Thursday, February 18, 2010

U.T.O.L.'s and the Horror House

It's almost two in the morning. Too early to get out of bed, but insomnia has become my alarm clock, and when it rings my night's sleep is over. Usually it has the decency to wait until after three, so I can just call it being a very early riser, but tonight it went off without so much as a bad dream to jar me awake. Benadryl doesn't work, xanax is useless, and even Ambien gives me all the relief of a strong cup of coffee, and a couple of bennies. Do they still call them bennies? I wonder if they even exist anymore. Probably not. Seconal is, no doubt, extinct as well- all gone the way of Dylocid, replaced by newer, "safer" products that may sorta' work, but have "lower potential for abuse", or some such thing. There is still alcohol, but I haven't had a drink in twenty years, and even a night's sleep isn't worth getting back on that ride.
And I just heard my mother get up... and make it to the bathroom and back. There's a straw of gratitude to grasp. She's been in and out of the hospital over these last ten days. Bronchitis, some unspecified infection- you never get to see the actual doctor, and it's hard to get a straight answer. Mostly, just sick with age, and twenty wasted years spent sitting, and staring at television. Monday afternoon the insurance schedule dictated that she be moved from the local hospital to a convalescent facility. Yesterday morning she demanded that they release her. I wanted her out of there too, and they had to comply. I don't blame her for wanting out.

Old John said it: "Those places are a horror house." And he was right.
The smell- Ozium masking leaked urine and death. The white breathing corpses- toothless mouths hanging open in that last long delirious sleep before the breathing stops. The woman doubled over in the wheel chair, face on her knees inching her way down the hall, and the obese double amputee, legs lost up to the thigh to diabetes, uneven stumps uncovered. But the woman in the bed next to my mother. That was the worst.

The sight of that unfortunate soul is going to give me nightmares for years to come. They wouldn't say what happened to her to put her there. My guess was an auto accident, or some sort of hideous brain trauma. There was obviously no consciousness left, but the body in the bed never stopped moving. Dead eyes blinking open and shut. Her jaw rotating in some grotesque imitation of a chewing motion while the shoulders hunched and unhunched, her left arm partly raising and dropping as if endlessly reliving the final flinch before taking a blow that should have killed her. There was nothing voluntary, nothing human in the motion. It repeated and repeated and repeated each blinkchewflinchshrug blinkchewflinchshrug identical, with the mechanical cadence of a busy signal, or a car alarm. Just an endless electrical discharge snapping through what was left of a nervous system. Hanging over the bed was a square plastic bottle filled with brown stuff that looked like liquid shit that dripped down a tube planted through an incision into her stomach. That kept the body alive to keep twitching, while another machine suctioned phlegm from the lungs, and still another gurgling pump collected the foamy waste product out of the intestine and dripped it into a jar that needed to be drained every hour or so. She couldn't have been more than thirty five or forty. The nurse told my mother she'd been like that for five years now.

So I had to get my mom out of there. But my mother really isn't able to do for herself. She needs help getting on and off the pot, and the toilet in the main bathroom now has one of those big white plastic things that raises the seat by ten inches or so. She can't stand up long enough to fix herself food. This is a U.T.O.L.- a universal task of life, caring for your aging parent, and it is my task at this stage in the game. And you don't have to tell me- I know. I know all too well that it could be much, much worse. You know- there is how you're "supposed" to feel when caring for loved ones: caring, compassionate, full of filial piety and all that. And then there is the real feeling that overwhelms everything: like I've just had a very short leash put on my life. A leash that get yanked several times an hour. Let's just say my well of charity is draining faster that it is being replenished.
I managed to get out for a while this afternoon, and went down to the corner for a cup of coffee. Luckily, Old John was there alone and we spent some time talking. He's taken to gathering discarded scratch off lottery tickets, and double checking them for winners. He's been on a lucky streak. Yesterday he found one worth three bucks, and he got a card in the mail from a famous book writer who sent him twenty dollars, which came in handy. I hung around long enough to get a refill before going home to cook dinner. Maybe I shouldn't have had coffee so late in the day.

An update, and a reflection.


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