Caretaker: To Fracture or Not to Fracture

June 27, 2016

12:45am: Jolted from the deep sleep of REM by a crash and a cry out of my name, “DONNA!, DONNA!” I bolted from my bed. The two cats who were sleeping next to me momentarily scattered. My worst fear for my mom is her falling. When in the hospital, she wore the familiar wristband that prominently states: “FALL RISK”. The sign hung on her door and at the foot of her hospital bed, “FALL RISK”. That is my mom. “FALL RISK”. Yet she often refuses to use her walker, refused to accept any training from an occupational therapist and refused to do any exercises that the physical therapist taught her. In her mind she is fine. She is fine until she falls and screams out with the crackled voice  so typical of an ancient woman.

It is a gut twisting and heart jolting response to see your 86 year old mother on the floor moaning. She fell. Again. I vaguely recall hearing her walker crash but was soundly sleeping when the fall happened. She was making her way to the restroom when she fell and had not turned on any lights. She does that. Has always done that……walked around in a dark house. It drives me insane, but she does it anyway. Close the blinds and turn off all the lights. She fears someone will see inside our windows. For the last two days she’s been in a vile mood. She has picked and snipped at me over the least of things: “turn off that light! it bothers me; move this cat off of my bed; has Molly (the dog) been fed? (it IS my house, by the way) She asked the same question five times in an hour. I answered the same, “yes the dog has eaten and the dog has eaten something other than dog food.”

The challenge with being a caretaker of someone like my mom is determining what is dementia and what is her being lucid but her typical complaining, hateful and rude self. Being a caretaker is hard enough when the patient is compliant and good natured. Easy. That would be like my dad when he was terminally ill with lung cancer. He was easy. Good natured and still enjoyed things in life. I’d find him sitting on the edge of his bed playing Willie Nelson CD’s, or sometimes, Glenn Miller. Caring for dad was simple; just make sure he had a big cup of black coffee within reach. Cook him bacon or sausage and eggs for breakfast and he was good to go. Dad always did have an easy going personality. Me and my siblings always knew mom would be the hard one. She always has been a difficult person to be around. She will say mean things and rude things: “too fat; too skinny; not smart enough; or not pretty. But she can be, and often is, a giving person. She will defend her kids to the death. A few years ago I explained to both my sister and brother that mom is nicer now; nicer than she ever has been in her life. I figured it was because she knew her options were limited. She was frail and now she needed me. Having her live with me for the last six years has been easier than it has been hard; it’s been more enjoyable than not.

Regardless of how difficult she is, how hurtful and mean the words she hurls at me, she is my mom. Seeing this little 100 lb curled up ball of worn out old woman lying in the floor immediately dissipates all of the hurtful words and anger she flings toward me. This is my mom. This is the woman who put me before herself when she raised me. I breath in emotional strength and exhale the hurt. Today, she called my name every five to ten minutes. Each time was a complaint or hurtful word. Just picking at me. Just being Bettie. I breath in. My brother is coming today. To stay for a while. To recuperate from his own surgery and to be home with mom when I’m away. My brother is coming today.

Thankfully, this time there appears to be no fractures. She was up off of the floor within five minutes of the fall. She walked to the restroom with my assistance. This morning she got out of bed and walked to the restroom without my assistance. No fractures. Not her bones and not my emotions.

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