January 17, 2010

For the first time ever, I’ve spent the whole day with Mom at the nursing home. I usually visit barely an hour before fleeing. But she’s just been placed in the home’s hospice program for patients who are expected to live six months — or less. And that news has miraculously endowed me with tender patience.

“We’ve been waiting 30 years for this so we’re ready,” my sister said not-very-convincingly.

Our 92-year-old mother, the Goddess of Guilt, has been ravaged by diabetes. This chronic disease does ugly things to the circulation. About two decades ago, her eyes faded until she couldn’t read anymore. Then she started tottering on swollen feet and needed a wheelchair. Along with physical deterioration came mental erosion and a series of strokes. With every setback, Mom carried on like she was dying. To console her, we’ve always dropped everything  to be by her side.

Mom in her room

So here we are again. Except there’s virtually nothing left of the woman who holds a doctorate in chemistry and was our family breadwinner. There isn’t much of her, period. Mom has become a tiny, bone-y troll who weighs in at less than 100 pounds. Plus, her liver is shutting down; she has jaundice. Oh, and she’s been  diagnosed this week with Hepatitis-A. We couldn’t go in her room until we snapped on rubber gloves and a yellow hospital gown.

Even though Mom’s been in this upstate nursing home for six years, I’ve never seen her full routine. Until today. From 9 a.m. on, I watched the nurses change her diaper and the dressing on her nasty bed sore. They “washed” her with disposable, pre-packaged moist towels, applied body lotion, called her “honey,” took her temperature and cleaned the catheter attached to her pee bag.

Mom slept a lot. Once, she woke and asked me to hold her hand. I should’ve been wearing gloves but, shhhh. Don’t tell on me. Jaundice has turned her so yellow that my skin looked rosy red next to hers.

Mom’s food is all pureed

I enjoyed feeding Mom today. Since she has only a few teeth left, all her food is pureed. She’s not interested in much except for the sweets. The old diabetic still loves dessert and anything chocolate.

There was something else very different about being with her. The hospice folks have been talking to me about music therapy, that it might comfort her to her melodies that soothe her. Which makes sense. How much more blaring TV can any of us stand? Thanks to that suggestion, I brought a boom box to her room.

Mom used to love classical but the Chopin CD I played for her didn’t go over too well. “Why is there so much noise?” she complained when she woke to the sound of crashing piano chords. a little Sarah Vaughn fared better. “Very sentimental,” she said approvingly.

But you know what? The CDs helped me too. So does having my laptop with me to pass the time. I would never have lasted all day without them. Why didn’t I ever think to bring them here before???!

At the moment, we’re playing Frank Sinatra tunes. My daughter and niece are having an after-dinner chat with Mom. Grandma has just asked how my niece’s husband is doing. The dear child is now trying to convince Grandma that she’s at age 12, she’s much too young to be married. We’re glad to laugh — or else we’d be crying.

Mom & me, holding hands.