I’ve been spending the last week or so sitting around in my mother’s room at the rehabilitation center where they are trying to get her back strong enough to go home and live independently. I arrived Monday night, after 24 hours on planes and in airports. Brahima came out to Dulles Airport and we found our way to her, discovering along the way that the hospital she had been in had discharged her to a rehabilitation place, Manor Care in Wheaton, Maryland. Poking along through rush-hour traffic with Brahima getting calls from his daughter every ten minutes or so was wearing but I was anxious to see my mother.
Her first reaction, when she first saw me Monday night, was “get me out of here, I want to go home”. She was very anxious and upset and also very confused. From moment to moment, she didn’t know where she was or what had happened to her, then her memory would return and the anxiety decrease to some extent. Still, she was very concerned about her future, and rightly so. The mental confusion decreased significantly by the next day, though there are still some episodes. I think it has to do with the painkillers they are giving her – I told her that since she didn’t grow up in the sixties she hasn’t had the experience of maintaining while under the influence of mind-altering drugs.
I got the Kaiser doctor on site to speak to her, and one very positive thing that we heard was that Kaiser expects to be able to send her home in one to two weeks. They are a pretty hard-nosed organization but they make their money by keeping their members healthy and out of institutional settings. My mother has a very good relationship with her Kaiser primary care doctor, Dr. Varma, who I have met and who struck me as a very good doctor with my mother’s best interests at heart. I got the Kaiser person at the rehab to call Dr. Varma, and Dr. Varma did the necessary soothing to convince my mother to do her physical therapy.
So the first day, Tuesday, off she went to physical therapy. There is quite a diversity of people working there, one of the strengths of the place, and most of them are people who were there when my mother was there three years ago, when she had a bad episode with her heart. They may not have remembered her in actual fact but they gave a good impression of having done so and she was able to play along. At least, the experience had left her with a good feeling about the place so in the bright light of the morning, she was ready to work. An hour or so of pedaling an exercise bike, standing up and sitting down (with assistance), and occupational therapy – mostly talk about her living situation – and she was back to her room. She slept a lot that day.
Each day has been better than the last. Yesterday was especially good:
Here she is, with the world’s cutest occupational therapist, Natalie, washing the dishes. They were already clean, but anyway – the key is to build up enough mobility and flexibility to ensure that she can take care of herself at home. She pointed out that she doesn’t have a dishwasher, so today a sinkfull of dishes will be provided. She also had a task of pulling beads out of a mass of tough putty, churning a hand-bike, and curls with a one-pound dumbbell.
Next step was physical therapy, focusing on strength and flexibility in the legs, particularly the leg on the side where the hip was broken. She has been favoring that side and as a result has pain in the knee, so they want to strengthen the muscles. This involves pedaling a stationary bike, which she hates. Finally she bailed on the exercise bike and said she wanted to go back to her room. The physical therapist said yes, but she would have to walk there. So she did.
Not shuffling, you’ll note, but picking up her feet and walking. Mostly. At least 75 meters down the hall. This is a major accomplishment.
All of which leaves me thinking about elder care. For one thing, I am the cheerleader and drill sergeant, much as parents are with their children. In King Lear, the Fool criticizes Lear ” ever since thou madest thy daughters thy mothers. For when thou gavest them the rod, and put’st down thine own breeches,” pointing out that parents and children often change roles in old age. I hope to be Cordelia, the good daughter, but still now I am obliged to be someone who leads and encourages my own parent. My mother is very independent and doesn’t like being told what to do, who would? But if she wants to achieve her goal of living out her life in her own space and in charge of her own fate, she needs to work on getting stronger. I have to keep reminding her. She is working hard, though. And making progress.
Less of that happy juice would probably help, too.