Why, we don't know. No one really knows, except that (long story VERY short here) the hospital was only giving her ONE THIRD of her prescribed dosage of Lasix (a diuretic, for congestive heart failure) causing her legs to become so waterlogged and heavy they looked more like logs.

Anyway, she's still there, still needs 24-hour-help and it's more than any one of us can do, but we have been there so much I think they are ready for us to become volunteers of some sort (my father can play the guitar...maybe I can do arts and crafts?) and we decided too that nothing was going to stop us taking Ma home for Thanksgiving. For the past several years Dad has been ordering Thanksgiving dinner at one of the local supermarkets. Then everything just has to be heated up, and people can bring side dishes if they want different ones, and desserts. That is not how we used to have Thanksgiving dinner in days of yore, but it works well for us now. My brother and sister-in-law host it. They decided we would eat at 2 PM. Here is where it all starts going downhill fast.

Two o'clock seems like a reasonable time to eat Thanksgiving dinner. Gives everyone enough time to travel, do the last minute meal preparation and settle in for cheese and crackers. By 4, 4:30 you're done, having dessert, getting ready to watch football if you're into it, and you can get home at a reasonable hour. My father does NOT think 2 PM is a good mealtime. In his opinion, this is eating much too late. I personally don't care what time I eat if someone is willing to feed me, but that's just his preference.

So my brother says he will actually pick me UP at 2 PM to go get Ma at “the home.” I have my creamed onions with sherry and nutmeg all ready and a nice French green bean casserole with mushroom soup and dried onions. I'm watching out the door for him and a car pulls into my driveway, next to my car but so far back toward the road no one could pull in behind it. The person is out of the car and into the other part of the house (it is a two-family home) before I can see who it is. Obviously someone connected with the tenants. The tenants have their own driveway but if they are having lots of people over I always let them use mine as well, I just sorta like to be asked...just sayin'? So maybe this person's gonna run in there for something and run right back out. Um, no. My brother comes down the road and with his big Chevy Traverse is unable to negotiate room behind my car and next to that mysterious Other Person. So he has to wait in the road while I haul stuff out and get in. Oh well. No trouble. (Ha ha.)

In five minutes we're at the Home, and Ma is dressed and ready but does not have her shoes on and the portable oxygen tanks are not filled. This takes time. Eventually we get everything squared away and wheel Ma out to the parking lot. We have a homemade wooden mounting block to help Ma get up high enough to get in the car. By now my brother and I have worked out a system: we wheel the chair right up to the open car door, put the brakes on, I stand behind the chair steadying it and holding the portable oxygen paraphernalia, my brother stands in front and 1-2-3 lifts Ma out of the chair and they “dance” to the left until she gets her rear end close enough to the seat to sit down. Then the O2 tank goes between her legs on the floor to steady it, we load the wheelchair and block, and we're good to go. Sometimes it is easier than other times. This time a well meaning nurse thought Ma would do better using a walker to get into the car. With the nurse helping it did work fine. The really tough part is at my brother's house, which, though a ranch, has three narrow concrete steps going up to the front door. With four adults helping (my nephew was there) we managed to get Ma inside and sitting. Dad was already there. The house smelled good. I was starving. It was now 3 PM.

My sister-in-law returned to heat things in the kitchen. My nephew, who had run a road race that morning, started telling me about it. My father started to grumble. “I think I may have left the stove on,” he said. “I better go home and check.” We didn't pay any attention. “Maybe I ought to go see if that timer works that I set to turn the outside light on,” he said. “Getting dark now.” My nephew says “Papa, NO.” My sister-in-law says “Let him go. He wants to go, he can go.” My father sighed deeply and said “I can eat leftovers tomorrow.” I knew what he was really saying. Everybody knew. Eventually everything made its way onto the table and the turkey was carved. Dad was asleep on the couch. We woke him up to go eat.

As with any Thanksgiving feast, everything was delicious but I just KNEW it would be better when this day was over with. I just felt it in my bones. All of a sudden Ma started coughing. She tends to swallow the wrong way very easily (in fact they think the pneumonia she had was aspiration pneumonia). Ma's face turned red. We all watched with varying degrees of nervousness. Ma got kind of a panicky look on her face. My sister-in-law went over with some tissues and water (Ma's on fluid restriction because of the edema in her legs) but though she wasn't choking, Ma could not stop coughing. I knew she was afraid she was going to throw up. She is deathly afraid of throwing up (I don't care for it much myself). It took a long time, but finally things calmed down somewhat.

By now it was in fact pitch black out. Dad does not drive well in the dark. It wasn't a long way home, but I was a little concerned. I worked it out so that I'd ride back to Dad's with him and my brother could follow because I had something for my nephew in Dad's old closet (which was 100% true; a long time back my late aunt had sent for two Hallmark Christmas ornament collections, one for each of her great-nephews, and charged me with seeing that they got them when they got their own home or apartment). We saw my brother's headlights behind us as he followed us out the driveway. However, when we got to Dad's and I fetched the big box of ornaments and was ready to go back to my brother's, we didn't know where my brother was. We looked outside and didn't see the car. “But he was RIGHT BEHIND US,” I said. Dad thought he'd better take me back. “NO,” I said. “Then they've taken your mother back to the home,” he said. “WHO?” I asked. “They haven't had time to get her in that car.” “Don't worry, he'll be back for you,” Dad said. I wonder what my blood pressure was at that point. Meanwhile Dad decided to show me all of the old Christmas stuff he had found and asked when could I come over and go through it?

Finally I decided I'd better call the house. My sister-in-law answered. “I have no idea where he is,” she said of my brother. “If he doesn't show up in five minutes call me back.” Then I realized my brother probably had his cell phone with him so I called HIM. He answered pleasantly. “Where are you?” I asked. “Out in the back yard listening to the car radio,” he said. “I'm waiting for you.” Dad has two driveways. We'd come up different ones. We didn't see my brother's car. Out I went with some sense of relief, matched with even greater relief by my sister-in-law. “Mom thought you had an accident,” my nephew said. “She was getting ready to come looking for you.” I gave him the box of ornaments. He opened one and thought they were nice. (They are all miniature snow globes.) He was glumly bemoaning the fact that his brother, with wife and baby, had not stopped at the house. He said even if the baby was fussy and needed a nap his mother could take him home and maybe his brother could still stop over. He didn't want to bother his brother at the in-laws' house so he didn't call, but you could tell he was glum.

I was hoping we'd have good luck getting Ma back to the Home. I thought it should probably be sooner rather than later. My brother went down to the cellar for something and yelled “What are all these tapes here?” “What do you mean?” my sister-in-law yelled down. “What tapes? I'm trying to clean that cellar out, who's putting tapes down there?” “What kind of tapes?” I asked. “8-track, I think,” my brother said as he came back up the stairs. No one has seen an 8-track tape in my family for decades. “Did your FATHER put them there?” asked my sister-in-law with some vehemence. She sent my nephew down to bring them up. They were not 8-tracks, they were videocassettes and I recognized them as having been in a box in a cupboard in our old house, all right. They were an eclectic collection, to be sure: “Daffy Duck,” “Rogaine-Taking Control of Your Hair Loss,” “Barbados, A Travelogue,” “Bruce Almighty,” and something to do with putting a stop to the fur industry.

I had one nerve left by now and started scurrying around dumping leftovers willy-nilly onto a plate so I could have some later and said we ought to get Ma back. Getting her DOWN the cement steps proved measurably more difficult than getting her UP, even with four of us. At the last minute by the car door Ma, my brother, and my sister-in-law got tangled up in the walker and Ma started sliding precariously out of my brother's arms. I yelled for my nephew to jump into the driver's side and grab her and pull her into the car. She was completely out of breath and wheezing loudly. I was frightened. “You want my inhaler?” I said. She shook her head no. “Let's go,” she managed to say. It sounded like she was trying to breathe underwater. Halfway to the Home the spare O2 tank in the trunk fell over, emitting an ear-splitting alarm which we did not stop to correct. We just got her to the Home and dragged her out of the car and into the wheelchair. I pushed her back to her room and told the nurse she needed her nebulizer. They got it, quickly.

We waited a few minutes. When things settled down a little, we uneasily left. Per usual I had forgotten to leave my front light on and it wasn't easy getting out and unloading the car. At least I would have some leftover creamed onions and that green bean casserole later, right? Half right. I grabbed the glass bowl of beans in the back seat with my left hand, transferred it to my right and it smoothly slid over the sleeve of my jacket to smash into smithereens in the driveway. At least the tenants' guest had vacated the spot. And though I have swept all the glass to the border of the driveway so no one will get a flat tire, I am waiting for it to rain to wash all that freaking cream of mushroom soup away before I clean it.

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