Story by Lydia LaFleur
It’s now a little over a year since I broke my right hip and elbow, nearly died from pneumonia and congestive heart failure, and contracted a stage 4 open bed sore on my coccyx for which a nurse came every day for seven months to change the bandages. During these months I took pain medication at night and sometimes during the day when the pain got to be severe. On arriving home after spending four months in a nursing home, I found it difficult to care for myself. But rather than coddle me, my daughter Ingrid pushed me to try to do things for myself. I wondered about going to a assisted living facility, but I’m now so happy that I didn’t; if I had, my brain would have turned to mush from having so much done for me. But for months every task took physical and mental effort which I didn’t have: weak and oh, so slow! Even my speech, and I became winded talking to people who spoke fast (I had always mimicked the speech pattern of others). When I complained to my cardiologist, he said I should talk only to those who speak slowly or to Southerners. Then came an evening when I was able to wash the day’s dishes (thank goodness for paper plates and frozen Fresh Direct meals). A few nights later I was strong enough not only to take the garbage out, but to hoist it up to the incinerator in the hallway. And then I could walk to the incinerator without using my cane. I could carry my food unspilled to the table without using the cane. I felt elated with each accomplishment! Working out twice a week with my physical therapist, I had graduated from a walker to a cane when in my apartment (even without the cane in my apartment but not recommended) and when walking around my coop’s grounds. But as for giving myself a bath, forget it; no way I could aim the shower hose on my body instead of the bathroom floor. That problem was resolved by Becilla, a wonderful woman quite a bit younger than I, who comes twice a week, gives me a bath and keeps my household running smoothly. So physically I was recovering, but during all this time, my brain was in a fog. Read a book? It was an effort just to read the headlines in The New York Times. The Arts section that I had enjoyed for years held no interest for me. Even my favorite, the Obituary section, got hardly a glance. Thank God, for my pocket radio and NPR. Just as in the nursing home it was the only activity that didn’t take effort. It was somewhat reassuring to know that I was still interested in what was going on in the world. My wonderful granddaughter Sarah and her husband Chris took me out every Sunday evening, pushing me in my wheelchair to our favorite neighborhood restaurant Pisticci’s. Always in the past I had a great time going with them. Especially because by now we knew all the staff, a collection of opera singers, poets, artists, photographers, and because on Sunday evenings there was live music with an ensemble and superb jazz and pop singer Pamela. However for months, although it was pleasant to get out, I got no joy from it. I felt as if I were only partially there looking in on the activity around me. And this was how my life had shaped up till now; it was depressing.
For years I had done most of my shopping from catalogs. I always loved looking through them which keep on coming, no doubt even when you’re dead. They held a vague interest now, but during these months my cloudy brain wouldn’t cooperate when it came to the actual ordering. I needed some summer nightgowns and it was now the month of June. I had leafed through the Vermont Country Store’s catalog several different times looking at the Eileen West nightgowns, and saw two that I liked very much, one especially which was white with a lavender (my favorite color) flower print. Came one evening when perusing them once again while eating dinner, my brain magically cleared and I could focus. Finally I knew I could do it; I immediately called up the company and put in my order for the nightgowns, but also for a set of bed sheets that had the same print of lavender flowers to match the nightgown. There was no stopping me now. I got out the Land’s End and Talbot catalogs, both of which announced sales and free shipping, and ordered four pairs of pants, towels and several blouses. I was reminded when they came, that there are risks when buying mail order; the towels which must be of the best quality ever made are so heavy and big that Becilla refuses to use them, and two of the blouses, though beautiful, were of a cotton that need ironing, and I no longer have the strength to open up an ironing board. I was afraid I’d have to get rid of them until Becilla, bless her, offered to iron them for me.
About this time I noticed my interest in reading the daily paper had returned; I could now manage a whole article. And I no longer was winded when conversing with neighbors; in fact you couldn’t stop me from talking once I got started. I found people fascinating. And going to Pisticci’s with Sarah and Chris was once again lots of fun. The Joy in my life had come back – seeing a new flower sprung up on our grounds, toddlers walking on their tottering little legs just like me on my tottering old legs, getting a video of my granddaughter Emma on a TV show in Japan belting out a terrific jazz rendition of ‘Mack the Knife.’ Joy even in seemingly inconsequential things. One Sunday Sarah took me to a trendy nail salon where I had my nails painted lavender; it gave me so much pleasure when going bed to see them against the lavender nightgown and the lavender flowered sheets. I like that with my walker I can make it across Broadway with all its traffic to the deli that sells the best bran muffins made with yogurt and talk with the young Middle Eastern man who greets me now as ‘friend.’ Recently my mind was sharp enough to finally get together all the necessary information needed for my accountant to file my 2015 and 2016 tax returns.
I think my body and mind began to come out of their once comatose state as I cut down gradually on the opioids I’d been taking for pain; after almost a year my bedsore had finally healed. I feel like I’ve been given one more stage of life to experience, and a very happy one. It’s interesting to observe my gradual decline, and I‘m comforted by the thought my family will come to accept this gradual decline rather than if I were to die suddenly like I almost did a year ago. I don’t want to die, but I’m focusing on living, believing that when the time comes, my body and mind will take care of the dying. Even though my life has limitations (I could not go to Japan for my granddaughter’s formal wedding this summer), there is so much for me to enjoy. Of course, the times I share with my family bring me the most joy.
When did I know I had finally recovered? Why, when I was able to order that lavender nightgown and lavender sheets. Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” As for me, it’s “I shop, therefore I am!”