Caregiving, the Second Time

At first I thought she had the mumps. Even though I’ve never had them (are they plural) and I didn’t know what they were. All I knew is that my 90-year-old mama’s neck was swollen just behind her left ear.

It came on all of a sudden. Thursday night I noticed some swelling, Friday morning she looked like a linebacker. But just on one side. I called the doctor.

Our doctor of fifteen-plus-years scrutinized Mom.

“I’m not sure if it is an infection from her teeth or from her glands and there is no way to tell unless we do a CT scan of her neck.” He poked and prodded a little more, eyebrows knit together, mouth tight.

“I’m going to give her a strong antibiotic that she is to take four times a day. If she’s not better by Monday, I’ll do a direct admit.” He paused, watching Mom as she sat with eyes closed, warm hand on her face. “If you have any problem over the weekend, call me. I’m on duty and we can admit her then.”

I thanked the doctor, found my friend Miriam waiting in the lobby, and we left.

Miriam insisted on accompanying me since Mom was weak. Two umbrellas guarding Mom, we sloshed through puddles and arrived at the van through a downpour. Mom was dry. We were soaked.

Mom weakened on the trip home. It took both Miriam and me plus my strong husband to usher my mother into bed. And that’s where she stayed for a few days.

I’d forgotten what it was like to care for someone who was helpless. Dad lived with us for over five years, losing both legs to diabetes. Charles cared for him most of the time. But I took turns, too. But not with Mom. Her illness scared me.

It scared me because I realized that her life–my life, is fragile. It scared me because I might lose some freedom that I’d gained after Dad went to heaven.

She gained strength by Sunday. She walked to the bathroom unaided. She spoke in audible sentences. I thought she was on the road to recovery. We talked about it.

“Pauline, why don’t you go to church. I’ll be all right.”

“You’ll stay in bed, right Mom? It would be dangerous for you to try and walk around.” She agreed.

Near the end of church I noticed that she’d called. “Mom, what’s the matter?”

Inaudible noise. “Come home.”

When I arrived home, she was sitting in the family room, trying to call me again. I lost it.

“Mom. Why are you walking around! You told me you were going to stay in bed, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone to church!”

She looked pained. Then she told me about the horse that had a bad leg and all the chickens loose in the house, and the choir ladies who were waiting to rehearse. I knew from past experiences with both my parents that it wasn’t dementia, it was just the infection. Both of them hallucinate when they run a fever.

Guilt. How could I have left her? What must it feel like to see things that scare you with no one to help? Why did I yell?

Fear. Fear of change. Fear of loss.

She’s better. A few days ago, I had a hair appointment.

“Anything you need before I go, Mom? I might run a few errands after that.” She said she was fine. Then she added, “Come right home.”

“Why, Mom? You’re all settled. Is there something that you need?”

She didn’t answer. Then as I left the room, I heard her response. It was barely audible.

“When you’re here, I feel safe.”

I came right home.

Got something to say? Go for it!