Tag Archives: Granny

Metamorphosis of Matronly Mean Girls

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As I’ve told here before,https://i0.wp.com/static01.nyt.com/images/2008/09/29/timestopics/topics_nursinghomes_395.jpg on Tuesdays I ride down to Clinton to visit my sole remaining grandparent, Mama’s mama, my Granny Ima. When I arrive, the residents of Granny’s wing are in a rough circle overlooking the activity room. One or more non-vocal clients, like Granny, will often be over to the side, which I admit annoys me sometimes, but I’ll save that for later. I’ll make my rounds and speak to the ladies and dispense pats and hugs where they are welcomed and try to avoid some of the more “exuberant” ones before I sit down to give Granny the weekly update. It’s during these interludes I made my observations on how mobility, lucidity, and family may replace popularity, desirability, and money, but mean girls are still mean girls even in a nursing home and the hierarchy among these elderly ladies is every bit as rigid as any pecking order one would find in a high school or middle school cafeteria.

First, I’m sure you’ve noticed I mention “ladies” exclusively. That is not without purpose. The only creature less common in a nursing home than any gender of Hispanic is a male. At Granny’s, the ratio of men to women is – from my rough and unscientific observations – about fifteen women to each man. In the five years of Granny’s residence, I’ve also only seen one male nurse. It’s a safe bet the wings of NHC are fairly awash with estrogen, or would be if most of these ladies were not past the days of estrogen production.

What few men are around circulate in an entirely different manner than the women. The three I know the best — Mr. Joe, Mr. Jack, and Mr. Ralph — generally keep to themselves off to one side. During activities, they will line up wheel to wheel together on one side of the room looking for all the world like junior high boys at a sock hop earnestly hoping to not be asked to dance. Mostly, the women leave the men alone. I can’t say with certainty exactly why, but I suspect, given the lengths of the marriages I’ve heard bandied about among the ladies, they’ve just had enough to do with men to last a lifetime.

The ladies do have a pretty clear caste system among themselves, however, and the first criteria is mobility. Only two of them are able to walk unassisted for any distance and it’s obvious they are objects of envy. I can only imagine how sweet it would be to those who are Depends clad and wheelchair bound to be able to rise at any moment and tend to nature’s call alone and removed from the tyranny and interference of some whippersnapper CNA. Unfortunately, just because only two ladies are ABLE to walk unassisted, it does not mean others ATTEMPT to walk unassisted, often having forgotten the atrophy of their legs or — in some cases — the complete lack thereof. I don’t pass a day with Granny without hearing a “personal chair alarm” go off at least once as someone — usually Mother Gault — forgets she is no longer able to stand unaided but still wishes to give walking the old college try.

That brings up a second criteria in the nursing home pecking order because sound legs do not always undergird a sound mine. For instance, one precious lady — Ms. Stoddard I think she’s called — is one of the “easy walkers” and can stroll anywhere she wishes; unfortunately, she usually sits silent and pensive and a casual observer would wonder why until he or she heard her ask — often for the tenth or twelfth time that hour — “Where am I?” She, like almost all of the ladies lucid enough to realize their situation, usually wants to know the same thing when a nurse tells her, “Honey, you’re at NHC in Clinton,” and that is, inevitably, “Well, when do I go home?” Whenever I hear her or any other lady ask that plaintive question, my composure always suffers and once again I feel shot through with guilt that I have to drive to visit Granny instead of simply walking down the hall to her room.

Still, I do go to see her every Tuesday and my beloved Aunt Pearl goes every Wednesday. Having two regular family visitors assures Granny’s place in the hierarchy of the home and keeps her safe from drifting to the bottom. I can’t tell you how many of the ladies I have come to cherish as if they were aunts or elderly cousins sit day by day waiting for a family member who never comes. In some cases, I realize a family is unable to provide for the care needs some of the ladies present and some, like 102 year old Grandma Cleo — Granny’s roommate — have, by process of attrition, outlived any family who could come to visit. Still, in too many cases, these loved ones are more “inconvenient” than “invalid” and as sad as it is to say, our society doesn’t place a very high priority on its elders anymore.

Lest my brush seem too broad, though, not all of the ladies could be called mean girls.  Each week, I receive a fairly detailed report from two of the brightest ladies about Granny’s activity each week and they keep me up to date on how she is being treated by the staff and the other ladies and for that, I am grateful beyond description. For every former cheerleader who sneers at a fellow patient’s inability to move a wheelchair unaided is another kind heart who will wheel over to tuck a blanket around a sleeping comrade. The criteria may change, but just as high school was its on special kind of Hell and winnowing ground, so to is the nursing home a crucible of sorts where under the heat those whose spirits are most golden shine through.

Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!

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Life is a Circle, but not like Disney

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Nothing prepared me to be bitten multiple times by my grandmother.

kelloggwomanWhen I entered this world, I had four living grandparents AND four living great-grandparents. Granny Matt (short for Mattie) and Papa Hurley passed before I developed memories of them, but family members have told me both loved me tremendously. It’s not good to grow up with six doting grandparents; it’s not so much the danger of being spoiled rotten — which I was — so much as such excess love doesn’t prepare a person for what a terrible place the world is.

Papa Wham passed in 1995 — the first person so close to me to die. I was attending a wake for a student who’d been killed in a car wreck when my brand new cell phone rang. The first cell phone call I ever received was to let me know Papa Wham was gone.

Little Papa Hughes, my maternal great-grandfather, died on New Year’s Day 1997. He was a tiny man with a heart entirely too large for his slight frame. He was also a bit of “a character” and I have stories on top of stories about him.

Big Granny Hughes, whom Mama (and pretty much everyone) called Maggie-Valmer went Home in February 2001. I call it a testament to her life that it took three preachers — including me — to do her life justice.

After losing those three wells of my adoration, the next few years were quiet. Then Papa John died October 17, 2006. I didn’t grieve Papa’s death for 18 months because Mama was in such a terrible state I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose her as well. I can say from personal, painful experience it is dangerous to one’s mental health to suppress a terrible grief because once Mama came somewhat out of the fog, I had the nervous breakdown that ultimately cost me my job, my second career, and almost my sanity.

I came out of my breakdown just in time to lose Granny Wham on February 5, 2008. As much as I adored Granny Wham and as much as I know she loved me, her passing was easier to take. After Papa died and she became unable to care for herself or be left alone, we had no choice but to place her in a facility. My Aunt Cathy wore ruts in I-385 between Fountain Inn and Laurens going to see her mama; Uncle Larry stopped by on his way to and from the Roadway terminal in Columbia every time he had a trip; and I tried to see her at least once a week, but she missed being home tending her family. Still, miserable though she was, she soldiered on three years at Martha Franks Retirement Home.  A week before she passed I went to see her; she told me, “Mama {her mama} came to see me last night.” I knew it wouldn’t be long. Now Granny Wham is waiting on the other side of those Gates of Pearl (with Papa Wham nearby and most likely seated on a golden bench talking baseball with St. Peter).

So Granny Ima (for Imogene) is all I have left. She’s under hospice care at NHC nursing home in Clinton. I go to see her at 10:00 AM every Tuesday, and I leave a sliver of my heart each time I turn from her bed to come home. Ima has dementia. She knows who I am, who Rob is, and who my Aunt Pearl is, but she can’t say our names. All she can say clearly is “yep” and “nope.” I took Mama to see her twice a week as long as she was able, then once a week, then once every two weeks . . . then I took her when she could rally the strength, but one thing never changed — Granny always said, “My baby girl’ whenever Mama asked her who she (Mama) was. I haven’t told Ima that Mama is gone. I tell her the truth — Wannie (her name for Mama) can’t get up anymore to see her, but she loves her very much. Every time I tell her, Granny nods.

Unfortunately, though, Granny’s mind is riddled with holes and she’s lost control of her emotions (especially her temper) just as she’s lost her language. She can’t stand being poked and prodded and she seems to see everything as being poked and prodded. She has a hissy fit whenever she gets a bath — or what passes for a bath when you’re bedridden. I gave my signed permission today for the nursing staff to stop sticking her fingers twice a day for blood sugar samples to control her diabetes. Dr. Blackstone told me years ago diabetes wasn’t what was going to kill Granny. I told the head of nursing today, there are worse ways to die than diabetic coma.

Granny saves a special rage for anyone who tries to clean her hands and especially her fingernails. She cannot abide having her hands or nails messed with, which wouldn’t be so bad, but Granny’s mind wanders now and she will not stop digging in her disposable briefs. Maybe she itches, maybe it’s something else, but whatever the cause, she can’t tell us. I’m not going to be graphic, but you can draw your conclusions as to the state of her nails. Mama cried every time she saw Granny’s nails, but the staff can only do so much because Granny is “combative” which is nicely saying she gets pissed off when you touch her too much.

However, as family, I am not bound by the facility’s rules against restraints, and her nails and hands were so hideous today that I held my precious grandmother while two nurses cleaned and trimmed her nails. I linked my fingers in hers like we used to do crossing the street. She fought but her strength was no match for mine, just as mine was no match for hers long ago when I had to have childhood shots. As I cupped her arthritic fingers gently as I could so as to not hurt her, the tears ran down my face just as they ran down hers long ago. Then I knew with perfect clarity what a parent means when he says, “This is hurting me more than it hurts you.” At one point, she managed to get my hand near her mouth so she bit me. It seemed to make her feel better, so I just left my arm where she could gnaw on it at will — a small bruise or two (she has no teeth) are a small price to pay for her hands to be clean. After we finished, a nurse brought her a strawberry nutrition shake and the nurses were forgiven . . . her look told me I was not, even though next Tuesday she won’t remember a thing. I sat with her a while longer, then kissed her cheek, placed today’s sliver on her pillow, and turned to come home.

The old proverb, “Once a man; twice a child” is painful to see in someone you love.Freshly pressed

Love y’all; keep those feet clean.

I Hope That Was A Great Hamburger, Mr. Magoo!!

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This car has similar crash damage to the Impala Mama was driving. If the car hadn't been so big . . .

Car wrecks loom large in my family history. I told y’all the story of how my beautiful first car was destroyed in a wreck, and that was far from the worst wreck to touch my loved ones. When Mama was 17, she was in a head on collision that very nearly killed her, which means I wouldn’t be here either. All she remembers about the wreck is pulling out of the gas station in Gray Court. The next thing she remembers is waking up in Hillcrest Hospital some two days later. Her left leg was shattered and her right arm was broken in several places in addition to various other cuts and bruises. Looking at pictures of the car, I don’t see how she survived, especially given she wasn’t wearing a seat belt and this was way before air bags in cars.

She had to be torched out of the car. One note that is a little funny now, but was gruesome back then involved Mama’s head. See, in her younger years, Mama wore a lot of wigs. Given the jaw dropping beauty of Mama’s naturally long blonde hair, I have no idea why she’d ever want to cover it up with fake nylon hair, but apparently it was “the style.” In any event, she was wearing a particularly realistic looking wig on the day of her wreck and the force of the impact threw her head backwards and the wig fell off in the back seat. Her cousin, who was a rookie SC Highway Patrolman at the time, was the first to arrive on the scene and the first thing he saw was that wig lying on the floor of the car’s back seat. It was covered in blood and from the angle, he couldn’t see Mama in the front seat so he surmised she had been decapitated. Unfortunately, he’d just eaten lunch at the Ranch Road Steakhouse.

Just ignore the fat kid with the stupid grinny smile, but see what I mean about Mama's hair? Why would you cover that up?

The double chili Ranch Burger didn’t stay down.

So, I told you all that to tell you about today. This morning just about saw the end of one GS Feet and Mama Feet as well. We had been to NHC in Clinton to visit with Granny and make sure she was being treated to suit Mama, which she wasn’t, but that’s a story for another time. Since Mama needed to stop by the vet’s office to pick up some flea medicine for Bitsy and Rocky, I drove us through Laurens instead of taking the highway like we normally do. That almost became the last detour I ever took.

Driving anywhere with Mama is an adventure. Ever since “the wreck” as we call it, she has been terrified of cars. Of course, if I’d nearly died, been in a coma for a few days, and then had to spend the next year in a body cast and the year after that learning how to walk again, I might be a little nervous about motor vehicles myself, so I’ve gotten used to Mama’s quirks in the passenger’s seat. She stays tensed up and she stomps her foot on an imaginary brake pedal whenever she thinks we need to stop — which is a lot more than I think we need to stop.

So, we were be-bopping along the main drag through Laurens and Mama had already stomped a hollow in the Element’s right front floor mat. I slowed down just a bit and asked Mama if she’d like a drink from the McDonald’s up ahead. Even though she said no, that moment of reducing speed — and a healthy dose of Divine Intervention — probably saved our lives because just as we neared the restaurant’s entrance, the Buick in front of us in the left lane decided he needed a Big Mac or some fries RIGHT NOW and simply turned in to the parking lot FROM THE LEFT LANE!

Hope your food was cold you stupid bag of monkey boogers!! Where'd you learn to drive? Clown school?

No turn signal. Not even a brake light tap. Nothing. One minute Mama and I are riding along talking and the next minute my life is flashing before my eyes as the Element’s anti-lock brakes went to work stopping us on a dime. All I could see was a windshield full of green four-door. I stood on the brakes and shot out my right arm to hold Mama back, just like she has done to me on countless occasions over the years. Truthfully, I didn’t think I’d get us stopped in time because it all happened in an instant.

We managed to avoid the collision though and I was so stunned I didn’t even think to lay down on the horn. Mama was quiet for about two seconds before she started screaming at the driver of the Buick — now in the drive thru lane — and beating her right hand on the door in an attempt to get out of the still moving Element and rip the offending driver a brand new rear orifice. Mama, as a rule, doesn’t swear, but in this particular instance, she was so angry she was stuttering trying to think of a church approved word to call the driver. I was just happy we made it.

So all’s well that ends well. The driver was an idiot, of course, but that’s how fast your life can end. Mama has a nice bruise on her hand from pounding the door (all the Prednisone she must take makes it easy for her to bruise) and it took the rest of the ride home for her to calm down enough to breathe as well as she could . . . which ain’t real good. Upon reflection, if that had been the time for my ticket to get punched, I could think of worse ways to go than a car wreck next to Mama, but that certainly would leave Budge in a mess so I’m glad everything worked out!

So be careful on the roads, folks. Hug each other before you drive off and never leave one another if you’re angry. You never know if it could be the last time you see one another alive!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean so you’ll look nice if you have a wreck!