Turn Left at the Bird Cage

Past 11 days marked by trips to urgent care, a 3 day hospital stay (for mom not me), and currently 5-star cruise at the rehab unit/skilled nursing facility. Initially, mom’s transfer to the skilled nursing facility felt like a death sentence for both of us. Yes, she was bruised and battered after her falls (2 in 3 weeks), but she was very clear that she did not sign on for this field trip.

The afternoon she was transferred to rehab, I stopped by  to help get her settled. The building sits immediately behind her assisted living facility. Foreigners to the world of aging parents do not know that these two buildings are very, very different. Upon entering the automatic doors, a demanding blue “PUSH BUTTON” eyeballs visitors before the second set of doors suck you in to a long hallway…sort of like “Beam up, Scotty”  gone bad. I wondered that I might not get out. Muted…muted everything…from the 80s pale blue-green and peach wall color and window treatments to the absolutely horrific musak wafting through the dimly lit halls. 

“Honey!  You must sign in. Please, sign your name here, honey, who are you visiting?”  chirped the Donna Reed bouffant rising from behind the counter. “Honey, just sign in here. We have to be so careful these days, you just never know. You just never know.” I wondered what defense training she had that might successfully disrupt a madman rushing through the sealed doors.   I wended my way through the stale hallway, past the 8′ high octagonal glass bird cage. Hmmm. One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Nurse Ratchett’s  patients all a-feather. 

Following Donna Reed’s instructions to find mom, I turned left at the bird cage. At once, I was struck with the absence of the perky staff where mom lives–across the driveway.  “Hey, Meg. How ya’ doin? Stayin’ for lunch? Your mom’s probably doing spelling bee now.” Rich greens and dark reds and golds warm the natural lit interior where Andrea, Katie, Rachel, Kristen and the energetic and enthusiastic acitivites director, Aileen, bring life, laughter,  and care to 66 residents–mostly women, who are fortunate to enjoy their waning years in grace and dignity.

For now, mom sits in her voluminoius wrinkled hospital gown;  snaps mirror the industrial age; disposable gray hospital issue slipper socks with white treads–whoever thought their mother would want to wear slipper socks the color of death? Her osteoporotic frame swallowed up in a wheelchair big enough to hold someone twice her size. Her semi private room shared with a woman surrounded with  stuffed polar bears, polar bear fleece blankets, polar bear pictures on the wall, on the mirror. Someone’s mom, sister, aunt, grandma, probably beloved for her crocheted afghans and hot dish.

Mom’s angry and frustrated that she’s not in her room at The Bridge and clearly a bit disoriented, but wouldn’t we each experience rage at being abruptly exiled from our familiar surroundings.  I had to get my own bearings. Even though we were not more than 50 yards from her apartment, I felt that I was on the other side of town. Unfamiliar, down to the easy-clean linoleum under my feet.  Realizing she had no other clothes after her hospital stay, I ran over to her room to get a week’s wardrobe for her. I returned with slacks, nightgown, toothbrush–the works;  the nurses were bent over mom, delicately attempting to remove toothpaste mom had mistakenly applied to her face and still-healing skin tear.  More wincing, more loss, more vulnerability. And that hospital gown.

At our first care conference the next day, meaning the primary staff people, the patient (guest), and family sit around a conference table and introduce each other.  Mom was understandably agitated. In between and over top of introductions around the table, I felt and understood her frustration as if I were speaking it myself. Her logic, while diminished but determined, struggles to process  that her wedding ring, belonging once to dad’s grandmother, had been cut off–due to injury from the fall–in the ER. “Why did they take off my wedding ring?”  Fully knowing that I would need to repeat that a few times, I gently reminded her of the decision that had to me made.  She continued to make her case for returning to her apartment, insisting that whatever physical strengthening the Dr ordered could be done at her assisted living facility. ”How long do I have to stay? How long ?” I heard her retired principal’s firm and urgent voice. “When can I go back?” I looked to the staff to answer her aggravation.

Between introduction of the physical therapist and the medicare/insurance expert’s FYI,  mom tersely asked why she would not be able to go to Walmart on Thursdays. (a weekly outing she’s enjoyed for nearly 4 years). How else would she get shampoo and lotion and hose.   “Mom, I can pick that up for you.” “That’s not for you to do. I can do that.” Like each of us, she reached for the ordinary, the routine of daily living that affirms our volition, that transcends the loss  manifest in adult diapers, walking aids, macular degneration, fleeting memory. The nurturing ordinary that sustains our spirit. As long as she can ask questions, mom will be in the world, aware of–or rather desiring, passionately, to remain in a world of meaning, of family, of friends, of dignity, outings, scrabble, and bingo. 

Thirteen days after the second fall, mom’s hard work in the physical therapy gym is proving to nix the doctors’ (yes, 3 doctors) recommendation that she be placed permanently as a guest in the bird house. This past Sunday, I picked mom up for church (only after I secured the Medicare-approved hall pass). Allison, the physical therapist stopped me in the hall. “Are you still thinking that you want mom to stay here long term?”  (Everyone in the care environment calls my/your parent “mom” or “dad.” I like that. I like that the relationship is always key to conversations and decisions.) “Well, we do understand the recommendation from the doctor and the concern for falls. She’s had 2 in 3 weeks.”  Allison’s comeback: “We’re thinking that by Thursday, we won’t have any reason to keep your mom; she’s really progressing that well. Our biggest concern is that she is so unhappy here. She’s really unhappy.” Right on, Allison.

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2 Responses to Turn Left at the Bird Cage

  1. kathym says:

    Someone who knows: FEELINGS MATTER as much as physical needs!

  2. megsp says:

    I know my perspective has changed in these last two weeks. Mom’s everyday pleasure and endorphins are what counts at this point. I’m listening!

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