Sunday, June 06, 2010

"I can't" -- The loss of control and who we are at heart

She started with an, "I have a problem" preface, after which she explained in a string of words that sounded like actual words but for the most part made no sense, except for these: "I can't do anything; I can't do anything right; I can't do anything at all." That was last Wednesday. It was also the first time since her move to assisted living, and now to skilled nursing care, that she admitted that there was something she couldn't do. Until Wednesday, the monumental struggle was always to explain to her why people were interfering in her life ("to help you" I always said), to which she always responded, " but I can do all that -- I do all that myself." You just can't argue with her logic, and the facts, well, her facts and mine just don't exist in the same universe.

And indeed, it was quite evident that she couldn't do anything. Her hands were shaking so badly that I had to feed her. By evening (after I had gone home) she had fallen 3 times and the next morning, she fell again. So, she had lost the ability to walk and to feed herself in, literally, a day. I'll make the long story short here: I got a referral to hospice and I am so glad I did. It's not clear whether she's got 2 hours, 2 weeks or 2 months to live, but it is clear that the disease has taken a serious turn for the worse. It is so good to have hospice nurses and assistants involved, who are focused on managing pain, anxiety and frustration, as the body passes through the phases it must when life comes to an end.

But that's not all she lost. Today when I visited, she was in the dining room in her "geri" chair, asleep. It took awhile for her to wake up, but when she did, she ate about half her lunch. But the whole time I was there, talking to her and feeding her, she was irritated, angry and hostile. She yelled at me for touching her arm ("Goddamn-it -- leave it alone"), and again when I asked her at one point if she wanted more of anything to eat ("NO! I don't want anything!" as she slammed both her hands on the table).

I always announce myself when I come to see her because, for awhile now, she has taken a few seconds to recognize me. She always does recognize me eventually, and she consistently acts towards me in a very loving way -- not at all like she acted today. So, though I had already said that it was me when I first sat down, and had talked about my brother and when we would both be by to see her next, I asked her if she knew who I was and as I expected, she answered angrily, "no."

Maybe it's just the disease. I've heard that it can exacerbate personality traits. And this was my mom toute crachée when I was a little girl, before she divorced my dad, whom she came to hate during their 9 years of marriage. Talk about a walk down memory lane, or perhaps I should call it, nightmare alley. This experience sheds a little more light on the questions I've been exploring regarding who we "really" are, and change. We can control our presentation to and interaction with others to some degree, but when control dissolves, who we are at center is revealed. Superficial change is not real change -- not good enough.

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