Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Lesson in Patience

We have had record-breaking bitter cold this week, along with some small accumulations of snow and ice.  Friday, the high was forecast to be in the lower twenties, with a morning low in the single digits - and wind gusts of 25 mph and upward.  I called Mam-ma - did she want to brave going to the beauty shop in the cold?  She said, "Well, I look like Phyllis Diller.  I'm not going to church or anywhere, but I sure need to get this hair done."  I told her it was her decision... that I was coming to her house either way to bring her medicine and re-dispense it.  I knew that my mom had taken her shopping last Saturday, and that Mom got her milk and groceries again on Wednesday in preparation for a winter storm.  In fact, Mom said she was at the check-out line with half of our county when Mam-ma called and said, "I forgot to put buttermilk on my list."  Mom said she had bought buttermilk for herself, and rather than get out of line and travel to the back of the store for more, she just put her jug in Mam-ma's pile of groceries and made do without on her own account.  But I did ask... "I guess you don't need any groceries?"  Yes, she needed dishwasher detergent and dishwashing liquid soap.

When I left home around noon, the temperature was about 18 degrees and there was a sharp wind.  I stopped at the pharmacy and got Mam-ma's medications.  When I arrived at her house, my plan was to fill the medicine compartments before we went to the beauty shop.  She had also complained that she was losing a thumbnail after mashing her thumb some time back, and I had brought some acrylic glue-on nails.  I planned to attach one to her thumbnail in hopes it would grow on out without coming off and snagging on something or being uncomfortable.

When I got inside Mam-ma's house, she had a grocery list on the kitchen table... dishwasher detergent, dishwashing liquid soap, buttermilk, and "ointment."  Atop the list was a prescription tube of some sort of ointment that was about three-quarters empty.  I looked at the tube and said, "Mam-ma, I've just come from the pharmacy."  "Oh, you have?" she said meekly.  "Yes... and I don't think I'm going back today."  Her shoulders slumped, and she frowned and said sternly, "But I NEED that ointment!"  I asked what the ointment was for, and she said, "That's for them blood vessels on my legs that have come to the surface, and they itch.  I didn't know you was goin' to the drugstore."  I reminded her that I had told her that morning I was going to pick up her medicine and fix it for her... and I had asked, "Is there anything else you need?"  She didn't remember that conversation, but she continued to pitch a fit that "I've GOT to have that medicine!"  Fine, I said... I would call and order some.

I called the pharmacy, and that prescription was so old that 1) there was no longer a pharmacy label attached to the tube, and 2) the pharmacy could not refill it.  The clerk said, "You'll have to call her doctor." When I told Mam-ma that, she said, "Just forget it!" (her favorite phrase when she is disgusted and wanting to lay on the guilts)... and I asked, had she tried some hydro-cortisone cream?  No, she had not.  I suggested I get a tube of that at the store, and I added it to the list.  She got up and walked into her bathroom.  I sat down at the kitchen table to fill her medicine compartments.  She returned and threw a tube of hydro-cortisone cream onto the table in my direction.  "I've got some of that... you don't need to buy any more."  I told her that was fine... and I suggested she try using it and see what happens.  For the life of me, I don't recall ever hearing of this blood vessel in the leg ailment... and neither do my mom or my sister!  There is no telling how old this tube of ointment really is... or when it was prescribed.

I filled the medicine boxes, and then I applied the acrylic fingernail to her thumb.  She immediately began fiddling with it, and I am not sure how long it will last, but hopefully it will protect the nail bed until her dead thumbnail can grow off.  She got her coat, and I helped her get out the door... where was her scarf for her head?  She had forgotten it.  Where were the new ear muffs I got her for Christmas?  On her spare bed.  I went back and got the scarf and ear muffs.

I questioned the buttermilk on her grocery list... didn't Mom get her a carton?  Had she already used it?  I checked her refrigerator, and there was a full quart... that was the problem... "Well, your momma only got me a quart!"  (I usually get a half gallon.)  I explained WHY my mother only got a quart - that it really was HER buttermilk, and she was being nice...  but Mam-ma still wanted another quart of buttermilk.

Then she asked, "Did I offend your sister?"  I didn't know what she was talking about, and she said, "Well, I called her to come get some food from my freezer, and she has acted funny - and she still hasn't been over to get the food."  I was really at my wits' end by this time, and I said, "Mam-ma... she is busy.  She has the grand-baby and a sick husband and a job and a daughter... and she has not been able to get out of her driveway in several days because of ice and snow.  No, she is not offended or upset.  And... she has not eaten the two big sacks of food you gave her a couple of weeks ago." 

To my grandmother's way of thinking, when she calls and says, "Come when you can," that means "come NOW!"  She has done this all of my life.  When we were children, Mam-ma would call my parents and ask, "Can you come help pick the peas (or beans, or whatever needed picking in the garden)?"  By the time my parents got off work, gathered three children, and drove the five miles of dirt road to get to my grandparents' house, the peas or beans or whatever were already picked and shelled, and supper was most likely on the table, with an admonition, "Well, I decided y'all weren't coming."

Additionally, Mam-ma has always said, "Now we need to eat up what's in the cellar and deep freeze to make room for the things we put up this next summer."  At 97, as my mother puts it, Mam-ma is no longer needing to feed the world.  She has a "deep freeze" so full of food that she can barely cram another package of chicken thighs in it, and yet she still is purchasing and "putting up" vegetables from generous church members.  And she is fussing that "we need to eat what's in that freezer!"  The other day, Mom asked, "What exactly is in that freezer?" and Mam-ma replied, "You'd be surprised."  Then she said, "Well, you know, Debbie brought me all them peas..."  If you have been following this blog, you know that two summers ago, my grandmother asked me to purchase her a half bushel of shelled purple hull peas... and before I could get them from the farmer's market to her house, she had accepted another half bushel from a church member!  We're talking a 118-lb. single widow who eats like a bird!  So, now she has made it her mission to feed my sister and her family - and the rest of us - from her freezer.

Mom took Mam-ma to buy some meat, and she said she saw some really nice looking pork ribs and roasts in the meat case, and she thought, "Oh, those are the ones I would select."  Mam-ma picked out the fattest packages she could see... they would be more tender.  Then she told Mom she didn't have room to put them in her refrigerator or freezer.  So Friday, she asked, "Would you like to have a pork roast?"  We don't eat pork or beef much, and I said no at first... but then I realized that was not a good answer. She sighed and said, "Well, I have so much food and I don't know what I'm going to do with it all."  So I brought the pork roast home, and it's simmering in the oven.   I'll remove as much fat as I can and we'll make sandwiches from it.

So we got the hair done, the dish detergents and buttermilk purchased, and the roast came home with me.  Saturday, Mam-ma called my mom and wasn't sure she could go to church because of the cold... she didn't have a good heavy coat.  Mom asked what was wrong with the heavy black wool coat I had given her?  She said it would barely button.  I find this amazing, as it was plenty big on her, but she also phoned me and asked me whether I thought she should go to church.  I asked, why was Sunday any different from being out for a hair appointment on Friday, especially since Sunday was forecasted to be warmer?  She didn't know, except she wore an old red down-filled coat she bought at a garage sale, and she didn't think that was nice enough to wear to church (it's not, especially since she has a wool dress coat!).  She also told me she had been to Fred's on Saturday with her friend Ruby to walk in the store for exercise.  So how was it okay to go to Fred's on Saturday but not to church on Sunday?  Reluctantly, she said, "Okay, I guess I'll get up in the morning and get dressed and see how I do."  Mom e-mailed me Sunday afternoon - her message said simply, "black coat."  I wrote back... "buttoned?"

After the events of Friday with my grandmother, our great-nephew Timothy came that evening to spend the night.  What a joy!  Teething, fussiness, and even a restless night were a welcome contrast to the stress and strain of arguing over ointment and buttermilk!  My grandmother is slipping.  She isn't remembering things for more than a few hours... if that.  Several times last week, she said, "I thought your sister would come by," and when I told her that the roads were iced over and no one was going anywhere, she would say, "Oh, is it bad out?  I didn't know."  We all told her how bad the weather was - and the roads - and still she would say, "I didn't have any idea it was bad out!"  Still, when I look at the challenges others are facing with their seniors, I count my blessings.

And as always, Timothy provides balance... and a breath of fresh air.  He is sitting up well now, and his Uncle Greg taught him to stand up and hold onto the side of his playpen.  He has new Michael Jordan leather basketball shoes - fifty cents at the thrift store (I haven't completely lost my mind yet!) - and he has learned a few new noises.  All of these milestones bring us great joy, and we realize how quickly they grow and change.  Maybe the challenges and tests of my patience that come with assisting my grandmother are good training for managing the challenges of an 8-month-old.  One thing is for sure... their temper tantrums are not all that different!  If only the solutions were more similar... and could all be solved with a bottle or a bounce on the knee.

Have a great week... keep your balance and your sense of humor... your gonna need 'em!

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