Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sleep to Dream

Last weekend was spent visiting Aunt Ruth. I had wondered why the flight to Indianapolis was so pricey. As it turned out, it was the same weekend as the Indy 500. I perplexed more than a few race fans on the plane when I said I was planning on spending a nice, quiet weekend in a retirement home rather than watching the race.

Last fall, Aunt Ruth suffered a hip fracture from a nasty fall. She made it through surgery, and finally rehab, but she's definitely slowed down quite a bit from my visit two years ago. Since the fracture, she's had three more falls, but luckily hasn't broken any more bones. For me, the weekend was an opportunity to see her at her baseline. With my grandparents, there was always that expectation of an upcoming visit that was canceled abruptly by death. At least for me, visiting Aunt Ruth is somewhat awkward as in my head, I am always expecting it to be our last meeting. Happily, so far she's proved me wrong.

As it turned out, she had full-blown hip replacement last fall, which is kind of shocking given the high mortality rate (up to 35% in the first year following surgery) and her age (105 this past February!). I am sure that she made the decision as she would have hated to be bed-ridden, but it seems like most orthopedic surgeons wouldn't touch someone her age. Now she is clearly having balance issues and the long walk to the dining room now has to be interrupted by rest breaks.

Her remote memory is now being affected. She introduced me to a lot of other residents. Sometimes I was a doctor, sometimes I was a nurse. Sometimes I was from Washington, sometimes I was from Arizona, or Louisiana... it's a good thing we sat with different people at each meal, so nobody caught on!

Our days were full-- with meals at 8 am, 11 am, and 4 pm. In between there were 3 or 4 naps a day. It was a good visit and she reminisced often, sticking to the same memories that she felt comfortable talking about. We talked of Appersons and life on the farm.

Like my grandparents before her, Aunt Ruth is withdrawing from the world around her. The woman who used to read three newspapers a day still has a picture of Ronald Reagan at Camp David from 1984 on her desk.

Luckily, although she never had any children, one of my uncles checks on her several times a week. The staff at the assisted living center also seem to be pretty good about checking up on her several times a day. The day is soon coming when she will have to move to the nursing home wing, and she seems to be all too aware of that, but is putting it off for now.

I prefer to think that her mind works better when she drifts off to sleep, returning to a time of antiquated behaviors and expectations, a world where she makes decisions rather than having them be made more and more for her.


ru said...

Your Aunt Ruth is feisty, like someone else I know

Chris said...

This is quite a touching post, especially the last paragraph. I love how you put yourself in her shoes. It nudges your reader to do the same. Nicely done!