I was with Mom alone on Saturday. I felt certain I could handle one day alone with her. If the other caregivers could, I thought, so could I. Just because I was also night shift shouldn’t matter. Didn’t nurses pull double shifts all the time?
I tried to rouse Mom several times from the bed but she remained asleep. I worried when she wouldn’t eat or even ask to go to the bathroom. I couldn’t do her leg soak or put the salve on her sores while she was in bed. Still, there wasn’t any real reason to upset her by making her get up. So, I let her sleep.
By 3 am, however, she had wet the bed, her pajama top, her draw sheet, the bed pad, and both top and bottom sheets as well. I had been told that it was bad for her to remain soaked so I knew it was time for a bed bath.
Vaguely, I remember giving bed baths to the old men at the VA Hospital at the Biltmore Hospital in Miami. I had put myself through school working as a Nurse’s Aide during the summers. Of course, that was back in the day when nurses still wore crisp white uniforms, white caps, white stockings and white shoes. All I remember of the experience is exhaustion and having to get my new white shoes painted black since only nurses wore white shoes.
I would give Mom a bath. I half-filled a pan of warm water and added a bar of Dove soap and a wash cloth. I had watched my sister-in-law push the fresh sheets and bed pad under Mom as she rolled her over. I tried to copy her efficient technique. The only problem now was that Mom was curled up S-shaped. You can’t roll an S-shape and she wasn’t moving.
Laboriously, I pulled the wet sheets out from under Mom, listening to her muttering and objecting as I did. Then, I attempted to bathe her. But after I rubbed the wet, soapy cloth on her exposed parts, I wasn’t sure whether I should get more fresh water to rinse her off, or just use less soap on the washcloth, or not use soap at all. I again tried to turn her over to wash the undersides, but again, no go. Finally, I gave it up as a bad deal. I slid a bed pad under her and managed to pull a clean pajama top on her and left her to rest.
Sunday, when Melissa, the caregiver came, we hauled Mom up and got her onto the walker and from there onto the recliner in the living room. Still she refused to wake up or eat anything. We tried giving her the dosage of 11 “supplement” pills. Again, she wouldn’t open her mouth to take them. I told Melissa to just let her rest and I’d be back from Church and we’d try again.
By the time I got back (I did cheat and go see the Pixar movie Coco while I had the afternoon to do it in, and cry, oh my goodness, how I cried), Melissa had gotten Mom to eat a few mouthfuls of Mac and Cheese. I know that Veronica, her regular caregiver, and my Sister and Sister-in-law would have cringed at the horrors of such a meal. Not a vegetable in sight.
Together, Melissa and I got Mom back to bed. She couldn’t stand or help us even though I tried to talk to her. It was like lifting a sack of sand. I realized that it was going to take two people to move Mom to and from her bed to the commode or to her walker or out to the recliner in the living room. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I had visions of keeping Mom in bed permanently. If that was the case, I was going to have to get much better at giving bed baths.
Blessed Veronica came Monday morning and I told her about not being able to get Mom up. She assured me she would take care of everything. She fixed Mom a bowl of her favorite grits and tried to get her to eat. She talked quietly, cajoling her and encouraging her to eat.
Meanwhile, I had to go help my husband with his latest project. In his infinite wisdom (you know how MEN are), he had decided he needed a Gold’s Gym treadmill at home. Since his heart attack, he’d been ordered to exercise, and he has done it faithfully three times a week for several months. Always stopping at Taco Bell for breakfast first.
He had ordered the treadmill from his favorite place, Walmart, and he’d received a notice that the box was in. I remember helping my beloved cousin in Colorado when they moved a treadmill up the stairs and into their bedroom. All I remember is that a treadmill is neither light nor easy to move. Sure enough, when we got to the store, the box was over 7 feet long and weighed 200 pounds. And no one to help us unload it at home.
Of course, he could do it, he assured me. All I could see was Jack keeling over from a heart attack while trying to lift a 200 pound box when he wasn’t supposed to lift anything over 10 pounds. We managed to slide the box off the truck and onto the garage floor without major damage to us or the box.
I suggested opening the box and moving the pieces, one at a time rather than fighting to get the whole box into the back porch. To that, panting and gasping by this time, he agreed. It only took the rest of the morning with me straining to lift the flatbed of the treadmill onto a dolly so he wouldn’t have to. We got it into the porch, but now there are pieces of treadmill all over the porch.
Relieved that hubby hadn’t killed himself trying to set up an exercise station to keep from killing himself (I told him that would have been ironic), I went out to the trailer to check on Veronica and Mom. To my surprise, Mom was in the recliner. When Veronica had asked her if she wanted to go out to the living room, Mom had asked if there was a television out there. When Veronica assured her there was, Mom agreed and actually stood up to help get into her walker.
Vero got her to eat a little and the two had talked and laughed. When Mom got restless, Veronica asked her where she was going. “A ninguna parte, niña,” she said, and smiled. (I’m not going anywhere, little girl.)
When I came in, I spoke to Mom but she didn’t seem to know I was there. Her breathing had become labored and she seemed to be gasping and choking. I put my hand on Mom’s forehead. Her skin felt cold and her face had turned a yellow, waxy color. I realized, in my confused amazement, that Mom was not breathing. At all. I couldn’t comprehend what was happening. I turned to Veronica, puzzled. She was searching for a pulse. And finding none.
Mom was gone.
Veronica sank to her knees beside the recliner and began to pray for Mom’s soul. A gentle and beautiful prayer. I sat stupefied on the couch next to them just listening to her words.
And then the requirements started. No time to mourn. Gotta move. Gotta get things done. Call the family. Call Hospice. Get them over to declare Mom dead. Call our Associate Pastor to ask about a funeral home. Race to the Funeral Home to start the arrangements to come pick up the body. My sister had warned me to do it before hand, but I had been so sure Mom wouldn’t need it right away.
Returned to find a houseful of people. Veronica still holding down the fort. The nurse from Hospice, a dear friend from our church, the grief counselor from Hospice, the director of Hospice, and finally the funeral director and his assistant to wheel out the body. Asking if I needed help, I assured them there was nothing more anyone could do. “Call us and let us know what you need,” they said. Thank you. Thank you. Fine. Yes, I will. But there is never anything anyone can do.
Alone at last. Empty house. Empty heart. And Veronica and Mom gone. It will be a strange world for a while. But life will now move on. Still, . . . strange.