Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Long And Winding Blog...A Saga in Two Parts...

I just got back from central IL yesterday, visiting Mom in the care facility...what an interesting weekend it's been, emotionally and physically. Due to its length, this blog will be in two parts...


I got to the facility (the nursing home, if you will--and I DID back in the 70s, when that's all it was and my school choir used to sing there among the seniors yelling at each other and biting) Friday at about 1:00. Mom had been speaking with one of the nurses, who was quizzing her on her address, phone number, etc. (her short term memory is mucho bad, still). She had a good afternoon session of physical therapy and they were happy with her (it was only her second day of that).

In my previous entry, I mentioned getting "tough" with her. And boy, this weekend, I was. Abundantly. She still won't eat much at all--they'll bring her tray and she'll take one or two bites and that's it. She has been drinking the health drink they give her three times a day, which is about 500 calories a serving, with 19 grams of fat and 23 grams of protein, so at least she's getting something, but she's being a real pain in the ass about food. When they say what they're bringing, she'll say it sounds good, but then when they actually bring it, she wrinkles her nose and won't eat it. The first time, I said, "Instead of sitting there making cute little faces, why don't you try actually eating it?"

"I can't eat all that," is her answer.

"You don't have to eat all of it, but you're going to eat some of it."

One of her nurses (her primary caregiver right now) turns out to have a family connection with us: she was once married to my Aunt Fay's nephew (the son of the sister she hates and only refers to as Fat Ass). So Sandy (not her real name) calls her Aunt Fay, too. And she hates Fat Ass with a passion. (They harrassed her after the divorce, flashing lights in her window in the middle of the night and making prank calls. Her father paid Fat Ass a visit and soon put a stop to it.) Fay's my mom's sister-in-law, so I'm not related to Fat Ass's son by blood, but I quickly grew to love Sandy as if she were family, which she will be by the time Mom gets out of there. Friday night, after another round of not eating (both Fay and I were cajoling with her), Sandy shut the door and gave Mom the queen mother of all "come to Jesus talks."

"You're 60 years old. Look around these halls--these other folks have to be here. They can't be independent anymore and they have no family--I'm the only family they have. You have a terrific family and you're strong enough to get better and do this on your own. You want to stay here? You want me to help you to the bathroom, feed your meals, wipe you? I'll do that because it's my job. But if you want to walk out that door on your own, you need to start eating. We'll bring you anything you want. But you gotta meet us halfway."

I silently applauded. Mom nodded really slowly, although I knew it was going to be a battle of wills to get food in her.


I was right--by Saturday afternoon, when her lunch came, we were back to square one. This is how it always happened:

Food arrives on tray. Mom says to me, "You want some of this?"

"No, Mom, I don't--that's your food, and you're going to eat it."

"I can't eat all this."

"Pick up your fork and start eating! I don't care if you don't finish it, but you will eat some of it."

Mom gives Aaron baleful look and takes two bites. Then stops.

"Fine, Mom...we'll sit here and take our time. But you'll finish at least one of those things."

She never did, of course. I thought, maybe it's the food. To be frank, some things weren't very appetizing. I tried them myself and knew that if I didn't have much appetite, this wouldn't exactly kick-start it. So I went across the street to her apartment and cooked some pasta and sauce and took it over to her.

She ate five bites. I smiled.

Saturday night, however, she wouldn't eat dinner again. I had gone to the dining room and gotten her some carrots, rice and a pork chopette (spelled "copette"). She ate one bite and refused anymore. I flipped my lid.

"What the hell's wrong with you?! Do you realize that you're not getting out of here unless you start eating and get strong enough to walk??" Another baleful Mom look.

"I just can't eat all that."

I was near tears of frustration at this point. Fortunately, Fay and my Uncle Jim were coming in around that time. Sandy was close behind and could see trouble was afoot.

"What's the matter, hon? You don't like it?"

She brought Mom a Rice Krispie treat and some strawberry ice cream. Mom turned to me and said "You want some of this?" All over again. And I knew it would never stop.

That did it. I started sputtering and stammering and said, "I'm going outside. I'm going outside for a minute, I'll be back." I stomped through the hallway and out the door and down to the end of the driveway, where I lit a cigarette and turned around and around like Blanche Hudson in her wheelchair. I turned to go back in and Fay was coming outside. "You OK?"

"I will be. I think I'm just going to stop fighting her on this. Maybe the Ritalin will make her hungry, but I'm just too tired to fight with her." We went back inside. Mom had nibbled at the Rice Krispie Treat and started on the ice cream, which she finished. It was a start. I started to realize that she doesn't remember from one minute to the next what she says until she's reminded...this accounts for the same problem every mealtime, I'm thinking...

We went back to her room and got her ready for bed. She asked me "Am I losing my mind?"

"No, mom...your chemo made you weak, you were really sick and didn't eat for about 6 weeks. You were getting IVs at the hospital, but weren't getting any calories. Your brain's gone into 'hibernate' mode, and you need to get built back up. That's why you need to eat."

She asked me about various family members. She clearly had no short-term memory of things that happened after about 1994. After we got her in bed, she asked me, "How's grandma?" Meaning Dad's mom, whom she stayed close with after the divorce.

"Well, grandma passed away a few years ago."

Mom was there when grandma died, but she didn't remember. So I got to watch her grieve all over again. Lovely.

I went to the local pizzeria/bar and had three beers and half a pack of cigarettes...



Anonymous Sarah said...

What a tough experience. Can your mom have ice cream in her health drink make it like a milk shake? Do you know what her comfort food is? Something she used to love as a kid? I dunno...my mom's best friend had her stomach removed this year and we're always trying to come up with stuff she can keep down so she puts weight on. It's difficult. When food becomes something that makes you ill you want to avoid it. Keep trying. You have to be her rock now.

12:55 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

She likes the health drink, thankfully (it tastes like a vanilla shake already), and I've also been giving her strawberry yogurt. I got her some frozen fruit bars, too, and she ate a whole one on Saturday. Since she seems to be getting stronger, I'm just going to let her do her thing for now...

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Ed said...

Your experience with your mom makes me both proud and sad. I know I have this to look forward too. Right now my BFF who was very sick took a turn for the worse when he fell out of bed and broke his hip. If I had only been there. Now he is in the hospital again, where I can't visit him, only relatives allowed. He was very foggy the last time we talked. I mentioned his need for side rails but the nurse just shrugged and walked away. It isn't a very good nursing home, I was surprised his family put him there.
Your mom still remembers some things which is great. My grandmother lost all memory and didn't know who I was or even her own daughter. We hate to loose those we love but know it is going to happen some day. You have time so be sure and tell your mom you love her even though she knows it deep inside. You'll feel better but still have an empty place. I still miss my nephew who died so unexpectedly last December. Oh, how I wish it could have been me instead.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

I do tell her I love her every day...it is hard to lose the ones we love, but I know they go to a better place. I hate apathetic nursing staff, too, but I've watched what they go through, and know how hard it must be. And the worse the home, the less they're getting paid, too...good ones are HUGELY expensive, though, and it could be that it's all they could afford.

1:24 PM  

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