My Energizer mom’s latest
August 23, 2005
A couple of weeks ago my sister Erkie and my brother-in-law Hal left for their annual vacation in Maine, after a flurry of emergencies getting my almost 99-year-old mother and her Jamaican caretakers squared away prior to their month-long absence: laying in supplies, dealing with the house painters, replacing air conditioners that went out during the height of the heat wave.Not long after they departed, my niece Kathy called to say that my mother had had a stroke. Over the years, my mother has had a series of what they call “little strokes,” when her speech would suddenly turn into total gibberish and she’d be very tired and mostly sleep for a few days, after which she’d be back more or less where she was, often commenting that each of these episodes constituted a further whittling of her capacities, a small step backward.But this was a stroke of a larger magnitude. When her caretaker, Carol, came into her bedroom that morning she knew at once that something was definitely wrong – my mother couldn’t talk at all, the right side of her face and the right side of her body were paralyzed.Kathy, a registered nurse, opined that the damage was probably permanent and the prospect of that for my mother was horrible to contemplate. Already bedridden and totally dependent for her most basic needs, now she, a right-hander, wouldn’t even be able to turn the pages of her books and newspapers, couldn’t reach for her cup of Ensure, couldn’t even call out for help or ring the cowbell to summon her caretakers. Shit! Either send a lightning bolt or lay off her, goddamnit!When I called, Carol said that when she was trying to feed my mother on the left side of her mouth and it dribbled out the right she had managed to say, “Oh, HELL!” which told me she was still in there but not liking it one bit.Imagine my surprise when, sick at heart, I called a few days later asking about my mother and Carol said, “Oh, she fine!” “Fine?” “Yes, she fine – she’s reading ‘er paper and watching TV.” “What about the paralysis?” “All gone – here, I’ll put ‘er on the phone,” Carol said, and I proceeded to have a more coherent conversation with my mother than I’d had in months.A retired doctor friend of mine thought that the stroke had been in the form of a blood clot, which then dissolved on its own.I’ve always respected my mother’s determination never to go to a hospital again, that no matter what happens no one is to call 911. She made that decision about five years ago, not wanting any intervention or artificial prolonging.In that half-decade there were probably a dozen episodes that would have sent an ambulance screaming to the house to pack her off to the ICU – this was certainly one of them – and that the stress of being stripped, probed, tested and overmedicated would probably have done her in. The irony is that she didn’t want a hospital to keep her from dying, but avoiding the hospital is what is keeping her alive. If she had her full wits about her, I think she’d find that very funny. As it was, she dozed through the incident while nature worked its wondrous ways and, as ironies go, this was a good one.Su Lum is a longtime local who is continually amazed. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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