Dispatches from Princeton Towers: Heartache, Decisions, and Dog Therapy
Today was Mom’s three-month doctor’s appointment with Dr. Ballio, her beautiful and kind geriatric physician. Mom has been in a lot of pain- her body is full of arthritis- and just getting her into the car and to the doctor’s office on Birmingham’s bumpy roads was a challenge, as every jostle caused her to yell out in pain.
Mom met with the nurse first, who checked her weight and vitals. Her weight is down substantially- even with all of the extra treats she’s had of late. Her vitals, however, were spot on as they always are. Mom always complains about her perfect vitals, saying, “The doctor sees that and thinks nothing is wrong with me!” My mother, ever the hypochondriac, always believes there is something wrong. Bad wrong. There just has to be..
Dr. Ballio checked Mom and patiently listened and responded to her as she repeated the same stories she tells her at each visit…”You know, I was almost burned to death at three years of age…I know my leg, and there is something bad wrong with it, no matter what anyone says….Why am I still alive after all these years?” At that last question, Dr. Ballio gives a wry laugh and assures Mom that she can’t answer her that, except to say that she’s glad she’s still here.
I noticed the look of concern on Dr. Ballio’s face as she finished her examination and began to speak, “I am seeing some pretty strong signs that Ms. Williams won’t be able to live on her own for very much longer. It’s time to start thinking about assisted living or a nursing home.”
Mom’s head dropped, and she immediately began to plea, “I love my home at Princeton Towers- I don’t want to move! The people are so good to me, and I’m so happy there.” Her voice began to break.
At this point, the big lump of tears in my throat began to release. I always do my best never to cry in front of Mom, but this time there was nothing I could do, and the tears streamed freely down my face. I took my glasses off and discreetly wiped my eyes the best I could. I told Dr. Ballio that we didn’t have many options- Mom is on a very low fixed income, I’m a teacher, and my siblings are not able to help. Princeton Towers was a life saver for us. We tried having Mom live in our home, but with all of the stairs, she had several bad falls- it just wasn’t safe for her. She nodded knowingly and discussed some possible options. “I am a big believer in planning for the inevitable, rather than waiting until the train is completely off the tracks.” She hugged us both and told us she loved us.
She is right. It is time to look for that next step for my mother, who has already moved five times in the past few years, losing a little piece of herself each time, and who will turn ninety-three on October 5th. I want to do everything in my power to help her have a good quality of life until the end, but sometimes my helplessness feels like a huge weight on my chest that I can’t escape. It’s on me, and I have to find a way to make it all work. I’m not complaining – I want to help her. I just often feel overwhelmed and unprepared for what I know is coming our way.
As we left the doctor’s office, we were both quiet at first. Mom wiped away some tears and finally said, “That’s enough of that silliness!” I took her straight to the drive through at Sonic to get her a medicinal chocolate milkshake, a small cheeseburger, and some tater tots (her favorite). She began to talk…
“I really think this is my last year in this old world, Neese. I just can’t live with this pain much longer…I just can’t. Make sure that Theresa (her favorite home health care nurse) gets my snowman collection. She really loves them, and she’s been so good to me…”
As she continued, my reflex was to jump in with, “Oh, Mom, you’re going to be just fine!” But I stopped myself. This is all getting real. My mother has told me since I was twelve years old that she is going to die soon. She’s now ninety-two. It’s time for me to let her say everything she needs to say to me about what she wants. I see the pain in her face, I notice the more and more frequent memory slips, I see how difficult it is for her to walk on the walker and dress herself. I don’t want her to feel less than, or to feel like she is holding on just for me and my sister. Whether she lives one more month or ten more years, I want her to feel loved and respected.
I want to listen to her. This means being Denise the adult caregiver, not Denise the scared little girl who has always lived in fear of losing her mother. Where did the time go?
On the way home, I pulled into our garage so that I could bring the dogs to see Mom as she sat in the car. She was so happy to touch them, talk to them, let them lick her hands in their excitement. A little dog therapy is always good for the soul. We headed to Princeton Towers a little lighter in mood.
I got her settled into her lift chair and brought her some pain medication and water. She told me she just wanted to sleep for a while and have the pain go away. I hugged her and kissed the top of her head as she took my hand…
“Neese, I love you so much. I really appreciate all you do for me. You know that, don’t you?”
I hugged her again and walked to the door.
“Neese, just one more kiss, okay?”
Yes Ma’am, of course. Love you, Momma.