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A progress report

Su Lum

“I sure wish I could meet your mother,” said a stranger standing next to me in the Wheeler Opera House elevator. “How’s your mom doing?” ask friends, co-workers and readers.

The answer is: Not great but, as she readily points out, it could be a lot worse. She’s among loving family members, caretakers and friends, in her own home with plenty of books, a wall of plants in her room and blooming flora outside – that’s the good part.

The bad part is that a series of heart attacks have weakened her so much that she is completely helpless which, understandably, she hates. She doesn’t complain, much less bitch about it, but she hates it.

Before, she could at least be wheeled to the shower and helped over the lip onto a shower chair. It might seem like a slim nuance, the difference between a shower and a sponge bath, but put in the context of two daily pleasures: reading and taking a shower, losing the shower meant losing half of them.

Barbara, my mother’s visiting hospice nurse, has arranged for a home health-care worker to come down three times a week to assist the Jamaican caretaker in getting her into the shower (“It’s easy with two,” she said), solving that problem.

Meanwhile, my mother had been worried about her eyes. She didn’t have any symptoms or signs – she could still read 6-point print (that of legal notices), and was having a little trouble reading the spines of books across the room but she was concerned that glaucoma or macular degeneration might be sneaking up on her.

“When that’s the only part of you that’s working, you worry about it,” she said. The eyes (reading) were really more like 99 percent of her reason for living, with showers the icing on the cake. Last week my sister, brother-in-law and the caretakers loaded her into the car, took her to the ophthalmologist who whisked her in and out, then back into the car and jiggity jog back home to bed.

No eye disease, and she could read his smallest line of type. He said he could give her a magnification prescription for looking at book spines from a distance, but he didn’t think she should bother.

An unnecessary visit? No way! My mother was elated, and that was good news.

No gastroenterologist – and she’s been to the best – has ever been able to diagnose my mother’s “stomach troubles.” The best guess is that adhesions, following radiation after a hysterectomy for uterine cancer when my mother was in her 70s, blocked anything going through her intestinal tract. Suffice to say, her daily diet was gradually whittled down over the years to ginger ale and five containers of Ensure. Boring, but not the end of the world.

When my mother called me to report that she had been drinking PINEAPPLE juice, I couldn’t have been more astonished if she had told me she’d been imbibing battery acid.

No one ever thought that my mother’s diet could be expanded, but when we got to New Jersey she was drinking pineapple juice, cranberry juice, eating vanilla yogurt and was on the verge of chicken broth.

Different food (suggested by Barbara) was so out of the question it wasn’t even on the list of possible life improvements – an unexpected bonus which she is thoroughly enjoying.

Anyway, my Mom says hi. She is touched that faraway people care about her, and likes to joke, “I’m FAMous in ASpen!”

Su Lum is a longtime local who doesn’t want to hang around this overrated planet for 30 more years but wishes her mother could live forever. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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