Mom no sooner had returned to her apartment after wincing through several hours of debriding her wounded right hand that she removed layers of green and blue tape, adhesive bandaging, kerlix, and silver nitrate inpregnated gauze that was to invade the infection.
However, I would not know this until two days later when I picked her up for the follow up visit to urgent care. As I courteously opened her apartment door, my eyes immediately sighted in the bare hand. My mind raced to a full-blown sepsis to which mom would succumb. Angry, concerned, off-balance, temporarily off-course on the high seas of caring for aging loved ones.
“The doctor isn’t going to be very happy that you removed the bandage, mom.”
“Well, I had to wash my hands.”
No comment. Rather, “Another beautiful crisp blue sky this morning. Look at the mountains!” BLue skies and clouds are sure-fire conversation openers with mom. Green lights, as writer/doctor Oliver James refers to winning, safe, positive words to navigate, to care for, to nurture the emotional well-being of one’s loved one. Always go green. Hit a red light like, “I had to wash my hands,” go for a green light.
On a good day, trading a red light for green is familiar, doable. On a day when my emotional reserves are mere fumes, I am in the brokenness of my own red light, my heart pulsing louder, anxiety swirling over my chest. This was not a good day. I was certain we were in for more debriding.
Nurse Alison calls us back, takes mom’s vitals = 99% oxygen; pulse 74, examines her hand, and announces that the doctor will be in shortly. Sweeping the privacy drape open as she leaves, Allison looks across the tiny exam room at me and says, “She took off the whole bandage? I would have, too, if it looked like a boxing glove” she smiled. “I think that’s awesome!”
She got me. I chuckled, let out my half-hour of breath holding, and realized that everything would be OK. No test, no prognosis, just a word, and my green light shone.
The PA and Nurse Stephanie, who’d applied the papermache wrap two days ago, examined mom’s hand, rolled left and right, touched, asked for mom’s response. “Yes, it’s sore, she smiled with a cock of her head, as if, isnt’ that a silly question.
Nurse Stephanie and PA approve “It looks so much better,” “Does it?” “Yes, definitely. It’s beautiful.”
Green light is blinking inside my head. It’s going to be OK despite Mom’s non-compliance. For those of you carers, you know that it’s nigh on impossible to remain clinical at times like these. The avalanche of loss smothers the heart: hurt, the grief, the loss, the erosion blasts out what remains–mom’s emotional spirit, mom’s willingness to positively greet each new day, mom’s grace to daily live as if nothing were lost.
So I feel guilty at my anger. I feel guilty that I am subject to weakness. But I am very grateful to Nurse Allison for changing my landscape. That’s awesome, she said. Yes, it is. Mom’s awesome, her independence, her claim of agency are all awesome.
True, the infection poses a fatal risk, but more importantly, mom made the decision in the present – to remove what interfered with her ability to enjoy the now, to complete her daily crossword, reply to an email, eat with dignity, and wash her hands.