On Tuesday, Mom and I made it to and from her doctor appointment in one piece. There we were, two gray-haired ladies rolling on down the highway. I managed my anxiety by taking deep cleansing breaths at every stop light. (I call it Lunatic Lamaze.) Traffic wasn't too bad and my alternate route thankfully didn't have any detour surprises.
As usual, Mom was amazed at all the cars on the road, "I think we should be in the gasoline business, don't you?"
And her opinion on roundabouts hasn't changed either, "I think they put these things in to make old people give up their licenses."
I think she may be right. Though we made it through the traffic circles with no incidents during rush hour, I'm still not certain everything I did was copacetic, but well, the car is back in the garage with no dents. That's an accomplishment, right?
"If you had a flat tire, where would you stop?" Mom asked. "There's no place to pull over and the cars are all going so fast. This is awful. I couldn't do it. I'd never find my way home, either."
"Well, let's hope we don't get a flat so we don't have to figure that out," I joked. "We're almost out of town now, won't be long before we're home."
I'd used the valet service at the hospital which worked like a charm. The valet came out, asked my last name and handed me the springy wrist band with the number tag. Mom waited obediently in the passenger seat until I opened her door for her. The valet asked if she needed a wheelchair and she responded with her usual, "No, I don't."
As we walked away from her Buick, Mom stopped in her tracks and wanted to know how I could leave the car sitting at the entrance. I explained about the valet service and she was a bit mollified, but still not so sure if I made a good deal. There I go again, swapping a Buick for a bracelet.
"And how do we get the car back?" she asked.
"I'll give him the bracelet and the man will go get our car."
"Really? How far do away do they have to park?"
"I don't know, I guess we'll ask them when we're done here."
"Do they get paid to park cars all day?"
"Yes, I do believe they do."
"I wouldn't want to do it."
We arrived in the vestibule and I stopped by the wheelchairs. After Monday's jaunt at Wal-Mart, I was curious if her attitude had softened toward the conveyances at all.
"Did you want to ride in a chair?" I asked, and when she didn't immediately say no, I attempted to unfold the closest one. I have to admit I've never dealt with wheelchairs before and the one I picked was a cantankerous unit; no amount of trying to pry the arms apart worked. There I was fighting with a wheelchair in front of a bunch of people waiting for their cars. I bet I looked great on the security cameras, too. Finally one of the valets took pity on me.
"Here, let me help you, oh, you don't want this one, this is for large people, I don't think you need an extra-wide wheelchair, do you?" the man smiled at Mom.
Mom said, "I don't know, maybe I'm bigger than I look," and she grinned back at him.
The smaller wheelchair was easier to open (I think I have that down pat now) but the leg rests were far too long for her. Mom didn't complain, it was good enough, "I'm not going to be in this thing that long."
Luckily after Monday's dry run, I remembered exactly where we had to go and headed straight for the elevator without asking anyone for directions. Since I'm a Nervous Nelly I often get turned around in unfamiliar areas and almost without fail in hospital settings.
Once again, Mom was impressed with my sense of direction, "How do you know where you're going? I wouldn't have any idea."
We arrived with ten minutes to spare at the receptionist's desk, took care of the co-pay and then retired to the waiting area to be called. Mom had a questionnaire to be filled out and I sat next to her and read all the questions.
"Do you have any of the following symptoms? Headaches, fainting, dizziness, coughing, rashes, bladder issues, bleeding......."
Mom's hearing has gotten progressively worse, so I had to read the questions quite loudly; thank goodness there were only two other people in the room. At the next set of questions, Mom laughed out right, "No, I don't have toothaches, I put my teeth in a glass at night. Yes, I do have cramps, but not 'those' kind. I'm a little old for that!"
While we were working on the health questionnaire a lady had come in and sat down near us. She seemed to be casually listening to our conversation and seemed a bit put off. I suppose I was talking too loudly, but there's no way to whisper to a person with hearing problems, is there?
A short time later a man arrived, choosing a seat across from the woman.
On a side note, I know I shouldn't do this, but when I'm in doctor's offices (or anywhere, really) I often wonder about other people's lives and personalities. The old adage about walking a mile in someone else's shoes is very true; we never know what other people are going through. Since I spend a lot of time in waiting rooms, I often hear bits and pieces of conversations. I don't try to eavesdrop, but I can't help hearing conversations a few feet away.
Anyway, back to the other two people in the waiting room; the lady was a loud talker which made it easy for Mom to hear, too.
"That sweater you're wearing makes you look fat," the lady told the man who had just arrived.
"Does it? The man looked down at his stomach in surprise. "I don't think so, it's only because of the way I'm sitting," he protested, rising up in his seat a bit and pulling the sweater down.
"I guess you're right, maybe it is just the way you were sitting. Now I guess it looks better, but looking at you before you moved, I was like, wow, you've got quite a pot belly on you. But now I see it was your posture. I guess you don't look as bad as I thought."
Mom and I were curious by this time; do they know each other? Surely she wouldn't say such a thing to a stranger, would she? Gosh, I hoped she wouldn't critique my apparel. Or my posture.
The lady went on, "Where was I? Oh, yeah, I was telling you about our visit to the farm. 'Those' people, oh my. The vernacular farmers use is; well, you know how they talk. It's really quite primitive."
The man agreed, and they both chuckled like old buddies. I noticed he was still sucking his gut in though.
Mom was openly staring at the pair, I know she heard the keyword 'farmer' because both of our heads swiveled at the same time. I was able to refrain from being too obvious, but Mom wasn't.
The lady glanced at my mother and then at me, dismissed us and said to the man, "So, what else is new in your world? Do tell me all about it."
"When I was taking my shower this morning, I bumped this darn thing," he said, rubbing his chest. "It really hurt; he's going to have to do something about that."
"Hmmmm...well, what can you do? You might just have to live with it, you know? Are you sure that sweater is the right size? I mean, you look nice, don't get me wrong..." but before she could finish her sentence, a nurse came into the waiting area and called the man's name.
The Sweater Fashion Victim got up immediately and scurried off with the nurse while the lady tried to get in her last two cent's worth, "At least the color is good on you, but I was thinking......"
He turned and waved at her and disappeared around the corner.
Luckily, another nurse called Mom's name almost simultaneously. I'm not certain if Mom could have contained her thoughts on the Fashionista Farmer/Sweater Critic if we'd had to sit there any longer. With old age comes the dreaded 'Filter Loss' wherein a person loses their ability to control what they say; much as a small child might make an obvious statement about someone without regard for the effect it may have. Couple 'Filter Loss-itis' with diminished hearing capacity and you end up with loudly whispered comments that weren't meant to be heard. I do my best to avoid conflicts.
I glanced at the Fashion Critic as I rolled Mom past in the wheel chair; she was a nice-looking lady, but most definitely not all that and a bag of chips. One thing was clear however, she really hadn't liked the guy's sweater.
I have to get used to pushing a wheelchair, though; I hit a chair and a side table on my way to the exam room.
"I think they should take your license away," Mom said.
Our nurse asked Mom if she could stand on the scale for her and was frankly a bit dazzled by the way Mom hopped up and onto the platform. 95.5 pounds. (With her shoes on.) We were ushered into the exam room and seated.
"This room looks just like the one in town," Mom said.
"Yes, it does, even the placement of the furniture is the same, " I agreed.
The nurse performed the perfunctory duties of blood pressure, pulse and temperature and then the cardiologist came in the room and greeted us. He spent some time looking at his computer as he asked Mom general health questions.
"How are you feeling?"
"Do you have any pain? Can you lie flat at night to sleep? "
Mom said, no, she felt good. Yes, she can lie on her back to sleep. I chimed in about her stomach issues and he nodded and shrugged. I know this is not his specialty, but he did listen.
He said, "It appears our work here is done. If you have any more problems down the road, talk to your GP and if need be, he can contact me. Looking at her past records, I have one question; Lucille, what did you decide to do about the lung?"
Now it was Mom's turn to shrug, she didn't know what he was talking about.
A year ago Mom had gone in for a CT scan looking for problems with her digestion. The results were unremarkable, except for a shadow of unknown origin in her lung.
So I piped up, "She was told the CT scan had picked up an inconclusive image (which could be merely a shadow, or possible something more sinister in her lung) but the only way to tell for sure would be to put her through more scans and possibly a biopsy and subsequent surgery and treatments," I said.
Mom was shaking her head, yes, now she remembered, but no, she didn't want to have any more tests. Her GP was understanding and had said a year ago that we had to weigh quantity of life with quality of life; in other words, yes, she could be put through tests and all the rest, but at 95, would it improve her quality of life? I truly believe Mom understood the conversation a year ago, she told the doctor she didn't want to look any further into the lung situation.
Another year has passed since then. When the cardiologist brought it up again and I repeated what he'd said, she replied, "I don't want to have any biopsies or other tests. I'm 96. How long do you think I can live? Do you think I'll live to be 100?" she asked. "If I make it to 100, I'm going to throw a party, and you'll be invited."
"96? Well, it depends," the doctor said, "You're not that far away any more. Though it's hard to say with the lungs," he said quietly, holding my gaze with a serious look.
"If she were your mother, what would you do?" I asked with tears in my eyes.
"Absolutely nothing," was his immediate reply. "The treatment is brutal. At 96, I don't think the outcome would be pleasant or efficacious."
Mom sat smiling brightly at the doctor while I stared at the ceiling and tried to stop the traitorous tears from overflowing. I know, I know, my mother will die one day. No one and nothing lives forever. The lung thing-- who knows? It may be serious, it may be only a shadow; but if she doesn't want to pursue it, I don't blame her.
Mom asked, "How many 96 year old patients do you have?"
The doctor seemed startled and then smiled when he replied, "None. In my line of work, that doesn't happen very often. You're the first one."
The visit was over and the doctor shook Mom's hand. "I'll be looking for that invitation in my mailbox in four years," he said. "Until then, take care, Lucille."
|Mom painted a new mailbox for us this summer.|
"Are we going home now? I want to get back to my painting," Mom said.
|Geese flying and a bird of prey ready to catch a fish for lunch.|
As I navigated our way out of town, we didn't talk much. I kept thinking about the future. And the past. Thoughts of what we've gone through together overwhelm me at times; she has had an exceptionally hard life. Her own mother died of tuberculosis when she was only eight years old, her father became an alcoholic after his wife's death and all four children were sent to live as hired help, split up to various families.
She came to the farm at the age of twenty as a green city girl and her marriage of almost sixty years was far from a bed of roses. Mom worked as hard as any man on the farm for over forty years until a tornado took the barn away. She climbed her last silo and milked her last cow by hand at age sixty-two. She survived abuse and neglect and yet has the sunniest disposition of anyone I've ever known.
My childhood wasn't easy, either; though he had no diagnosis, I believe my father suffered from some form of mental illness. If Mom hadn't been there for me, I wouldn't have survived. The verbal abuse we both suffered took a toll, but her incredible strength and sense of humor never failed me. When the cruel words descended, or worse, when the Silent Treatment enveloped us both, we had each other to lean on.
Mom was my rock.
When we arrived at her home I parked the car in the garage and turned off the ignition.
"It's so good to be home," she said, "What would I do without you?"
I shrugged, looking through the windshield at the snow shovel hanging on the wall, blinking rapidly.
After a few seconds, I wiped my eyes, smiled and said, "What would I do without you?"
I don't want to know.