It’s hard to watch your mother fall apart. Not that she isn’t still a total pain-in-the-ass…because she is. In fact, her decline into the sunset only exacerbates her difficulty.
Having a mother who has so consistently been wacky has it’s pluses and minuses. The pluses mostly come from the wealth of story material that she has provided for riotous dinner conversation. On the other hand, living through the story material can be emotionally tumultuous. Interactions with my mother have me balancing between the emotional sirens of frustration, anger, guilt, pity, fear and, hardest of all, love.
Yesterday and today are prime examples. I received a cell-phone call from her while in the car on the way to lunch.
“Hello? Can you hear me mom?”
“Of course I can hear you. Where are you?”
“I’m in the car.”
“Did you get my message?”
“Uh no…I’m in the car. What’s the matter?” (Since I’d only left the office 5 minutes earlier and there were no messages I assume that she called during that 5 minutes.)
“I made an appointment with the doctor for 3:45 and you said you wanted to go with me.”
“Er…okaaay. Why are you going to the doctor? Do I need to pick you up?”
“I’m having excruciating pain in my ankle and it’s traveled up to my hip and I think it may be a blood clot. They (her driving service where she lives) will take me and wait for me but I thought you’d want to be there.”
“Sure…I want to be there. I’ll meet you at the doctor’s.”
“Oh…thank you……I just don’t know what to do…”
“Okay…calm down. I’ll meet you at the doctor…don’t worry.”
Now I have a regular therapy appointment every Monday at 5:00 (mostly to deal with issues resulting from my relationship with her). As it happens it’s in the same building as the doctor. So I figure no problem…I leave a little early, meet her, talk to the doctor and then off she and I go.
I arrive, promptly, at the doctor’s office to find her there…alone.
“Where’s the driver?”
“I told her she could leave.”
“What?! I thought you said they’d wait for you.”
“But I didn’t need them to wait because you’ll take me home.”
“I have a 5:00 appointment…I thought…You said….” Now her lip starts quivering.
“Nevermind…I’ll take you home…don’t worry about it.”
“You look tired.” Thanks.
After the mandatory waiting period, we’re called into the doctor. We now have the mandatory waiting in the examing room period.
“You look tired.” Thanks.
She gives her befuddled explanation about her ankle hurting, the pain traveling, etc. No, she didn’t injure it. No, nothing happened…it just started hurting. I must say the doctor exhibited immense patience. I’m guessing he sees a fair number of befuddled, argumentative people. I witnessed statements like:
“This pain is worse than childbirth.” “I have a high tolerance for pain but this is unbearable.” I tried not to comment since she seemed to have no trouble walking on the ankle, she had a spinal block when she had me and hasn’t experienced any serious injuries.
After examining her appendage the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong. He explained that he didn’t really think she had a blood clot but “just to be safe” she should have an ultrasound on the leg. Great. Of course, his receptionist can’t reach anyone at the ultrasound facility to make the appointment by now so I said I would schedule it the next day. By now it’s 4:50 and too late to take her home before my appointment. She graciously agrees to wait in the therapist’s reception area while I have my appointment (which I sorely need at this point). Feeling calmer after my appointment, I drive her home. Of course, we have to stop and pick up her Vicodin on the way…I considered taking some myself at this point. I drop her off and say goodbye.
“You look tired.” So I’ve heard.
In the morning, I call and make an appointment for the ultrasound. Fortunately, they can do it at 12:30 so I only have to miss a small part of one meeting. I drive up and pick her up, drive back down to the hospital. I drop her off so she won’t have to walk from the parking area and she “knows this place very well…I’ve been here so many times.” I park, walk down and out of the parking structure and find her wandering around the lobby.
“I can’t find the office…they must have moved.”
“It’s right here.” I open the door she’s standing in front of. Now I just feel bad for feeling irritated. We go in and I plant her in a chair while I check us in. While waiting she asks me 3-4 times if they’re going to ultrasound her leg. Reviews the form in front of her with agonizing detail 5 or 6 times. And, of course, I feel bad for feeling irritated.
They finally take us in for her ultrasound. The woman says, “Please remove your shoes, socks and pants and put this gown on. I’ll close this curtain so you’ll have privacy and just let me know when you’re ready.” Before she can turn around my mother has dropped her pants and is querulously asking, “why do I need a gown?” The technician, looking somewhat mortified, quickly closes the curtain and I patiently say, “she wants you to wear a gown, wear a gown” as I remove her shoes, socks and pants.
The technician performs the ultrasound, plying the wand up-and-down mom’s inner thigh and inner calf, occasionally squeezing various spots accompanied by dramatic wincing and exclamations from mom. I feel bad for being so callous.
“The pain is in my ankle…why aren’t you doing my ankle?”
“Mom, they’re checking to see if you have a deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot, your blood vessels aren’t in your ankle.”
“Well, when are they going to look at my ankle?”
“They’re not going to look at your ankle. They’re just looking at your blood vessels.”
“I want them to make the pain go away. Is someone else going to look at my ankle?”
“No, we’re just here about blood clots.” Variations of this conversation repeat during and for some time after the examination. The technician finishes, mom dresses and we’re done. Not with the conversation…just the appointment. The drive back to her home is accompanied by repetitions of “why didn’t they look at my ankle…that’s what hurts” and variations of “when are they going to make the pain go away.” I continue to try to explain and reassure. I repeat, again and again and again, that she probably unknowingly injured the ankle and it’s going to take some time to heal. Continue to apply heat, keep it raised and for god’s sake keep taking the pain medication.
I drop her off with her over-thanking me all teary-eyed. I feel bad. And sad. And tired. And worried.
Loving people can be hard. And getting old does suck.