My mother and I have, for many years, had a running joke — a joke that went something like this: “Careful, Mom, you might want to be nicer to me. Don’t forget that I’ll likely be the one picking out your nursing home!” She would roll her eyes and chuckle — sometimes nervously; I would narrow mine and launch into my best evil laugh.
Finally and, I suppose, inevitably, we actually found ourselves in the position this week to do just that — pick out my mother’s nursing home. There were no evil laughs. No malicious intent.
The reality is that she isn’t in an actual nursing home. Well, not per se. They don’t call them nursing homes anymore, anyway. They call them rehabilitation centers or transitional care facilities now. Fancy nomenclature aside, they are places that aren’t your home where nursing care is provided.
My mother, following a period of strengthening and physical therapy, will return to her own home. For now, though, she is in a safe environment where she can convalesce from two major surgeries, an infection, and a heart attack.
Of course my mother doesn’t see it this way. And, as a result, I seem to be persona non grata at the moment. How do I know this? Because she told me so.
Yes, she did. I called her tonight to see how she was making out. I wanted to know if she was happy that my sister visited today and brought some of the things that she requested — her glasses, her knitting. Those kinds of things. Comforting things. Things from home.
Her response to my line of questioning went something like this: “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Thanks. Whatever.” Really. She said “Whatever”. There is no doubt in my mind that if she hadn’t been holding the phone with one hand and if she knew how to do it, she would have made a “W-shaped” symbol out of her hands and placed them on her forehead as she said “Whatever”.
She also seemed preoccupied. (Perhaps she was trying to figure out how to make that “W-shaped” symbol?) I got the sense that there was something other than jawing it up on the phone with me that she’d rather be doing — like, for example, enjoying a root canal. I told myself that she must be exhausted, but I sensed there was more to her abruptness than just that. Then, apropos of nothing, she said to me, “Well, Jacqueline, you’ll be happy to know that your Uncle, my own brother, who I am assuming is taking his marching orders from YOU [emphasis hers], will not come down here and break me out of this joint.” Ah! There it was.
I couldn’t help myself. I burst out laughing. Burst. Out. Laughing. The image of my Uncle “breaking” my mother “out of [that] joint” tickled me.
When I recovered my equilibrium, I greeted her stony silence by saying, “Oh, my God, Mom! You act as if you’ve been relegated to the dungeon of a medieval castle with no means of escape!” I went on to remind her that her stay would, dependent upon her progress, be short.
Not to be outdone, my mother countered with, “Um, speaking of dungeons. I was tortured by some very nice physical therapists today. Just so you know, they worked me over for forty-five minutes. It was ridiculous.”
While I’m sure it was tiring, I’m fairly certain that it was in no way “ridiculous”; no one, I’m sure, gave her anything even resembling a “working over”. She had not, as she so eloquently put it, been “tortured”. Talk about dramatic!
The physical therapy, I reminded my mother, was the very reason that we felt it necessary to place her in a rehabilitation facility in the first place. I made certain that I used the pronoun “we” a lot. Because, whether she wanted to believe me or not, the decision to put her into an environment where, we hope, she will make progress — measurable progress — and come home in a better position to, oh, I don’t know, walk twenty-five feet without going into cardiac arrest, was not mine alone.
Still, I was getting the feeling that I had been cast as the blue meanie. Fine. I’m willing to take one for the team.
This decision, which is absolutely in my mother’s best interest, was discussed, debated, and, ultimately, decided upon by all of her children and other members of her family. Even our spouses got involved. It was, in fact, my brother-in-law who finally convinced her to go to the rehab center. While I don’t want to sell my brother-in-law short — he’s a smart, calm, and persuasive guy — but his input may have simply been the final straw. By the time we decided to send in the big guns, she may have heard just about enough from her children, her husband, her doctors, and the support staff at the hospital. Knowing my mother as well as I do, I’m pretty sure that she agreed to “transition”, as they call it, just so that we would all shut up about it already.
It appears, however, that my mother is not going to shut up about it any time soon. It also appears that she, at least for the moment, harbors no small amount of ill will toward me. While I wish she were happier with the decision that was, collectively, made to insure her safety and that will ultimately make her stronger and able to care for herself, I can’t allow myself to be overly concerned about it at the moment.
If it helps her to blame someone for her current predicament, if that someone has to be me, that’s just fine and dandy. Whatever.