>Pushing the Right Buttons

>I’ve been writing about my mother for over a year now. She’s almost eighty-one, and has had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s for several years. After my father died in 1998, I began to visit her (in Jackson, Mississippi) more frequently, and eventually began doing her taxes and other bookkeeping. Thankfully, while she was still thinking clearly, she made me Durable Power of Attorney and put my name on her bank account and investment account, so that I could manage everything for her more smoothly. Several people who are just beginning to take care of aging parents have asked me about various aspects, and this is one thing I strongly recommend, if the parent(s) are open to it. Especially where Alzheimer’s is concerned.

When I moved mother to an assisted living home in February of 2006, I took her to the bank first and we opened a second joint checking account. I gave her a debit card and a checkbook for this account only, and I put $200 in it, so she could have a little money when the shuttle took her to the drug store or other errands. By watching her account online, I could transfer money from her main account whenever she needed it. All her bills have been coming to me in Memphis (or automatically drafted from her account) for the past three years, which makes the financial end of things fairly simple. If only the physical, mental and emotional aspects were so easy!

I watch her disappear into her own world and little bit more with each visit to her nursing home. Since October, those visits have been almost weekly, but now that she’s settling in, I’m comfortable with making the trip every two-three weeks. My most recent visit was yesterday:

First I called Marzelle, Mom’s physical therapist, to let her know I was coming, so she wouldn’t schedule Mom’s PT during my visit. I love Marzelle—like Sondra, my favorite sitter for Mom, Marzelle is from South Africa. I’m not sure what the connection is, but both of these women are so compassionate. Anyway, Marzelle was glad I called, because she wanted to tell me a story:

“Yesterday your Mom got up on the wrong side of the bed. She was grumpy and wouldn’t cooperate with me at all, and even snapped at me angrily. Another resident who was in the PT room at the same time noticed her behavior, and later I saw them talking in the hallway, their wheelchairs side by side.

“The next time I ran into your mom, she stopped me and said, ‘Oh, I want to apologize for being so mean to you earlier. You are always so nice to me, and I don’t know why I was so mean. Please forgive me.’

“I was flabbergasted…. She seemed so lucid, to remember her behavior, and to genuinely ask forgiveness. Of course I told her I didn’t take it personally, I knew she was having a difficult time, etc. And then she went back to being her usual cheerful self. She’s wheeling up and down the halls all the time now, smiling at everyone, and going into people’s rooms to talk with them.”

What amazed me about this is that I don’t ever remember Mom acknowledging her own meanness, and there was plenty of it over the years. She’s always related on a superficial level, at least with me. She’s always given the appearance of being in control of her emotions. When I told a friend about this, she said maybe it’s too painful for my mother to be in touch with her feelings, so she’s always coped with this superficial personality. I think there’s some truth to that. When I was growing up, she was always either extremely cheerful or bitingly critical, nothing in between. (I think I have those same tendencies, and have to work on just being real.) Her father was overly strict, and I even suspect he might have abused her, as he did me, when I was very young. The sins of the fathers….

Anyway, I found Mom in the hall near her room and we went into her room to visit. I took her some cookies from MacAllister’s Deli (her favorite) which she gobbled up, and a pretty “suncatcher” which I attached to her window. She pointed to things in her room, like the calendar on the wall, and said, “I’ve been writing down some dates and trying to get things in order.” Then she pointed to a stack of newspapers on her tray and said, “And I’ve been doing some reading… you know—to understand the directions about where to go and when and all that.”

After a few minutes, Marzelle found us and asked Mom if she wanted to show me how much progress she’s making with her walking. She brought the walker into the room and helped Mom to her feet. Out in the hall, she took a few steps (see photo) and then pushed the walker away and said, “Someone else can have a turn now.” She started to walk on her own (which her hip can’t sustain yet) and Marzelle caught her and put her hands back on the walker.
“I can walk whenver I want to!” Mom exclaimed. She still has no idea that she broke her hip or needs help.

Later we meet up with Charles, the fifty-something man who is in the nursing home because of a stroke…. His mind is clear and he rides around in a motorized wheelchair, but his speech is difficult to understand.

“My computer is broken,” I finally understand him to say, as he and Mom and I are visiting in the hall near the door to his room, which is full of books, a TV, desk, computer and lots of photos of him with friends. It saddens me that he’s stuck in a nursing home, his mind trapped in a body that won’t work. I always try to visit with Charles each time I’m there.

Mom starts waving her hands around in the air, and then points with her index finger as though she’s pushing an imaginary keyboard and says, “Well, when you get old like us, you just have to keep pushing all the buttons until one works.” Charles and I exchanged looks, smiled, and then broke out laughing. You just have to laugh.

Later we go out onto the patio (it’s 70 degrees on January 9!) where it’s sunny and the birds are at the feeders and there’s a nice breeze. Mom begins to point to the doors to each wing that opens onto the patio—the dining room, the physical therapy room, and the doors to the main lobby.

“Those doors are probably locked, which is fine with me. I don’t want to buy anything today.”

“What do you buy in there, Mom?”

“Oh… sometimes there’s coffee, but they’re still working on that part….” And then she looks at her hands and points to her fingernails and adds, “And I’ve been trying to get them all even but I don’t want to paint them right now so I keep telling them just to keep them even.” Her nails are a nice length, obviously clipped and filed recently. Her hair is shoulder-length, for the first time in probably about fifty years. The beautician at the nursing home will cut and perm Mom’s hair, if she will let her.

“Your hair looks pretty, Mom. Have you decided not to get it cut any more?”

“Oh, I just haven’t been in the mood.”

About then the Director of Social Services and another woman who works in the front office come out onto the patio for a smoke. They are sitting on a bench near the back side of the patio, and Mom starts “paddling” (making the wheelchair go with her feet) towards them, so I follow along beside her.

“Hi!” Mom says.

“Hi Miss Effie,” they reply.

“This is my daughter.” Of course they already know me, since I’ve been there almost weekly for the past three months. “She doesn’t come to see me very often.” My inner child wants to say, “Oh, yes I do, Mom! I’m a Good Daughter!” But I just smile and we keep moving.

A group of residents has gathered around a nearby table with the perky recreational director bringing in a short basketball goal and ball and starts getting some of them to play.

“Do you want to go and visit with them, Mom?” I ask.

“Oh, no. They’re always here. Let’s go back inside.”

We enter the lobby and Mom says, “Let’s go down this way.” So I go along with her to the transitional care unit, where the physical therapy room is. On the way down the hall she looks into every room, waving and speaking to everyone. In one room a woman about my age is standing beside her mother’s bed and Mom wheels into the doorway so I follow. The woman has something wrong with her legs and can’t walk, but her mind is clear, so I introduce Mom and me and she and her daughter do the same. Then the woman asks, “How long have you been here?”

Mom stares blankly, so I answer for her, “Mom came here on November 15, after two hip surgeries. Before that, she lived at Ridgeland Pointe Assisted Living for about three years.”

With that answer, Mom touches my arm and says, “But I’ve been knowing her all her life.”

We visit a few minutes, then head up to the front lobby, where there’s a nice view of the park next door with the huge pine trees. Mom wheels up beside a couch, so I sit on the couch, and she hands me a copy of a glossy home decorating magazine and says, “Here, I think you might enjoy this. If you’re ready for bed, you can just take it with you to your room. Are you tired?”

“No, Mom, I’m fine. I just want to visit with you for a while.”

“Well, I need to go down the hall and check on something. You just rest here with your magazine and I’ll see you later.” With that she turned and headed away from me, down the hall towards her room. I got up and watched her, as she stopped to talk with people along the way, and looked into the dining room, where coffee and donuts would be served at 3 p.m. I realized then that she had just brought me into her new world. I had become another resident there. One who might enjoy a magazine, or might need a nap. My eyes filled with tears, and I realized that it might not be long before she wouldn’t know me at all when I arrive for a visit. So I hurry after her and give her a hug and kiss and say, “Bye, Mom. I’ve got to go now. I’ll be back soon!”

In the past, whenever I would be leaving her, she would protest a bit, saying, “Oh, do you have to go already?” But this time, she just waved her hand in the air and said, “I’ll see you in a little while. I’ve got to take care of something else right now.” And there she was, off to try and figure out how to push the right buttons….

[Note: If you haven’t been following my posts about my mom, these are the links to most of the ones I’ve written in the past year or so. Just click on the title that interests you to read the post. Then close it and return to the current post to continue. Thanks for reading!]

Bingo December 2008

The Purse November 2008
If Mama Ain’t Happy November 2008
HER Mother’s Keeper October 2008
My Mother’s Keeper October 2008
Unhappy Chairs September 2008
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