“I’m still the boss of me”

We all know that life can turn on a dime. In this case, it turned on an ankle — my mother’s 89-year-old ankle. It broke (quite badly) this past Monday, required surgery on Tuesday, and whisked her from her independent life in her own home to a short-term rehab facility with orders not to put any pressure at all on it for 12 weeks.

Now you and I could learn to manage with crutches or a walker and by hopping a bit. But at her age, she’s all but an invalid, requiring help from 2 people to go from bed to wheelchair to chair and back again. We’re hopeful rehab will help, but…how much it can help is still uncertain. Whether her ankle will even heal (thanks to the osteoporosis that caused the break in the first place) and the long-term prospects after her short-term rehab stay is over are even more nebulous. We’re rapidly trying to learn the ins and outs of Medicare, what various facilities offer, what in-home services might be available, how 7 children with full-time jobs can drop everything to help, and what we can possibly do to make her 3-story, very elder-unfriendly house accessible so she can come home. 

It’s nothing a million other families aren’t dealing with every day — caring for elderly parents, sick or disabled kids, spouses, loved ones — it’s all in a long, hard day’s work for so many people. It makes me marvel at the “good old days,” when there always seemed to be an available grown daughter who didn’t work, lived close by, and could care for an aging mom or dad with relative ease. My own mom did it for her parents, but was lucky that neither of them required a nursing home stay. She’s unprepared for all this, and so are we. It’s not that we didn’t think this day would ever come — we’re not naive. But when you have a stubborn old woman telling you “I’m fine” and not willing to consider leaving or even modifying said accident-waiting-to-happen house, your hands are tied.

Until, that is, the turn of an ankle forces you to face it anyway, hands still tied, trying to Houdini your way out of a hopeless situation so she can ultimately be free to live as she did before.

All I can say is, thank God there are 7 of us to try to untie each other…and thank God we can still laugh at our feisty mom. Especially when she says things like:

“I don’t want any more pain meds, I’ll just scream.” (this in the ER, because the initial morphine they gave her made her sick. My sister told her they frowned on screaming.)

“I can go home. I’ll just go up the steps on my rear end.” (two sets of stairs with a landing in between and no thought of how she’s going to get up off the floor when she does get to the top. We can see the headlines, “Able-bodied Children Sit Idly By While 89-year-old Mother Forced to Crawl Up Steps.”)

“Oh I wouldn’t want one of those. (this after a helpful nurse suggested a chair lift for the stairs — obviously these are just for old or disabled people)

“I’ll take anything that’s free.” (this after my sister and I chastised her for taking a plastic rosary offered by a hospital volunteer that she neither needed nor intended to use, preferring to “count on her fingers” instead)

And finally….

“I’m still the boss of me.” (in response to my sister telling her, basically, she needed to do what she was told or she wouldn’t get well)

Well, true as that last vehement statement may be, it won’t stop your 7 bratty kids from trying desperately to do what’s best for you, despite who is — and always has been — boss.

We’ve put more effort into helping folks
reach old age than into helping them enjoy it. 
                                                ~ Frank A. Clark