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Su Lum: Update on Doris

Over the holidays, my 95-year-old friend Doris Barlow was rather abruptly removed from Castle Creek Terrace (she called it “The Home”) to the care of her daughters, Sally and Elsa, in California.

Doris had, over the past months, become increasingly delusional and would wander out in the night looking for imaginary lost cats. The last time I saw her she told me that her real cat, Suki, was an impostor cat because her cat wouldn’t hide from her and this one did.

To prove it, she took a broom and whacked it under the couch to drive the imposter out for my inspection. I imagined Suki shrinking from the broomstick in the farthest corner of the couch and thought, “Oh, Doris.”

The sad truth is that out senior facility isn’t equipped for borderline people like Doris, who are not quite ready for a nursing home but too far gone for assisted living. Expansion of Castle Creek Terrace should be our next town project.

Most of the time, Doris was rational and self-sufficient. She made up her bed every morning, and walked three times a week to and from The Home to Cardiac Rehab at the hospital, the exercise class we both attended, the highlights of her week.

Doris would get on the treadmill and truck along until someone would notice that the machine was set to a grade of EIGHT, similar to climbing one of those vertical hills in San Francisco.

Circulation problems had turned her legs almost black; the slightest bump (or cat scratch) would cause them to swell up like dark purple balloons, but Doris, like the Energizer Bunny, kept on going. “At least I can still walk,” she often said.

The move to California was disorienting. Any major move, at any age, is disorienting, but an abrupt move at 95 is especially difficult.

The good news was that, after a period of “adjustment” (translate: bewilderment, anger, confusion), Doris settled in. At Elsa’s house, she had her chair by the fire and Elsa’s cat at her side, and was beginning to think this wasn’t so bad after all.

When I talked to her on the phone, she said she was being very well cared for by two extremely nice women, not sure, exactly, who they were, but she had known them for a long time.

The bad news is that two weeks ago she fell and spiraled her femur: five hours in the ER, followed by emergency surgery, a week in the hospital zonked on morphine, and is now in a rehab facility for an estimated two to six weeks.

The good news is that the prognostication is she will be able to recover. It is a bad fracture of the largest bone in her body, but I was surprised to hear that it would have been even worse if she’d broken her hip. So keep your fingers crossed for Doris; may she be back on her feet again.

We went to lunch together every Saturday for three years, went to just about every restaurant in town (her favorite was The Little Nell). Now, on Saturday morning, I find I don’t know what to do with myself.

[Su Lum is a longtime local who misses her. This column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.]


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