VIOLA - Mom is slumped in a hospital bed that seems all wrong for her tender body. The bed curves forward in a cruel smile. I try pulling her up so her head rests on the pillow. Her body is weak from disuse and she’s unable to help me. After the third attempt, she is too tired to try again, nor does she care. I pull her wheelchair closer to the bed and sit in it to hold her thin, warm hand.
The room is stifling hot. No sunlight penetrates the curtain that separates my mom from her roommate, whose bed is near the window. My mom lies on her back, her eyes closed, her hands tucked into the waistband of her sweatpants, her mouth constantly moving as she drifts off to sleep. Next to the bed is an end table with a lamp I can’t turn on. The dark is pressing in on us.
I find an aide in the hall who tells me she needs to help someone else, but comes into my mom's room to have a look anyway. She finds the lamp unplugged but no outlet to plug it into. My stomach sinks further till I fear it will fall out between my legs.
Mom broke her arm in a fall and now she’s in a care center. She wants to be anywhere but here. I, along with the rest of the family, want her to be anywhere but here. But, it’s a done deal. The place we'd like Mom to be has refused to admit her, saying they can’t do anything more for her than the care center she is currently at.
It’s a nice way of saying that the last time my mom fell and went there, she refused to do the physical therapy. When they tried to make her do it, she told anyone and everyone where to go. Now she is blacklisted there, and she is busy telling everyone at the current rehab place where they can go. She’s not suggesting anywhere pleasant.
Mom, age 92, lived independently in her own apartment with her own furnishings. But she caught her walker on a throw rug, fell, and broke her dominant arm. If she can’t use that arm, she can’t push her walker. She doesn’t have the strength (or balance) for a cane, and lying in bed telling everyone where they can go has made her lose the strength she once had.
Getting old isn’t easy. I’m also learning it’s not kind. The rehab center is full of overworked and underpaid help. If my mom wants assistance to the bathroom, she needs clairvoyance to predict her situation at least 30 minutes in advance. Therefore Mom, who until this incident lived alone and managed all her calls of nature perfectly well, is now in diapers.
I try to stay positive to encourage Mom to do her physical therapy, but it isn’t working. Lying in bed, pretty much helpless, she can still wear me down. One minute, she claims she does everything they tell her to do; the next, the social worker or the therapist is pulling me aside to say, “She refuses to do anything we ask.”
Part of me wants to scream, “She’s 92! Let her do whatever she damn pleases.” The other part of me yells back, “Darn it, Mom, please, do your therapy, so we can get you home.”
But, there’s the problem. At the age of 92, after lying in a bed for over five weeks and not doing the therapy they prescribe, will she ever be able to live independently again? Probably not. And I can feel my heart break in a thousand pieces as I return her to the care center after her one-month check-up after the fall.
“Don’t take me back there, Janie. I hate it there. Take me home. I’ll kill myself if you take me back there.”
There’s no way to pacify her, but I try. “Mom, the doctor said you can go ahead and put weight on your arm. If you work with the physical therapist to get stronger, you’ll be able to go home,” I lie.
I don’t think all the therapy in the world will make up for the days of being sedentary. The stress of her fall and hospitalization, followed by the trauma of being in the care center, has played havoc with her razor-sharp mind. Or maybe she hit her head when she fell. The initial examination revealed no head trauma, but who really knows? She was alone when she fell and pushed the help button on her wrist.
Getting old isn’t easy. I wish it was at least humane.