Nothing good ever comes from a 2 am call.
My mother’s been in and out of hospitals for the past year or so, first breaking her arm high up near the shoulder where it can’t be cast, then, over the past few months, with her back.
I’m honestly not sure what’s going on there, as I’ve heard it described as her back being fractured and the discs collapsing. To me, those sound like different things. I do know it’s to do with her osteoporosis. And I know it’s getting worse. When she ends up in the hospital, then extended care simply because she bent over to wash her hair, you know there’s a problem.
Tonight, in the extended care facility, she apparently was dreaming that someone was in the bed beside her and she had to get out of it. What that means is, she fell out of the bed, hitting the tray that all hospital beds have beside them on the way down. So the ambulance was called and she was taken back to the hospital for x-rays. That’s when I got the call.
Andrew Pyper mused in his book, The Guardians, that hospitals seem to paint their walls with colours rejected by society. I don’t think he’s wrong. There’s not much sensory input when you’re sitting in emergency, you mother mostly incoherent from the painkillers, so you tend to focus on the banality of the surroundings. The nurses discussing an upcoming maternity leave, their shifts, the advantages that some of the surrounding hospitals have over them. And the colour of the walls.
Occasionally, mom came to and asked a couple of questions, but it was obvious the fog of the painkillers didn’t allow her to catch all the information coming to her.
It was reasonably quiet in the hospital, so it actually took very little time for them to get mom into x-ray, determine she hadn’t done any more damage, then arrange transportation back to the extended care facility.
It’s painful to watch them move her from the bed to the stretcher and back again. Any sudden movements obviously cause her a great deal of pain. It’s the only time she’s lucid. Pain is the only thing that seems to cut through the fog.
Then we’re back in her room. She thinks it’s a different room from where she’s been staying the last ten days, but it’s not. The on-duty nurse gets her comfortable and checks her vitals. All seems good.
The nurses and orderlies at both the hospital and the care facility are nothing but wonderful and caring through all of this. They do what needs to be done, then get out of the way.
Then we’re alone, with just a dim light off to the side. My mother, who has never really looked her age, now looks every one of her eighty-five years. She’s tired and helpless and groggy with drugs. If she moves, she’s in pain. Her mouth is dry, so I’m constantly feeding her sips of water. She seems to get lost, even in bed, not being able to manipulate the blankets the way she wants, not finding the Kleenex box placed right under her hand. She closes her eyes and I think she’s asleep, but then they’ll slowly open and stare unseeing at the ceiling.
When I ask her what she’s thinking about, she says in a soft, weak voice, “I’m trying to figure out what happened.” I know she’s talking about the fall, but I wonder if she also might mean how the hell a relatively active, healthy woman could see such a change in fortune in such a short time.
I know my presence is keeping her awake, so I’m unsure if I should leave or not. She tells me to leave, to go home and get some sleep, then grabs my hand and tells me she’s glad I’m there. So I sit, her hand in mine, a hand that’s somehow grown old and infirm without me noticing, her skin cool and papery to the touch.
My mother and I have had a stormy relationship for a while now. This isn’t the place to go into it, and this isn’t one of those situations where, when one is ill, the issues are brushed aside and forgotten. I guess you could say the issues are muted for now. She’s too stubborn to let them go, as am I, but we can set them aside for the time being.
Being a son during a time like this is a tough thing. It’s hard to watch your only remaining parent suffer. It’s hard to see someone who’s been pretty tough most of her life now frail and dependent on others for damn near everything. It’s hard to know what to do to help at times.
So instead, I sit, holding her hand, doing the only thing I know I can do that’s right. I just sit and be with her during this ugly, difficult time.
I guess all I can be is her son.
I wish life was simpler.