Mom owned what I still believe was the world’s longest sofa. The day came when she announced she wanted to move to the living room, and the sofa, she said, would suit her fine as a final resting place, so to speak. The three of us laughed together at her joke, I arranged linens on the sofa and Joe carried Mom from her bedroom.
In the weeks I’d been caring for her, Mom's weight had dropped dramatically. There wasn’t much padding left on her bones and it took only a couple of hours to discover that the sofa upholstery was too harsh on her skin, too painful to endure even through two sheets and a diaper.
An experienced caregiver would have known about a product the medical supply business refers to as a “convoluted foam mattress overlay," known in the vernacular as an “egg crate mattress.” It took me, an amateur, the better part of day to learn of its existence and then track down a store where it could be purchased. But once cut and fit over the cushions, Mom pronounced the result to be excellent.
Mom’s physician had prescribed three drugs: Halcion for sleep which she used only occasionally, a non-narcotic pain pill and Roxanol, liquid morphine meant to be administered by eyedropper on the tongue. It was several weeks after my arrival before Mom, always a stoic, mentioned that the pills were not helping her pain enough. Still, she resisted the morphine.
“I don’t want to get addicted,” she said – this from a woman who until her breast surgery the year before requiring a reduction in her alcohol intake, had spent decades in a way too cozy relationship with a bourbon bottle.
It took two days, during which it was obvious she was suffering, before my arguments and the intensity of the pain convinced Mom she was unlikely to run down the block and rob the nearest candy store. We experimented with the number of drops on her tongue until we found the right dosage and frequency and it wasn’t long before she was enjoying the morphine a whole lot more than would have been a good idea had she not been dying.
A couple of weeks later, Mom’s voice wakened me from a dead sleep. I stumbled from my room, not really conscious yet, to find the sofa empty. Not possible. The woman could no longer walk. Still in a mild stupor, I thought she might be in her bedroom, but as I moved to check, I heard her call again from the direction of the living room. When I turned on a light, I found her on the floor wedged between the sofa and coffee table. She had no memory of how she’d gotten there.
With her paralyzed left arm and general weakness, Mom couldn't help me much in getting her back onto the sofa. That she was also stoned out of her mind on morphine made her even less cooperative, but by squatting on the sofa and hooking my hands under her arms, I was able to lift her from the floor. When she was re-settled and comfortable, Mom spoke up: “The heart in the elephant can substitute for the Faberge egg because it looks shiny and bright,” she said. I stifled a giggle and decided to stick around to see where she was going with that idea. “You can have the egg now. I thought you were too young for such a beautiful thing before…He’d be angry because you let me have a cigarette and a drink…I don’t want you to wear that ugly brown skirt to the party…The Dalmation is exquisite, don’t you think…”
Then she looked me right in the eye: “What am I babbling about? I’ve got enough mental capacity to know I’m babbling.” With that, she used her working right hand to pull up the blanket, closed her eyes and went to sleep. She never again asked for morphine, and I have no idea if the pain subsided or if she chose to suffer it to keep her mind intact.
…to be continued…
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 1
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 2
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 3
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 4
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 5
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 7
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 8
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 9
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 10
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 11
A mother's final, best lesson: Postscript