Of Aging Mothers, Health Care, and the Making of Soup

About two weeks ago my brother called to tell me that my mother was in the Emergency room and he was on his way there. I am the sibling that lives hundreds of miles away from home and he is the one who lives just on the other side of the city from Mom.  My mother had called for an ambulance because she was in great pain. She was sent home with some painkillers but no diagnosis. Five days later, I flew up to spend the weekend with her in her apartment at the assisted living facility she moved herself into several years ago.

Mom was spending most of her time asleep except for the brief hour or so every six hours when the pain meds kicked in. I arrived on the same day as her diagnosis – a collapsed vertebrae that screamed bloody murder every time she needed to turn her body.  We had a diagnosis but not a treatment plan. The MRI doctor didn’t call until after 5 on a Friday evening. We’d have to wait until Monday morning when mom’s internist opened up his office again. 

On her own, Mom was okay in her apartment. The upside of the high rent she had been paying meant she had a call button necklace she could press whenever she needed assistance to get out of bed and visit the bathroom. She could order food in from the dining hall downstairs. I was there because I could be. I was there because I wanted to give my brother, who had been very intensely involved, a break. I was there because I wanted to be there, watching over her. One of the qualities in her I observed that weekend was her ability to persevere, to just put her head down and get through the situation. My mother was born in 1933, when the Great Depression and clearly taken hold but before the basic safety nets had been put into place. Her father was killed by a drunk driver when my mother was six months old. For the first three years of her life, my mother was moved from family member to family member until she was adopted by friends of friends at the age of three years. There wasn’t a lot of milk in her diet. Her bones are now crumbling into bits and pieces within her.