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Three years ago, my then 83-year-old mother fell at home and fractured a vertebrae in her back.
She didn’t tell anyone about the fall and told us she strained her back.
Over the next several weeks, her “strained back” got worse. Six months after the fall, she couldn’t get out of bed. Over her protests, I called an ambulance for a trip to the emergency room where doctors discovered the broken vertebrae had fused itself to another, aggravating her advanced osteoporosis.
After six weeks in a rehab center, she returned home but her condition continued to worsen. She withdrew from friends and family, hiding behind locked doors, asking for food and supplies to be delivered and left on the porch.
Three months ago, I couldn’t get her on the phone. She had changed the locks on the house so I broke in and found her half-on, half-off the couch, unable to get up. She was emaciated and the house reeked of feces from her three dogs which could not go out.
I cleaned her and the house up and tried to talk her into going to the hospital. She talked me into letting her “sleep on it” and I left. The next day we found her on the floor where she had fallen shortly after I left. EMTs from our local rescue squad found her breathing and heartbeat erratic and her blood pressure dangerously low. They worried she might code before getting her to the nearest hospital 41 miles away.
We made it and the hospital spent several days pumping her full of nutrients, treating bed sores and other conditions. They recommended, once again, rehab.
After five weeks in a rehab center, where she fell three times while trying to get out of bed without calling for a nurse — fracturing her pelvis in one fall — the doctors ruled out her returning to home. Around-the-clock medical care is not readily available in the rural area where she lives so I exercised the medical and durable power of attorney that she had granted 20 years ago “just in case” and placed her in an assisted living facility. She fought it at first but seemed to accept it over the next month.
On August 1 — exactly one month after moving into the assisted living facility — she woke up in the middle of the night, failed to call for a nurse and tried to get up. She fell — hard — and fractured her left hip. Later that day, surgeons put her broken femur back together with a titanium rod and two screws. After 10 days in the hospital, she returned to her third rehab center in three years.
I visit my mother every day — driving the 37 miles to the rehab center before heading for her home another 25 miles away to take care of her dogs and make sure the house is secure. When she fell three months ago I found more than six months of unopened mail in her home and scores of unpaid bills. I assumed control of her life, paid off her bills and — with the help of my brother — set up a program to assure she is taken care of for the remainder of her life.
At 86, my mother — for the most part — is a shell of her former self. At times I see remnants of the woman who — in 1946 — climbed aboard her Harley-Davidson Knucklehead and rode 800 miles — by herself — from Meadows of Dan Virginia to Gibsonton, Florida, to meet her future in-laws. She continued to ride that bike for several years after my father died in an industrial accident three years later.
All but gone is the woman who — after my stepfather died in 1985 — decided to see the world and spent the next several years traveling that world on her own.
The frail woman I visit each day now weighs 95 pounds. Her skin tears easily from the protruding bones from advanced osteoporosis and she screams in pain from the slightest movement. Yet — when she is at her best — she still fights to regain her strength and struggles through the exercises in rehab with the hope that she can — one day — regain mobility.
As I watch her moods switch back and forth from determined fighter to dejected, declining senior, I try to keep up a strong, supportive front when with her and then turn into a sobbing mass of jelly after I leave the facility. The past three years have taken their toll on me and those around me.
When the phone rings, I answer with a dread that it is more bad news from the rehab center. I don’t dare venture too far from the area where we live. Something could happen that requires my presence.
Friends tell me I need to let go, to reduce my daily visits to two or three times a week at most but her face usually brightens when I walk in the door of her room. I don’t always know which person she will be when I visit. On some days I just sit and let her blast away with tirades about what a traitorous son I have become for putting her in her current “hell hole.” On other days she thanks me for taking care of her.
She’s my mother. She took care of me for the first 17 years of my life. Now its time to do the same for her.
(NOTE TO READERS: What does this column have to do with politics? Absolutely nothing. What does it have to do with this web site? Absolutely everything. A number of readers have noticed my increasing distraction in recent months. My wife, who serves as my barometer to reality, says the distraction began three years ago when my mother fell for the first time and hit its peak in the last three months. She’s right, of course, as she always is. My focus is elsewhere and my attention span, as well as my patience, is short. My temper is short and recent events have taken its toll. I wrote this column so readers can — hopefully — understand because whatever happens in my life affects Capitol Hill Blue.)