Saturday, August 05, 2006

American Idol, Bo Bice, And My Mother's Vagina

Mum in her late fifties was still an attractive woman. I dragged her out oneday and got some photos of her to send to her family down south and to blow up for her children to display in their hallways. This is one I found in my paper sack full of photos. This is Mum still seven years from retiring--here at 58-- and a full twelve years before her lungs would fill with mucus and infection and send her in an ambulance to the ER in Grants Pass where I drove in to find her strapped to a table with a mask on her face and a worried doctor ordering all sorts of tests while a nurse asked me a battery of questions and her second husband, also about 70, stayed at home and fretted and probably drank too much and wondered what life alone was going to entail...

Mum didn't die that night, but her life sure changed and so did mine.

A lifetime of being a mild smoker and triple pnuemomia (as if pnuemonia or double pnuemonia were not enough) turned my Mum into an old lady.

Hospital stories are about as fun as amputee tales. You can't really find too much amusement in retelling O sat readings and Prednisone levels.

Mum had a hard time in the hospital. The Prednisone they gave her for her infection caused her to have mental problems and memory problems. Mum became someone I didn't recognize, and I had to forewarn my brother and sister who had come up from California that Mum was very sick and "not herself".

Mum had been a nurse her entire life. She knew hospitals and she knew nursing. The trouble was, she had lost her mind and couldn't remember how long a moment was. She would convince herself that she had not recieved her medicines only five minutes after she had recieved them. She would throw the phone. She would call her brother back east and beg him to come save her from "these people" who were trying to kill her. I would vacillate between being the angelic son and the meanest person on the planet.

I visited Mum everyday from about noon until late at night, Her husband Dick would come for a few hours in the morning and stay until early afternoon. He would tire and become frightened, and then drive himself the forty minutes home. I got to know the nurses and was learning how to manuever Mum in her bed, as she was too weak to move herself.

One of the greatest things I learned during this period about my Mum was not from her but indirectly, from the nurses. By watching and relating to them, I got to know my Mum much better. You see, Mum had been a nurse, but I had never really seen her being a nurse. If I met her at her place of work, I always asked at the desk for her and it was always during her lunch break and we would always get the heck out of the hospital and eat on a picnic bench or table outside. Mum would eat and tell me how glad she was to see me. We would have conversations that were easy and without tension. Mum would then excuse her bad habit, have a cigarette, and then head back inside...

It was during one of these lunches that Mum made me promise to never put her in a nursing home or convalescent hospital. I promised. Crazy ladies would scream and others would push their wheelchairs out the front door to escape and others would never get out of bed. The place would smell like rubbing alcohol and dirty diapers. I would feel "crazy" just sticking my head in the front door.

It made promising easy. I said yes, I would never allow that to happen to her. Mum, at the time, just nodded her head and thanked me.

While in the hospital, Mum lost forty pounds. She had been sick for more than a year before getting really sick. Weight piled up on her as she fought one lung infection after another. And two weeks before she had gotten really sick, she had had her teeth pulled and was set to get fitted for dentures.

One of the hardest things for me emotionally, was in seeing this change in my Mum. Mum had always been an attractive woman. I had always held a secretive and deep pride in my mother's visage and her presence in the world. My friends all had crushes on my mum. Mum was almost always the brightest thing in a room, like a Christmas tree or a prize sculpture, people would always look at her first.

I found her in the hospital wearing an oxygen mask, her chin and cheeks all sunken in due to the lack of teeth, her face, it seemed to me, had become much like those doll faces made out of dried and shrunken apples I saw at the county fair when I was a kid...

Mum had always looked younger than her age, but suddenly, she looked older than that.

Mum looked like those old ladies in the convalescent hospitals and there was much talk about sending her to one by the nurses and doctors.

Mum was so weak that she would sink in her hospital bed every thirty minutes or so. She would have to keep the back up to keep her lungs clear, but would slide down and not be able to push herself back up. I got so I could lower the bed, slide her up and raise the bed in a manner of a minute. Mum preferred that I did this instead of calling in a nurse, who she was convinced were all out to harm her.

This was the time of year for American Idol. This was the season before last. This was Carrie Underwood verses Bo Bice. Mum decided that she loved them both, and had picked them out of the top twelve during the first episode she saw. Mum had learned to sing in church as a Southern Baptist growing up in Jackson, Mississppi. Her father had played an electric guitar and her mother also sang in the choir. Mum taught herself to play the guitar as a young mother living abroad in Jerusalem. I learned this the other day. I had thought she always knew how to play. She was playing guitar before I could remember. I was born, I thought, listening to her play. This was not the case.

American Idol was the only thing that seemed to bring my Mum back around. She would smile and sing along to songs she knew. She would poo poo bad performances and horribly sang notes. She would shudder when a singer was singing even slightly off key. I was very thankful for American Idol, as it gave me a chance to remember why I really liked my Mum as a person. She was in the room with me, soothed by familiar songs, and as lucid as she'd ever be in that hospital. The Prednisone was helping clear up the raging infection, but it was also making her quite loopy. The only thing that seemed to penetrate that loopiness, was Bo Bice singing The Almond Brothers classics and Carrie Underwood singing country.

They got rid of the infection in the hospital but Mum was still too weak to do anything for herself. Even using the toilet was too much for her. They sent her to a convalescent hospital, where she was supposed to "live" until she got better or died. I visited her there for a week and then determined to get her home, to get better or die.

Against everybody's advice, I took my Mum to her home and moved in to take care of her.

The Lion's Club has a free service where they loan you a hospital bed and a portable toilet and a bedside table and a walker and a wheelchair. I took my truck and brought back all of these.

Medicare has a program where a nurse will come to the house as often as needed, and at first, it was once a day.

Mum was so weak by the ordeal she required help doing everything. Her mind was such that she had delusions and at times, the only way to get her to understand something was to yell at her. I worried about the rural neighbors and what they must have thought. Imagine, yelling at a poor old woman like that?

She wet herself and pooped herself. She had to wear diapers and have them changed. There is an odd and powerful taboo to be overcome at times like these. My entire life, I had never thought I'd face the moment, when, like a nurse, I would have to wash my mother's vagina. That was a place I would never had thought to go on my own. I thought about vaginas often as a young man, as young men do. Vaginas were mysterious and magical things that women possessed and shared at their discretion. Vaginas were for garnering excitement and having sex with. They were for poetry and pushin' cushions and slamma jammin' and making a girl say woo woo woo...

And now here I was, face to face with my place of origin, and I've got a warm wash rag and I'm wiping away bodily excretions and applying powders and creams to stave away rashes.

On my own mother.

Life is about doing what needs to be done and enjoying the doing of it. It is about sacrificing one's own desires at times, and fulfilling the wishes of others.

I can see now the sacrifices and the turmoil my Mum faced everyday being a nurse for 42 years.

She deserved this chance to be at home, and watch American Idol on her own TV.

Addendum-- Mum is still around and is quite happy. She is almost off the Prednisone. She is tottering around with a cane, mostly. She cooks fantastic meals and has taught herself to knit like a machine. We watched this years American Idol together, and she picked Chris to win it. I put in a flower garden out front, and a "bird sanctuary" out back, so she has plenty of gardening chores available to her when she feels the need. She is still weak. She is now an old lady. But she is still in her home and she is happiest just sitting out on the back deck and watching the birds come to the feeders we spread out full of seed.

Watching Mum be old is like watching a setting sun. I know she will eventually set for good, but right now, I am appreciating her final radiance.


Nuri said...

"Life is about doing what needs to be done and enjoying the doing of it. It is about sacrificing one's own desires at times, and fulfilling the wishes of others"


Kris, Seattle said...

A wonderful post Scott. I'm glad to know she's up and about these days.

Dogbait said...

You're a champion. I watched my mother slowly die from emphysema from a life time of smoking. Hope she's around with you for a lot longer.

HOTMAMA said...

Scott, your mom's a beautiful lady. You look a lot like her.

JK said...

reading this today reinforces the feelings of thanks, for my mother of course but also for yours, and for the gifts she gave you so you could care for her when the time came, so you could appreciate her, and so you could write about it. Thank you.

JustCallMeJo said...

Thanks. I think I've just fallen in love with your mum.

May she have grace and choice, and always hear songs she loves.

Anonymous said...

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