Crisis II: Reprise

Mama is back in the hospital with another bowel obstruction. After a whirling dervish of a morning Tuesday—according to M, her caregiver—she started feeling unwell. By evening she was vomiting, the ambulance had been called, and I was driving down I-5 24 hours early from my weekly Gigi-nanny gig that only just began last week after a year off.


No one really knows what caused the recurrence I don’t think, but my uninformed theory is she was too active. 100-year-olds should possibly not be going to two grocery stores, the farmer’s market, bank, post office, and wherever else they went, in one morning.  Mama doesn’t cotton to her uppity daughter telling her it’s too much, so I kept quiet when I saw her long list. Last week when I suggested she should have followed the instruction to ask for help going to the bathroom her first night post hospital, she slid down a rabbit hole of depression and became very needy for the next several days. I guess she gets to decide what she does. If it kills her, so be it. I just hope it doesn’t kill me and Rebecca first.

We interviewed a potential additional caregiver, J, Saturday, for at least temporary duty. She was to begin Tuesday when I was in Seattle and Rebecca had an event at her store. Mama’s first question of her—as I predicted—was “Can you cook? Her other caregiver,” she explained, “grew up with a maid and therefore didn’t learn to cook.” I wanted to ask her why I didn’t learn to cook. There was no maid in my house. Mama told J she needs someone to cook dinner. “Are you firing me?” I asked, unable to to hold my tongue. It would thrill me no end, but seems impractical, to say the least. She ignored me.

We changed M’s hours this week so that she can get Mama’s breakfast for her. She told me she couldn’t eat Michelle’s first attempt at Malt-o-Meal and she wanted to go back to my measuring it and her cooking it. She hadn’t been able to cook it herself, and had wanted me to do it. I am not here the four mornings M comes, this was the solution we agreed to. I got angry, I’m sorry to say. Instead of listening behind the words, understanding that she just doesn’t like to give up on herself, I shouted at her that she needed to give Michelle a chance. (I don’t think I used the “f” word.)

The thing is, any five-star cook could follow her instructions to the letter and it won’t taste good to her because her taste buds and the taste part of brain are shot. Her memory holds her tastes—accurate or not—and nothing ever measures up. After eating Malt-o-Meal with brown sugar and maple for months—a smell that makes me gag when I measure it out—last week she said they had changed how they make it and it’s now too sweet. Like sugarplum fairies came in the middle of the night and added sugar to the half-used box.

I know it’s old age and dementia, and if she would cop to something approaching that understanding I could deal with it. But it’s never that. It’s the cook, low-quality ingredients, the wrong brand. Michelle told me Mama had told her the cereal she made was perfect. She was probably remembering my screw up the week before. To tell her that elicits a “you are the one forgetting” response. All the understanding in the world doesn’t help me not feel like my soul is being sucked out of me.


Monday night I tried to help Mama decide when the new caregiver should arrive on Tuesday. I knew the new situation would have a better chance of success if she felt in charge—I have learned a thing or two in the past four years—but as she counted hours on her fingers and asked clarifying questions over and over, I could see on her face the impossibility of figuring it all out. After 20 minutes, I gently asked if she would like me to make the decision. “My brain seems to be worn out,” she said, close to tears. “It’s been working hard for you for a really long time,” I said; “it’s okay to accept help.” I could tell she wasn’t buying it, but she said okay. She immediately wanted me to call the young man who reads to her to come the same day. I told her I thought it was a really bad idea—with a new caregiver coming and she hating to crowd her day with too many people—but she was insistent. I’m sure it was because after I made a decision for her, she had to push back. And she ended up in the E.R.

As I sat on Monday holding a sleeping baby (who also needs to poop), I suddenly felt the change in the mother who once held the infant me. I’ve seen her forgetting more and more, but I don’t think I ever really felt it heart deep. She is desperately trying to hang onto control, onto memory, and she seems not to realize how much she forgets. It’s maddening. I mean it really is, because she blames others for her deteriorating brain. And it’s so sad to watch it happening.


And now the great news. The hospitalist today, like the two from our first visit two weeks ago, thinks she should be on hospice, for recurrent obstruction or something—I don’t even know or care. Whatever works. He pushed, the liaison changed his mind, the hospice doctor evaluated, and she is in. We’ll start with that, add the additional caregiver, and start looking at new homes for her future. Then see how it goes.

The calves that live in the valley below my house—below my open bedroom windows—must have been weaned on Sunday. They were bawling when I went to bed and carried on until I went to sleep. At 5:00, when I awoke, they were crying still. Weaning calves is done cold turkey. It’s time to wean Mama from me, but gradually, like humans do it.