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Monday, July 2, 2012

A Tale of Two Transitions, Part II: The Splat-tier Side

After attending the funeral for our Great-aunt Dolly in South Philadelphia (see yesterday), Dad, Suzi, and I climbed into the car.  Instead of heading straight home, we decided to make a sixty mile detour to visit Dad’s mom.  Suzi and I hadn’t seen Nana since she was moved from assisted living to nursing care.

The decision to “transition” our grandmother, who is 90 years old and quite Italian, marked the latest in a series of agonizing choices her two children have been forced to make as her condition deteriorates. 

While in assisted living, Nana broke her hips multiple times on unsupervised trips to the restroom --Italian stubbornness being no match for severe osteoporosis-- so she spends her days in a wheelchair.  Her mind is a mangled mess thanks to the dementia that has promoted itself from “visitor” to “permanent resident.”

At first Dad didn’t acknowledge the decline in Nana’s mental health because she would summon up obscure mnemonic gems from time to time.  To him, these flashes of lucidity proved she could remember things if she just tried.  But when she started tearing petals from fake flowers on the cafeteria tables and sprinkling them in her soup, he had to face the truth. (In Nana’s defense, the fare there could use a little garnish.)

Dementia took aim at my grandmother’s personality, too.  The staff at the assisted living facility used to tell us how sweet she was.  They stopped saying this when she began to yell at other residents and beg passersby to rescue her. 

Nana is a great lady, and I hate watching this gradual erosion of her dignity as much as I hate seeing my father and aunt pancaked with guilt.  It’s been one long, awful, messy splat.

During Dad’s last solo visit a couple weeks ago, Nana voiced her unhappiness –she may not know exactly where she is but she knows she doesn’t like it—so he expressed reservations about going to see her.  He also knew Nana’s confusion tends to increase after 4 p.m. (a phenomenon that goes by the euphemism “Sundowner’s Syndrome”), right when we were due to arrive.  But Suzi was especially determined to forge ahead.  We braced ourselves for a rough afternoon.

On opening the doors of Lifequest Nursing Facility, we encountered a row of immobile and mainly disengaged residents.  My spirits sank.  But moments after we made our way through the world’s most depressing receiving line, I felt a surge of enthusiasm. We’d walked five yards and I hadn’t yet caught a whiff of That Smell.  

I don’t know exactly what makes up this perfume--which seems to be sprayed liberally around hospitals and eldercare facilities-- but I do know it causes all hope to drain out of me every time I smell it.  The absence of this aroma at Lifequest made me giddy.  And then we saw Nana, outside of her room and sitting in her wheelchair.

It’s not hyperbole to say she looked fantastic.  Her hair had been “done” that morning –by a man, Nana informed us –with great effect.  It was still short but had grown out a bit, lending fullness to the curls that covered her head.  Color shone in her cheeks and replaced the ashen complexion I’d come to expect.  She didn’t exactly break into a grin when she saw us, but the seeds of a smile seemed to be taking hold.

Nana figured out who we were with minimal help.  And when Suzi suggested going outside for a little fresh air (though with temps in the 90s I wasn’t sure where we’d find any outdoor air that met this description), Nana didn’t resist.  We wheeled her out to a gazebo behind the cafeteria.  No one would mistake this little pavilion for the one that graced The Sound of Music set but it offered shade, a ceiling fan, and a view of the lawn, so it wasn't half-bad.    

“This is nice, Nana,” Suzi observed. I believe she was referring to the overall ambience.  Nana took it a little differently.

“Yes,” she responded, smiling. “In general, I’m happy to see you kids.”  In general?  Dad, Suzi and I tried to contain our laughter but it burst out anyway.  Unintended hilarity is the best kind.  Our family might still be mid-splat, here, but the three of us later agreed we’d had an outstanding visit with Nana.  In general.
   
 

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