My sister and I brought my mother home from the nursing home yesterday. Within two hours of her arrival she was fast asleep, and stayed that way, more or less, for the next 16 hours. I woke her up for her pills at one point but that was it. I probably should not have let her sleep that long–especially since she had just been treated for a pulmonary embolism–but I did. She awoke this morning moaning that her legs were aching–as I expected she would, after so much inactivity. I noticed that she wanted me to help her dress, having gotten used to that assistance in the nursing home. I did, and was pretty firm about getting her up and moving, despite her complaints.
Liz and I noticed a very definite change in her mood from the past few weeks. As upset and confused as she often was in the nursing home, she never seemed to be lethargic. After dressing and eating this morning, she flopped over on the couch in her familiar posture. After an hour or two of cajoling from us–Want to read the newspaper? Watch TV?–she ended up back in bed.
Her alertness improved as the day progressed, as usual. We gently questioned her about her experiences in the home. In her mind, she had been in college again, and she told us that she was supposed to have received “an award,” before graduating, but hadn’t. Several times she regretted aloud not having been given this award, but couldn’t tell us what it was or why she was getting it. She had been taken into a room and a “committee” had informed her of it, but she’d never gotten it.
The night before her discharge I had visited, as I often did, at dinnertime. My mother and another resident whose name was Claire (but whom my mother called “Dot”) seemed to have formed a special bond during the past few weeks, and this night they sat together at one table in the dining room. They were joined by my mother’s roommate Viola, a very sharp lady, and a sleeping gentleman named Italo. Claire had been preoccupied all day with the whereabouts of her car, a preoccupation that had escalated by the time dinner was served. She’d been asking me where the front of the building was, and at first I innocently pointed down the hallway. I realized shortly afterwards that she was formulating a plan to go check on her car, and she wanted my mother to go with her.
“Did we take the car when we came here?” she asked my mother several times.
“I think so,” my mother said, and it occurred to me that possibly Claire was aware that my mother would be leaving soon, and was expressing her own desire to go, too.
“I think it was stolen,” Claire said. “I’m going out to check on it. I have to go check on it. I think I left the keys in it.”
“It’s too dark and cold outside,” I said. “Why don’t you wait until tomorrow to check on it?”
“Can I get a ride with you?”
“Why don’t you finish your dinner first,” I said.
“But my car–did we come in my car today?” she asked again.
“I think so,” my mother repeated.
The diminutive Viola weighed in, waving her hand impatiently. In her wheelchair, she was barely at eye-level with her food. “Nobody comes here in a car! Everyone who comes here comes in an ambulance!” she asserted, before attempting, once again, to awaken Italo.
At this point, Claire pointed to my mother and then to herself, and made a “let’s get going” motion. Once again I attempted, without luck, to divert her attention. A nearby aide intervened then and promised to take Claire out to the parking lot to check on her car, LATER ON.
I did feel sad at separating my mother from Claire, even though she barely said good-bye in her haste to leave the next day. I had been privy to several of their conversations over the past couple of weeks. Although I could not often follow their train, I could see that the women were communicating in some way with each other. Each took the other at face value–when my mother would wonder (as she often did when sitting with the other “wanderers” by the nurses’ station) “when the party was going to begin and how were they going to feed all these people,” Claire would seriously consider this problem before answering.
This was my first real glimpse into the society that existed in this place. I’m embarrassed to say that I would walk into the nursing home and see its residents as “other”–removed from my society for one reason or another. But they have made their own society, with all its rules and nuances and affiliations, and it grows and diminishes with the arrival and departure of each resident. I think my mother was stimulated once again by finding her place in it.
My mother now says she is glad to be home, but then sighs, “Well, I guess that’s the end of school.”
“Weren’t there some good things about it?” I ask.
She immediately said Yes, and then began again to regret not receiving her mysterious award. She had regarded her fellow-residents as students, and I wondered what role she had played in their eyes.