The last time I got one of these calls I was driving home from a workshop in Oxford, and the weekend nurse was frantic about Mom’s eyes—she had an infection and wouldn’t quit rubbing them and her cheeks were inflamed from Mom’s continual licking of her fingers and then rubbing them on her cheeks to soothe them. Thankfully, that got taken care of. So when I got the message this time, I assumed it was another urgent, but not serious, health issue. Wrong.
“We’ve noticed that your mom is slipping in several areas and would like for you to consider moving her to our Alzheimer’s unit upstairs where we can take better care of her.”
My heart sank. I knew this day was coming, of course. I knew it when I moved Mom into the facility in February of 2006. But she’s so happy in her current situation, where she is free to roam about the facility at will… the light, cheerful lobby areas, the front patio with rocking chairs, the back courtyard area where her birdfeeder is, the large atrium dining room, and four wings of apartments. Moving “upstairs” would mean that she would be “locked in” to her wing, with only a screen-in porch at the end for exposure to the outdoors. But it would also mean she would get more help in the areas that she's beginning to need it.
So I made an appointment and drove down to meet with the nurse and marketing director on Tuesday. Well, by the time I got there, things had changed a bit. The nurse and I had agreed over the phone that Mom would do better if she moved about the same time as her best friend, Elizabeth, who really needs to move soon. But Elizabeth was protesting and her family was also a bit resistant, so they’re letting her stay downstairs for a while. Probably a few more months. This gave me time to adjust to the idea myself, and to hear about the benefits Mom would receive upstairs, which will really be good for her at this stage of Alzheimer’s.
When I finished meeting with the nurse, I went down to Mom’s apartment for a visit. When I asked how she’s doing she said her back had been hurting… really her hip, where she’s had bursitis for a long time.
“Let’s stop by the physical therapy room after lunch and see if they can do something to help you,” I suggested.
“Oh, it’s not that bad. I don’t want to.”
As we sat in her living room area, looking out at the courtyard and her bird feeder, I noticed a bunch of chairs huddled together on the back patio.
“What are those chairs doing out there, Mom?”
“Oh, I am so upset. Those are our dining room chairs and they are getting rid of them. I loved those chairs. They are so pretty and comfortable and happy.”
This is what the old chairs looked like, in this picture from the facility's web site. I forgot to take my camera. But I sketched them in my watercolor journal.)
“Mom, chairs aren’t happy or unhappy. They’re just chairs. People can choose to be happy or unhappy, and you can choose to be happy about the new chairs.”
“No, it’s the chairs that are unhappy. Just wait ‘til you see them at lunch.”
So, I went to lunch with Mom and as we entered the dining room area I was surprised by how pretty the new chairs were.
“Mom, these are elegant!”
About then Elizabeth greeted us, and Jamie, another table-mate.
I pulled up a chair from an empty table and made room between Mom and Elizabeth. As soon as I sat down Mom said, “Aren’t these chairs uncomfortable?”
Jamie said, “I think they’re elegant.”
“You would,” Elizabeth chimed in.
Jamie winked at me. She’s the one with the most brain cells still working.
“They’s so unhappy. Our other chairs were so pretty and happy,” Mom repeated.
“Mom, chairs aren’t people—they don’t have feelings. And you can choose how to feel about these chairs, which are lovely.”
Our food came, tasty pork tenderloin, turnip greens, rice and gravy, cornbread, fruit and cake. Mom picked at her food as she always does, but eventually ate about a fourth of it. She only weighs about 125 pounds. But she’s always loved turnip greens.
“Mom, you’re not eating your turnip greens. You used to eat a whole bowl of them with a piece of cornbread for your meal. Don’t you like them any more?”
“I’ve never really liked turnip greens.”
“Sure you did. Remember when you would buy bagfuls of them and wash them in the sink and pick the leaves off the stems and cook them down with fat back for us? They were delicious, especially when you made a skillet of cornbread to go with them.”
“No, I don’t remember ever liking them. And these chairs are really ugly.”
Trying to distract her from the chair issue, I offered to get us some coffee.
“They’ve moved the coffee stand to way over there at the end of the dining room,” Mom started back in. “It used to be right there,” she pointed, “close to our table.”
“It’s only a few feet further away now.” It was Jamie, the voice of reason, again. “And besides, we need the exercise.” Another wink.
I got our coffee and we finished our cake and finally it was time to say goodbye to the dining room and the unhappy chairs.
On the way back to Mom’s apartment, Mom complained about her back hurting agiain, so we stopped by the physical therapy room so I could meet the new full time therapist and encourage him to work with Mom. Her lower back and hip were really hurting. Nothing new—her bursitis just kicks up from time to time.
“Oh, I don’t want to go in there—they’ll hurt me!”
“No they won’t, Mom, they’ll do some things to help your back pain.”
We met the new staff, including Grant, a handsome thirty-something guy with an old-fashioned movie-star quality to fit his name.
“He’s cute!” Mom noticed immediately.
“Yes—wouldn’t you like to have him help you with your back pain?”
“Will it hurt?”
Grant smiled and offered his hand in introduction. “We won’t hurt you, Miss Effie. But we can show you some exercises that will make you feel better.”
We looked around the room at some of the other residents they were working with. No one was screaming in pain. Some were even smiling, so I hope Mom will cooperate with them when I’m gone.
Back in the hall near Mom’s apartment, we found her friend Elizabeth, sitting on a bench, distraught.
“That woman with the pony-tail has been telling everyone that I’m moving upstairs to the Alzheimer’s unit. Can you imagine that? As though I have Alzheimer’s? Dr. Fulcher’s nurse just evaluated me last week and couldn’t find anything wrong with my brain. They’re just spreading rumors.”
“We won’t let them take you,” Mom sat down beside Elizabeth on the bench and put her arm around her.
I looked for an opportunity to plant some positive seeds.
Mom actually nodded and seemed to accept the idea. I hope Elizabeth will warm up to it in coming months. They will both get a higher level of personal care up there.
I only hope they have happy chairs.
Oh, and by the away, while looking for pictures on the internet of “unhappy” chairs, I found a book called 50 Sad Chairs.
P.S. I'm off to Knoxville to spend the weekend with my daughter, so I probably won't post again until Monday. Sunday night I hope to hear a favorite musical artist who lives in Knoxville... so stay tuned for a post about her!