Friday, August 27, 2004
"No, here's the problem..."
About a decade ago, MPS decided to negotiate matriculation through teacher's college while running a day care facility out of her home and managing a highly active family consisting of herself, her husband, a teenager and a not-yet-school age child. She had no time to put up with other people's shit. One of her professors who taught an important course decided, close to the critical end of a semester, to create a memoed maze of last minute requirements through which to run his students. One afternoon MPS and I were commiserating about yet another ridiculous memoed requirement involving the submission of an assignment through the university's obsolete email system. One of the paragraphs began, "Here's the problem." MPS and I burst out laughing and spent the rest of the afternoon in a much needed stress release riffing on the theme, "No. Here's the problem..."
This evening I was reminded of that phrase while I was rubbing down my mother's and feet and meditating on her recovery. Although I refer to it as spectacular, I expected it. The only surprise is that it has been happening so quickly, although this shouldn't have surprised me, either. It fits her profile to recover quickly and beyond previous points of debilitation. As I mulled this over in connection with some of the startlingly low expectations I've understood the non-alternative medical community to have for her, I realized that, well, here's the problem...
My mother is 87. There are lots of other facts about her that are much more important, but this is, apparently, the most potent fact upon which the non-alternative medical community chooses to focus, and, it's causing them and us all kinds of problems.
The most recent problem was the Home Health Care/homebound problem. In the specific light of this recent short series of medical facility stays I have some sympathy for this determination. It is true that for 5 days previous to her hospital stay she was, indeed, extremely weak, not only homebound but wheelchair bound. It is also true that when my mother ends up in a medical facility, always under strenuous protest, since it is her nature to make the best of any situation, she considers the stay rather like a sleep-over vacation, knowing that non-alternative medical facilities are not only uniquely suited to caring for bedbound patients but typically prefer their residents who "love the sleep, the dream" [see 12 x 12 - 11 (77)]. They're easier and require less specific and strenuous care. And, considering how much time she was allowed to stay in bed, it should have been no surprise that she did not perform particularly well when the PTs showed up, daily but for only moments a day, to work on her muscular atrophy and her walkering. However, once she arrived at the SNF, she took off walkering and never looked back. In a week she was wandering the facility walkerless without supervision. And, yet, Home Health Care was recommended. Now that I know that Home Health Care implies homeboundedness, I'm not sure why it was ever recommended during her blood transfusion stay in early June, except that she, literally, was never allowed to leave her bed. That wasn't her decision, as she attempted, from the time she was gurneyed in the ER until the last day of her stay, to get up and out of where ever she was, much to the befuddlement of the doctors and nurses of various levels who tended to her. It is hard for me to imagine that they thought such a woman was homebound. It is even harder for me to accept that, after mentioning Home Health Care to me and learning that I had no idea what it was, it never occurred to anyone, in early June or recently, to explain to me that it implied being homebound.
But, the thing is, my mother is 87 and has had a bad year, internally and externally. What can one expect? Well, here's the problem. Going over the medical file I have on her, incomplete as it is, even I am at a loss to figure out what, specifically, has led non-alternative medicine to expect so little of her and spend so much time pigeonholing her into a category that clearly belittles her possibilities. I wonder, now, how often it happens that an Ancient One's decline is not initiated by the Ancient One but by the medical community surrounding the Ancient One and the unrealistic fears of caregivers who, for lack of time or thought, allow the non-alternative medical community to direct the Ancient One's care according to startlingly inappropriate assumptions based not on realistic and scrupulous observations of the Ancient One being treated but on isolated facts such as age, temporary and unusual weakness and personal, deep-seated, unexpressed fears about what it must be like to be old, and ill, and much closer to death than a doctor in her or his middle years thinks he or she is.
Here's the problem. We who are yet to be Ancient fear that startling recovery is not an attribute of Ancienthood, as it is of other of life's ages. We who are yet to be Ancient cringe from our imaginings of how difficult it looks to negotiate life as an Ancient. We who are yet to be Ancient, at least in this nuclear culture, don't allow ourselves enough face time with those Ancients among us who are in the best position to assure us that, despite that famous, much ballyhooed saying, "Being Old isn't for sissies," sissies, too, become Ancient and, amazingly, they continue walkering through life the same way the rest of us negotiate it, one step at a time.
Even I do it. Even I, spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with an Ancient One whom I love dearly. Even I, who run into more Ancient Ones than do most people on a daily basis. Even I am leaning more toward not wanting to live to be Ancient than I am toward wondering, with excitement, about the possibilities inherent in Ancienthood.
My mother has a cousin who is three years older than her and continues to maintain her own residence and her own life. We talk to her about once every 6 months or so. She enjoys being alive and talks with enthusiasm about her treks throughout the community, but if you get her started on being old, she'll tell you, frankly, how hellish it is. It's no wonder. She lives in a community of Ancient Ones who are cut off from everyone of other ages except during occasional outings when they are greeted by "youngers" who have nothing else to say to them except to express how amazing it is that these Ancients are "doing so well", "beyond expectations". When the expectations surrounding people are so low, the people surrounded have two choices; perform to expectations and satisfy everyone but themselves or belie the expectations and become oddities. That's a problem.
I don't think I'd mind the idea of becoming Ancient if I knew I'd be accompanied by at least one person who thought of me in terms of development rather than decline; who expected me to develop out of who I'd always been into who I've always dreamed of being, with interesting surprises along the way to which I was not only expected to adjust but to which I was assured I'd adjust, with interesting consequences. I wouldn't mind the idea of becoming Ancient if I could be my mother and live with me. And, that is the ultimate problem, not just for me, but for almost everyone.
My mother is lucky, unusually lucky, but even the unlucky grow old. Someday, maybe, luck won't matter in regards to old age. Someday maybe it will be common for those of all ages to walk hand in hand with the Ancients and buzz with the same excited anticipation a nine year old feels for their thirteenth year when walking with teenagers. On that day, we'll all laugh with relief and say, "Yes, that was the problem..."
All material copyright at time of posting by Gail Rae Hudson