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Sunday, July 16, 2017

(4) "I CAN'T PRETEND TO BE GRATEFUL FOR A CHEAP KEY-RING."

February 22, 1962
     Last night Vaughan’s right hip began hurting her so fiercely while she was having dinner, it was almost impossible for her to walk or even stand up.  She thought she could get up the stairs if Kathryn and I helped her to the bottom of the staircase, but we couldn’t move her even a quarter of the way across the kitchen.  How she’d lift her foot from one step to another when she couldn’t drag it along the floor more than an inch at a time, Kathryn and I couldn’t imagine.  We just looked at each other and shook our heads.
     When Vaughan stood rooted to the same spot for several minutes, Kathryn dragged a chair up for her and we sat her down.  I called Dr. Cline.  He said to carry her up to the third floor in the chair.  I said we didn’t have that many able-bodied people in the house.  He sent a couple of policemen over, and they carried her up to her room.
     I helped her get into her nightie, then supported her to the bathroom, an agonizingly slow process during which she shuddered and cried but insisted she could make it.  We crept from TV set to chair, to bookcase, to doorway, every step a milestone.  It must have taken us twenty minutes to complete the round trip.
     As I eased her onto the bed, she reached for her basin and vomited her dinner.  Then she asked for her digitalis and pain pills.  I put the hot water bottle against her hip and made her as comfortable as I could.  When I said goodnight, she managed a smile and a wave.
     Dr. Cline said this morning that if we are unable to cope with Vaughan’s care, he can start making arrangements for her to go into a nursing home.  She’d hate that, but if her hip doesn’t improve, we may have to be practical and let her go for a week or two, at least.
     Kathryn made her a toasted BLT for lunch, with peaches and cookies for dessert.  When I brought the tray up, she said, “Oh my, doesn’t that look tasty!”—then  grabbed for her basin again.  Her breakfast down the drain, she started in on lunch, saying, “I’ve got to eat."
     When she finished, I broached the subject of bedpans, suggesting we keep one on a chair near her bed.  At first she protested, but when I said that sooner or later she was bound to fall if she kept trying to walk, she finally nodded and said submissively, “All right.”  I think she would put up with almost any indignity to fend off the nursing home.  I haven’t mentioned it, but she surely must guess that it’s a possibility.
     Our poor kitten didn’t survive.  The vet said he had high hopes for her, since she seemed quite perky last night, but she died in her sleep of a brain hemorrhage.  Tim wants another one right away.  I’ve answered a couple of ads, but so far all the kittens are spoken for.  If we weren’t in the market for one, there’d be kittens aglore, as Kathryn puts it.        
February 25, 1962
     Tokay is being a faithful and devoted little mother.  She gave the baby her undivided attention during the first three days of his life, but yesterday she decided it was time he learned to get along without her once in a while.  She climbed into her old bed, which we keep next to the nursery, and with her head cocked on one side, listened for cries of alarm.  In a few minutes George started yelling, “Hey, Mom, where'd you go?”  She jumped back into the box and reassured him.  (“Right here, silly, where’d you think?”)  Later she moved to her bed and baby-sat for a longer period, watching Junior attentively until he set up a wail.  I hope her training will stand him in good stead tomorrow when I take his mother to be bathed and clipped and himself to have his tail docked.  (Dr. Cline said, “You mean you’re going to have him circumcised?”  Such a naughty man.)
      Only once has Tokay completely abandoned her son.  She got a whiff of the turkey sandwich on Vaughan’s tray and trailed me up to the third floor.  She exchanged warm greetings with the patient, then planted herself next to the bed and assumed her hungry look.  Although it’s against the rules, Vaughan slips her tidbits when she thinks I’m not looking.  I started down the stairs, calling Tokay to  come along, but she was far too interested in that turkey sandwich to leave without another tidbit.  Reaching the landing, I called again, with no response.
      “You better get down here or I’ll pinch your baby!” I threatened.  Then I tried a language she understood better.  “Eeenh, eeenh, eeenh,” I chirped.
      “Mother, are you all right?” Tim drawled from his desk.  But I had accomplished my purpose—Tokay scrambled down those stairs so fast she was flying.  (When Ed's looking for company in his silly old airplane, he can take her.)
February 26, 1962
      Ed and I were about to go to bed last night when we heard Vaughan call.  I ran up and found her teetering next to the door, hanging onto the doorknob, unable to move either foot.  She said she’d been standing like that for half an hour, struggling to get one leg or the other in motion.  She had forgotten to ask me for her Milk of Magnesia last time I checked on her, and was trying to hobble to the desk by herself. 
      “Why didn’t you yell sooner?”
      “Because I’m stubborn.”
      I got her turned around, but her legs were almost frozen with pain and I couldn’t guide her back to her bed without help.
      Ed came up and didn’t realize at first how incapacitated she was.
      “Will you help an old lady?” Vaughan quavered with a weary smile.
      “Take your time,” he said, holding her elbow and gently propelling her forward.  Her feet remained rooted, and she would have fallen if we hadn’t caught her.
      “Get the chair,” I said to Ed, remembering Dr. Cline’s suggestion of the night before.  We sat her in it and pushed her over to the bed.  It looked as if she had bloodstains on the front of her nightgown and on the sheet, which worried me, but Ed was sure it was just blueberry pie.
      He was right, I changed her bed this morning and gave her a clean nightie, then went down to the kitchen and found our good Kathryn preparing a tray, even though it was her day off.  I scolded her, but she didn’t listen.  When I brought Vaughan’s tray down again, Kathryn had emptied the dishwasher, put away all the dishes, scrubbed the frying pan, and sponged off the counters.
      She went up to visit with Vaughan but said later she'd slept most of the time.  I’m always glad when I find her asleep because I know that during a nap, at least, she isn’t suffering.
      This afternoon she spilled tea on her nightie and bedclothes.  How distressing these accidents must be to someone like Vaughan, who all her life has been so fastidious.
      “Do you have another clean nightie?”
      “No, but it’s all right, it’ll dry.”
      Which reminds me of another problem—Vaughan isn’t able to bathe herself now that she is bedridden.  I’m going to ask Dr. Cline if he’ll authorize the visiting nurse to give her regular sponge baths.
 March 2, 1962
      It’s another Milk-of-Magnesia morning after, and I am losing any romantic illusions about the nursing profession.  I wonder if nurses ever really become accustomed to this assault on their sensibilities.  Do they look forward to the days when their patients are constipated?  It’s awful to be old and ailing and dependent for your most private needs on the services of others.  We human beings have a strong motive -- aside from promptings of affection, gratitude, or a sense of duty -- for being considerate of our aging loved ones.  Even as we are affronted by the less aesthetic aspects of their care, we remind ourselves that some day we may be in the same boat.
A recollection, added many years later:  And now I recall a time when I was in the same boat, decades ago, sick in bed--with the measles, I think-- and not allowed to get up and walk to the bathroom.  How I dreaded using the bedpan.  How I wished I could wait until I was well.  It was so embarrassing.
       But there was no sign of revulsion on Vaughan’s face when she removed the pan—only her usual cheerful smile and the words, “Well done, Babbie. I’m proud of you.”
       Dear, sensitive Vaughan who knew how to spare the feelings of an eleven-year-old -- who would still know, if our circumstances were reversed.
       I will strive to overcome my squeamishness
***
       In general, Vaughan has been a reasonable and undemanding patient, but she has one habit that irritates me.  Last evening I was very tired, having spent most of the day at the typewriter.  As a result of sitting in one position for so long, with my recuperating leg stretched out on a chair, I ached in every fiber.  I hoped I would be able to settle Vaughan for the night without any extra trips up and down stairs.
      I emptied the bedpan, filled the hot water bottle, set out the pills she’d be taking at night, loaned her my eyes (Chicago vs Bruins, WHDH, 7:55 p.m.).   She didn’t want to take her laxative quite yet---- “It would get me up in the middle of the night”-- so I placed the bottle and a glass next to her bed.  Where was the tablespoon?  No tablespoon?  “If it isn’t right there on the desk, someone must have taken it,” Vaughan said, looking distressed.
      My eye fell on a teaspoon on her tray.  “Here, you can use this—three of these will make a tablespoon.”
      “All right,” she said doubtfully.
       “I’ll look in on you when we get back from dinner with the Hills.  I’ll bring a tablespoon up then, okay?”
       “Eddie won’t be home for dinner, did you say?”
       Yes, he will, we’re going out for dinner with the Hills!”
       “With the Hills?” she asked, watching my lips.
       “Yes, with the Hills.”
       Figuring I’d thought of everything, I picked up the tray and started down the stairs.
       “Barbara!” she called, as I reached the second floor landing.  “Barbara!”
       It was no use shouting “What?”  She wouldn’t hear me.
       I put down the tray, hobbled up the stairs again, and asked her what she wanted.
       “Tell Kathryn to come up and see me if she has a chance.”
       Grrrr.
       After the visiting nurse left this morning I brought my rollers, comb, and mirror up to Vaughan’s room and we watched “The Price is Right” while I set my hair.  It was time for Bill Cullen to choose the “Sweepstakes” winner, as they call it, from five postcards drawn from an enormous bin.  When he read off the first name, I shrieked and scared poor Vaughan out of her wits: "Mrs. Robert Dodds of St.Petersburg, Florida."  Mimi.  My mother-in-law had overestimated the value of the prizes, and another card-sender was the big winner.        
     Kathryn says Vaughan asks her every now and then if she has written and thanked Harold for his Christmas present.
      “Mrs. Malley, I just can’t bring myself to do it.  I make excuses to her, tell her I’ve been too busy to get around to it yet, but I just can’t pretend to be grateful for a cheap key-ring from that man.  I’m too disgusted with him for the way he lets Vaughan live off you and Mr. Malley."           
      Harold has taken to sending his mother a big package every week -- the Sunday edition of the Miami Herald.  That’s a pretty good exchange for the Social Security check she signs over to him..  I know because she asked me what to do about a verification slip the bank had sent her, and her balance was  $1.72. 
March 2, 1962
From Mimi      
      Your nice letter received and again many Thank You’s for the check.  You may know it will be used for an unmentionable bill I have hanging over me and was worried about.  The change in Re-Financing mortgage took every sent I had saved  -- also $98.00 Balance Sewer bill  had to be paid—again I thank God and you for your help.  The Sewer is off our necks & its 6% interest.  I remember you in my prayers (All of You) and every Air-Plane accident I wonder if Edward is safe at home?   
      Barbara dear now Please don’t worry or give it a thought about the little dog -- I do hope I’m capable of understanding how disappointed you must have been after spending $100.00 to have her bred with another good dog—and only one little pup arrived.  Why don’t you tell everyone you decided to keep it as Is instead of cutting off his tail and feet and devideing him with everyone.  I bet he’s cute as the little mother is Smart and Cute Etc. etc.  We can do nicely without one.
      Today on Price is Right my card was Picked to my great surprise -- I was too high so no good -- I have several in for you -- maybe someday your card will win. Now I can believe we have a chance that someone in my book could also draw a winning Horse on the Irish Sweepstakes.  Tell Kathryn what I have just written -- I could hardly believe my ears when they read Mrs. Robert Dodds on T.V.  Really shocked.  So sorry I didn’t win anything.  I’ll keep trying -- I am going to evening Novena as usual -- In Boston its Tuesdays.  Here in St. Pete -- Fridays.  I want to go to the bank so am leaving early.  There opened Friday evenings—and I will leave Bob’s supper on Stove.  (Hes feeling better)
      I feel very sorry about Vaughn, Poor Soul -- some nursing homes are nice others I’m told are terrible, they have several here -- however I know little about them.  Up and down that stairs with trays must be very tiring Etc. etc.  How is your mother?  Is she in Florida?  Barbara, You must do whatever you think best for all concerned and God will certainly guide you in whatever decision you make -- the Best of everything to you all and I'm sure I'll have a S. S. winner—I am going to keep on thinking and knowing God is good—and can also help—Keep thinking your a winner.

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