My Mother’s Not Cognitively Impaired, Just Old

I spent yesterday in a rush of care-taking. Not for Ralph but for my mother. This morning while I was in Atlanta buying wine for my daughter’s wedding, the nursing home called to say my mother needed to go to a hospital emergency room because her Coumadin levels would not go down. So I rushed to the nursing home (almost an hour away), then followed the ambulance to the hospital, another forty-five more minute drive, where she was admitted to the ER.  At around 4:30, while they were running tests, I drove home to check on Ralph,  drop off the wine that was sitting in my hot car, and grab an apple since I missed lunch.

I got back to the ER in less than an hour, at 5:30 on the dot, but Mom was furious, sure I had been gone for hours.

Two hours later the doctor came by to say her levels were back to normal and her overall health looked good. So I followed another EMT vehicle back to the nursing home, stopping at Arby’s so I could pick up Mom’s favorite dinner before heading back to the farm where Ralph was already asleep.

It was a long day but throughout my mother was as alert and lively as she’s been in over a year. At 96, she is bedridden, can’t hear or see very well but has a memory more intact than Ralph’s. She does suffer bouts of confusion, seeing people who aren’t there in what I consider heightened daydreams.  I would daydream heavily too if I were as bored as she seems to be. At the ER, she was thrilled both by the attention she was receiving and all the emergency room activity going on in front her. Her major worry was  that I wasn’t home to make Ralph’s supper. So when we got the upbeat results I called him and handed her the phone so she could tell him the good news.

During the nine years my mother lived with us, she and Ralph developed more of a relationship than they’d had during the previous 24 years of my marriage during which Ralph sensed she never fully approved or accepted him. He was probably right. Still he was a good sport when my she moved in. He wasn’t thrilled at giving up our privacy (and neither was I) but I think he was a little proud of being the only one strong enough to get her up—she is not a small woman—when she fell as she did more and more frequently toward the end of her stay.

I decided last fall that she needed to go into a nursing facility, in part because she was requiring more care than we could offer at home even with full-time caregivers, but also because Ralph had been diagnosed by then and I wasn’t sure what he was going to need from me. (Of course, I didn’t mention that reason to Ralph or even fully articulate it to myself.) At first Ralph was all for the move but as it approached, he began to question my decision. It was as if he were beginning to identify with her. Still, in the end, after a particularly scary event involving a 911 call,  everyone in the family agreed that she had to be moved.

Ralph and my mother have not  seen each other since she entered the nursing home. And they won’t see each other as long as she’s there, in other words for the rest of her life. He does not need to smell the hallways and see the patients lolling sideways in wheel chairs, talking to themselves,  staring into space or grabbing at everyone who passes. He does not  need to peek into the half-lit rooms like the one where my mother lies dozing most of the day. His unspoken fears about his future are strong enough.

As Ralph puts it, “it’s too depressing.”

Still, he asks me daily if she seems happy, and I always answer yes, she does.

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