Tag Archives: Ima

Metamorphosis of Matronly Mean Girls

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As I’ve told here before,https://i1.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!

First You Say It, Then You Do It

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wheels-falling-offI almost died Christmas Eve, and I’m told it would have put a damper on the holidays.

Christmas Eve fell on a Tuesday so, like every Tuesday, I went to Clinton to National Health Care to check on Granny Ima and see if she would let me clean and polish her nails. Now Mama and I used to go to Columbia to spend every Christmas Eve with Granny when I was a child so in some ways, I found the whole trip ironic. Granny was happy and she smiled and said a few words, which was the best Christmas present she could give me, but she didn’t want her nails messed with, so I sat and talked to her until her CNA came to get her for lunch. Then, I kissed her goodbye, got in my truck, and headed home to get ready to go to Rob’s for Christmas Eve supper.

I bought my 1994 Ford F-150 with a little of Mama’s insurance money so it’s extremely special to me.  Anyway, as I was leaving Clinton on State 308, I called my great-Aunt Pearl (Ima’s oldest sister) to apprise her of Granny’s condition and state of mind. We were talking as I merged onto I-385 and when I gave the old girl some gas, I felt a pronounced thump. I told Aunt Pearl I’d have to call her back, hung up and concentrated on the sound.

It was an intermittent noise, which is aggravating to diagnose, and I’m not an accomplished mechanic, but I was pretty convinced it was a universal joint needing replacing or maybe an exhaust hanger had popped loose when a woman in a PT Cruiser had tapped me in the rear end in downtown Clinton that morning. I sped up to 85 mph and the noise went away. I gently applied the brakes and the noise didn’t come back. So I turned the radio back up, passed a few slow-moving cars, and continued on my way.

When I went under the State Road 92 bridge, the thump became a clunk. I had tons of ideas running through my head and all of them centered on how I was going to pay to fix whatever u-joint or exhaust hanger needed attention. I also considered the motor might be going and just about cried. I call her “Mama’s Final Gift” and I’ve become seriously attached, but all the gauges read okay so I kept on and the sound stopped eventually.

I exited I-385 and turned left onto State Highway 418 about 23 miles later and when I hit 60 mph, the noise came back. I was almost home though, so I just started the “c’mon, baby, hold together” Han Solo talk. Then, quite literally, the wheels fell off the apple cart. I slowed down to a crawl to turn right onto the road to home and saw a tire and wheel pass me. My brain had just enough time to register the thought of “that’s strange; someone’s wheel is rolling down the road,” before the left front end of the truck slammed into the pavement and the truck jolted up and down with enough force to knock my head smartly on the roof of the cab. Then an awful grinding noise filled the air and I realized the wheel in question was mine. I drove on the brake rotor about ten yards until my brain finally got the message to my foot that it was still pressing the gas instead of the brake and I stopped. Then, it hit me.

My wheel fell off my truck!

I just lost my freaking wheel!

I followed my first instinct when something crazy like that happens to me and started to call Mama, realizing just in time my long distance plan wasn’t quite that good. So I switched gears and called Budge six times and she didn’t answer the phone. It didn’t bother me though; I think I was still in shock because, you know — wheel fell off and all. In fact, some primitive part of my brain still functioning correctly posed a very good question: what was Budge supposed to do if I DID talk to her? Raise the truck with telekinesis? Realizing I had not, in fact, married Carrie White, I called Rob, my stepdad, just as he was pulling into the yard from work. I explained my predicament and he said to sit tight, he’d get Baby Huey (my 6’6″, 375 lbs “baby” stepbrother Travis) and he’d be right on.

By then, Budge had finished her shower and called me back. I think all she heard was “wheel fell off.” Ten minutes later she found me sitting on the lowered tailgate of my truck having spoken to a few friends I’d called just to pass the time. It was while sitting there calmly drinking a bottle of water the reality and gravity of the situation. The noise I’d heard coming out of Clinton was the wheel wobbling as one or more lug nuts decided to take a vacation. The second noise was the exodus of even more of these vital little hunks of metal. The terrible vibration I felt on the off ramp and 418 was the wheel wobbling on the studs devoid of attachments.

I started to shake a little. As slow as I was going as I turned onto the road, the wheel leaving still caused a bad jolt. Now, imagine for a moment: What would have happened if that same wheel had flown off while I was on I-385? wheel

I KNOW what would have happened because I’ve seen it happen during NASCAR races. The rotor would have dug into the asphalt, Newton’s First Law of Motion would have taken over and I’d have started either flipping end over end or doing some sweet barrel rolls down the highway. Since I wasn’t wearing my seat belt (they are under the seat cover) I’d have been ejected through the shattered windshield or the shattered side window, the truck would have hit me or the care behind would have run me over, I would have died on Christmas Eve 2013 and that would have sucked.

I don’t know why the wheel stayed on until I was going slow enough to survive the results. I know a lot of people would call it a neat coincidence. I don’t. See, as I was putting the wheel back on the truck, I asked myself why the lug holes in the rim were threaded while the studs were smooth. That’s when I realized the rim had ridden on the studs long enough to smooth them out while cutting threads into the rim. That’s not all; when I borrowed a lug nut from the other wheels, I discovered every lug nut was loose. Y’all skeptics think what you want and call me whatever you please, but I think Jesus and Mama were watching out for me one more time and I’m certainly thankful they were.

Love y’all and hope the new year is off to a great start! Keep those feet clean!