The Flickering Candles

April 3, 2009

Birthday Candles for a Birthday GirlIf my mother’s alive in 2010, next year will be the birthday that all children of Alzheimer’s patients dread — the forgotten birthday. Since my post about last year’s birthday — and in the space of less than a year — my mother, who suffers from pathologic fractures (probably due to osteoporosis, although no one in the family will admit this, any more than they will use the “A” word – anorexia) has broken her right hip, fractured her pelvis and…broken her neck. She thought she was going to rehab for right hip therapy, proudly “graduated” from physical therapy in October and anticipated a return home.

The actual plan was to place her in an assisted-living apartment in an assisted-living facility (They aren’t called nursing homes anymore.). However, the staff concluded that our mother wasn’t a candidate for assisted living, as she has what’s described as “no safety awareness.” Which is a pretty ingenious description for “bonkers.” She’s been moved from short-term care to a floor with long-term care and, although unaware of it, awaits placement in the nursing home’s locked psychiatric unit once there’s an opening.

Last year at this time, she was in the hospital recovering from a broken right kneecap. It turned out to be just the beginning of a downward spiral from osteoporosis and anorexia. While the media seems to suggest that anorexia is a youthful condition, many women over 50 become anorexic and the older one gets, the more alarming the consequences are. (My mother, now weighing in at 70 pounds, describes herself as “slim and trim.”) At any rate, despite being hospitalized, she made sure I received a birthday card last year, signed by her and mailed by a sibling.

Birthday CakeHow hard she must have tried to remember my birthday this year, as she flickers in and out of lucidity. She did remember it long enough to mention it to my sisters. Although the card was signed “Love, Mom,” I don’t think it was her handwriting, as she is laying flat on her back in a neck brace, as the C1 neck fracture heals. She’s very fortunate that she wasn’t paralyzed in this fall, as a C1 fracture is the one which typically paralyzes divers, for example, when they dive headfirst into shallow and rock-strewn waters. Someone put a lot of thought into picking a card with a timely message. Curious to see if my mother remembered that today was my birthday, I called the nursing home assisted-living facility to see how she was doing, as she also had cataract surgery recently. She said: “We wondered if you got the card,” but then her thoughts wandered off nonsensically. She said drops were being put in her eyes, without any apparent awareness that she’d had eye surgery. She asked what day my birthday was, three times. I told her, three times. But it didn’t seem to register, and no typical “Happy Birthday” greeting was forthcoming. There was a fundamental disconnect.

There’s a high mortality rate during the first six months of people in nursing homes who don’t adjust well to change. That would be an accurate description of my mother. Since I don’t really expect her to be alive next year at this time, the printed message on the birthday card was probably the last lucid message I’ll receive from her. It read: “I want you to know that I love you every bit as much today as the day you were born. And though I may not hold you in my arms the way I did then, I always hold you safely in my thoughts and in my heart.” Love you too, Mama.

Let’s lighten things up. Read about the plague of the South — NASCAR.

Photo credit: Elena777 / flickr

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