Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

Our Family Tradition: Sacrifice

In Guest stories, Love on November 22, 2013 at 7:10 pm

intensive care unit
Our family tradition is sacrifice: Mom having to eat leftover pizza on her birthday, when she just wanted to treat herself to a ribeye steak dinner with a baked potato and a buttered yeast roll. But her mother said, in that side-mouthed way she strains to speak since the stroke, “I need you here.” Here, in room 318 at the Sunview Rehabilitation and Care Center – Mom likes how they don’t call it a nursing home – where Mom’s been sleeping on a cot at her mother’s bedside, living on peanut butter crackers and visitors’ trays – usually an off-colored slab of meat and stale bread and syrupy canned fruit cocktail with flecks of maraschino cherry for dessert. She’s gained back eight pounds in the 62 days she’s been staying with Grandmother, because she can’t have her usual grilled chicken salads, and she’s been drinking too many Dr. Peppers, because she’s been on edge. She would eat yogurt, but she doesn’t have anywhere to keep it, and that day-old piece of pizza she ate on her birthday hadn’t been refrigerated, but she was hungry and didn’t have anything else. It made her sick at her stomach, and she spent the night on the bathroom floor throwing up.

But she promised her mother she wouldn’t leave her. Those “skilled” nurses don’t even keep track of the rate the feeding tube pumps into her mother’s stomach, and Grandmother had lost five pounds since the stroke, She was already down to 117 since losing all that weight staying with my Aunt Judy.

In intensive care, when we didn’t know if Grandmother was going to come back at all, Mom told her, “I want to be with you like we were with Judy.”

Mom and Grandmother would take turns sitting up at night with Judy in those awful last months, when she’d just turn and turn and couldn’t get comfortable, and couldn’t keep anything down, and Mom would watch her look off into the dark sometimes and wonder how scared she must be. But she never complained. Once she asked Mom for a pillow and just said, “I hate to be some helpless.”

The day Judy died, I helped Grandmother pack up her bags from the hospital room, and they were full of zip-locks packed with peppermints and cellophane packs of peanut butter crackers. Grandmother wouldn’t leave Judy’s side even to go to the hospital cafeteria.

One day Mom hired a sitter to stay with Grandmother for a few hours. If she left her alone, she was afraid the nursing staff would let her aspirate and choke to death. Mom went home to take a shower, pick up the mail and help her daddy write the bills. And when she got back, the sitter said Grandmother had seemed agitated all day, and Mom asked Grandmother why, and she said, “I can’t stand it here without you. I’m scared.”

In physical therapy, they’d jerked her up on that elevated table and left her hanging there while they worked with other patients. And they’d fed her too fast, trying to get her in shape for a barium swallowing test. They spooned more applesauce in her mouth than she could handle and tried to get her to answer questions while she was trying to get it down: “Mrs. Ronsaville, do you know why we’re here today?”

By Ashley Makar


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