Grooming

I took Mom to lunch today. I didn’t tell her in advance. I was afraid I might wake her up with a phone call. But I did call the facility to tell staff Mom would not be having lunch in today. So when I got to the facility, she was in the dining room, and was being a little grumpy with one of the aides who was trying to explain to her that she wasn’t going to be eating lunch in the dining room today. I arrived in just about the nick of time, before Mom got really cranky. She just doesn’t understand explanations of any kind, really. And she doesn’t take no for an answer very well as a result. When she got up from her table, one of her table-mates said she’s lucky she gets to go out. We made just a little bit of a scene, but then we went straight out the door to the car.

Mom was funny – so relieved to be going on an outing. She was irritated by the exchange she had just had with the aide. But she quickly forgot about it. We took the short drive to Bob Evans. I tried to see if Mom could articulate anything about the general complaints she has had lately, but she couldn’t. She seems a little bored, I think, which worries me. I thought she was withdrawing and therefore not really troubled by boredom. She said people are harder to get along with, but I don’t know if she means friends or staff. And it could be they’re hard to get along with because she is having a harder and harder time with any kind of verbal communication. Hard to tell. I just tried to pep her up by saying it was a nice, sunny day and a good day to get out.

At lunch, I ordered the usual pot roast hash for her and a big salad for me. Blueberry bread for me and biscuits for her. When the breads came, Mom examined a butter container. She started reading the label: Fresh Buttery …. she was unsure of the next word, which was Taste. I asked her if she wanted butter on her biscuits and she said yes. And she said I could do it. I try not to automatically treat her as if she is helpless in case it insults her. But she has given over some tasks to me, and when she says it out loud like that, I’m happy to do anything for her. I split a biscuit and put butter on both sides. She started eating it, getting butter on her upper lip that ended up staying there for about half the meal. She eventually decided to do her own buttering on the other biscuit. She spread butter on the top and sides as if she were frosting a cake.

When the meal came, she tended to pick at it. She at first lifted her spoon to eat, but I reacted to that and at the same time she located her fork next to her plate. Every time she put that fork down, she lost track of it under her plate. She picked at potatoes mostly, and didn’t seem to eat as heartily as she has in the past. She filled up quickly. She drank Coke today instead of coffee, and drank one full glass and asked for another. She complained of being full and started to burp repeatedly. “I’m bubbling up,” she said. She seemed to think she had to finish the second Coke, but I convinced her she didn’t have to eat or drink anything she didn’t want. She did make observations about my appetite, commenting on the (large) size of my salad and my ability to eat just about all of it. She hasn’t made comments like that in quite awhile. I noticed her hands trembling from time to time. I wonder if she still might be reacting to being weaned from the antipsychotic. The nurse called me today with a big prescription refill notice, and said that another nurse had written some notes on Mom’s behavior last week while I was gone. Apparently Mom did a few odd things, but nothing that required a call to me while I was away. She couldn’t find the notes, but said she’d let me know what they said when she did locate them. I’m always interested to hear reports about Mom’s habits when I’m not around.

As for not being around, Mom said a number of times that it is so helpful to her to have me spend time with her. She said she was glad to see me. Glad I helped her. “Gratified,” she said one time. She only said it multiple times because she didn’t remember she had said it before, but hearing that repeatedly is having an effect on me, like I should visit more often if it gives her this feeling of relief she describes. She also made references to my decision to stay where I am. I’ve tried to say I’m not going anywhere, I’ve lived in the same house for 10 years. But something is out of sync in her mind about me and I guess checking with me about it was her way of convincing herself she is not going to be abandoned by me.

One thing I noticed fairly quickly today was that Mom smelled. This was not her armpits or musty clothes. She smelled like pee. And I was angry about it. I don’t know what it’s like to work in assisted living, but if I were a nurse or an aide and I smelled obvious pee on a resident, I would like to think I would help that resident fix the problem. Mom also has complained a lot recently about the hairs on her chin. And I noticed her fingernails were quite long today. So I decided upon our return to her apartment that we would have a quick grooming session.

First, I sat her on the toilet seat – the bathroom has decent light – and put the tweezers that I finally remembered to carry to use on her chin. I pulled a good 20 to 30 hairs out, some long, some short, some gray, some brown. “Wow, there are a lot,” she said. I tried not to hurt her. I still left a few, but got the bulk of them yanked. Then I clipped her fingernails. She had been doing this herself up until fairly recently. And then I told her I thought the clothes she was wearing were too warm and that she’d feel better if she changed. She had on blue pants and a blue T-shirt that I’m pretty sure she was wearing on Sunday and a purple velour top over that. She was agreeable, but then again, didn’t seem to know what I wanted her to do. I picked out gray cotton pants, a pale blue T-shirt and a light blue cotton jacket and asked her if she liked the outfit. She approved. She sat in a chair in her bedroom. I said she should start to take her clothes off, but she didn’t seem to understand. So I grabbed her two shirts and pulled them over her head. I put the new shirt on her. I told her she had to stand to take off her pants. I deposited all of her clothes into her basket. And then I told her I figured she ought to change her underwear, and I had a disposable pair at the ready. She started to put them on over the ones she was wearing. I stood her up and pulled on her underwear, and was dismayed that she was wearing two pairs. “Oh,” I said, “you have on two pairs!” This was more an expression of my realization of why she smelled rather than anything meaningful for her to hear. I threw those away, almost gagging at the sight of the pair closer to her body. She was able to put the clean pair on by herself, and then her gray pants. I put new socks on her and she stood up and I helped her into her jacket. All fresh, I thought. And not a moment too soon.

Doing all of this also made me think she might very well be better off in the nursing home, where staff will fully expect to have to help people with these kinds of tasks. At least I really hope they expect to, because that is my expectation.

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