Bad Medicine

The week Genevieve was in the hospital, Jaqueline was taken in by April and her niece. April called me early on and to say that our appreciation for their generous act should be in the form of a monetary thank you to her niece—her words were much simpler though. I should not have been surprised considering the nature of the relationship Gene had with these people, but that kind of bodacious assertion took me off guard all the same. The fact that I thought them crass didn’t matter. They were chosen by Gene to help and they did.

We arrived in St. Louis at sundown. I was on the phone the minute we landed only to discover another disappointing turn from April. Her niece had given the hospital verbal consent to release Gene. The hospital administrators all too happy with this move promptly draped Gene’s exposed posterior in a flimsy hospital gown and dumped her in a cab. April’s niece didn’t volunteer this much detail, however all this was part of the picture that gradually revealed itself later. Something about Gene’s illness had crippled her, so the cabby along with a neighbor’s help, two grown men, carried her up the front steps and into the house. Suffice it to say, this must have humbled everyone because Auntie had no panties that were returned with her from the hospital.

By the time my mother and I made it to the house, April’s niece had dressed Gene and propped her up. When we entered, what we saw was a heavily drugged Gene waiting in what looked like an uncomfortable position on the hardwood bench in the foyer. We, my mother and I, hugged Genevieve. I motioned for April’s niece to walk with me toward the kitchen where I asked her about medicines or anything that might have been sent from the hospital with Gene. She displayed everything upon the kitchen table and like a puppy looking for praise began to wag her tail and whine about this and that. I cut her short with a curt, “Thank you.” “I think I can take it from here.”

It was late and Jaque was asleep at April’s house, so I agreed to pick her up in the morning along with their set of Gene’s house keys. I took a page from April’s playbook this time and left nothing open to interpretation. The niece could probably see the fire in my eyes and the steam coming from my neck as I walked her to the door.

All was quiet. There was Auntie Gene. She sat there drugged but cognizant enough to convey sadness and fear. Her eyes revealed her vulnerability once more and although she was trying to preserve her dignity, I knew she was thinking what I would never, ever, say. This was one of those times when words weren’t warranted. We just took care of her with God’s grace. It involved a combination of her being able to stand momentarily and me possessing the strength to hold her up. I got her partially wiped up and onto the sofa bed in the living room.

The following day’s light shining through the curtains brought me new fortitude freshly served up. Things are clearer in the light and I was a morning person anyway. Gene, usually a morning person too, was still asleep on the sofabed. I tip-toed past her and into the kitchen to start breakfast and sort out her medicines. My mother, Liz, joined me and together we decided that we’d devote the day to gathering up Jaque and fulfilling our roles. My role was to care for Gene and my mother for Jaque. This was plenty for her because she would have to pack Jaque’s things for an indefinite trip to California.

I was a bit intimidated by what lie before me. Afterall, moving from the house was what I’d campaigned for all summer sans the emergency. Today was not the day to mention the inevitable though. Laid out across the table were needles, and a device to test Gene’s sugar level. Yup! She had diabetes. But neither of us understood how this affected her ability to walk. After breakfast, we tried the blood test. Gene told me that she had been shown how to use everything before being kicked out of the hospital but her hands were shaking and as she held the lancet, she looked lost. I gave it a go and bungled the first attempt, but we both decided knowing her sugar level was not as important as administering the insulin as prescribed. So, I completed this part and doled out the numerous pills that she was prescribed too. Aunt Gene collapsed back onto the sofabed and remained there as though she’d been deprived a decade’s worth of sleep.

This gave us time to retrieve Jaque from April’s house. I drove my mother the two or three blocks it took to get there. I was fully appreciative of her help because I couldn’t stomach April and her niece. After ushering my mom out of the car and up the back steps to April’s door, I vanished and waited in the car. My mother, who also knew April from the old days, went in, exchanged pleasantries, offered up her “thank you” booty and returned with Jaque for me to chauffer back to the house. I was so totally absorbed with caring for Gene, cooking, and creating lists for organizing our departure that I overlooked the fact that this was the first time my mother had seen the new, Alzheimer’s affected, Jaquey. She didn’t have the luxury of a month’s visit to process this. I can only imagine the grit it took to make the adjustment and be ready to leave with Jaque the next day. But, Liz was the feisty one and I had to leave it at that. Thankfully, the Pendergrass’ kindly saw to it that Liz and Jaque had a ride to the airport. Considering the condition Gene was in, I knew we’d be following them shortly. An optimist at heart, I’d give it a few days to see what unfolded.

It was the weekend, which left me having to improvise until Monday when I could call the hospital and doctor’s office. The back room had linoleum flooring, so, I managed to create a stand-up, wash area there. Gene stood for a short while with the help of a walker. In that short time, I managed to washer, dress her in fresh pajamas and have her sit up in a chair. She brushed her teeth while I held a cup of cold water for her and a bucket spittoon. Getting a proper clean-up improved her visage greatly. By late afternoon Clara Pendergrass, the Pendergrass most closely my peer in age, came by to check on us. Not a minute too soon because I needed help getting Gene up from the floor and back into bed. Gene’s legs were not cooperating when she stood from her grooming chair and I could not support her weight. I held her in front of me like a life sized rag doll with my arms around her waist; it was all I could do to keep her from crashing to the floor. She slid down the front of me and out of my arms with her legs folding oddly beneath her, there again much like a rag doll, until she met the floor. I repositioned them straight in front of her and stood upright; one hand on my lower back. I thought to myself, “That could have turned out much worse.” Clara arrived at the front door—a welcome sight. Together she and I managed to hoist Gene up and back onto the sofabed. Again Gene collapsed onto the bed as though she’d been sleep deprived, but now she smelled fresh like soap and clean linens.

I was able to collect myself in Clara’s company. She was sweet and informal with her soft, country, St. Louis drawl. I puttered around cleaning up and preparing Auntie Gene’s next dose of medicine. It was then that Clara told me she was also diabetic. I hung onto her words for support. She was able to set me straight about using the lancet and meter and even give me some pointers on what to look for regarding Gene’s symptoms. We chatted for a second and then she left with the promise of returning to check-in the following day. That was enough to comfort me. The sun was setting and tomorrow would be Monday. I looked forward to it like someone throwing me a lifeline.

Monday came and I was on the phone. The only thing I managed to line-up was the delivery of a bedside commode. All my other calls this day were waiting for call backs. A bit frustrating but then it was only Monday. Gene and I managed to create a routine with medicine, eating and toileting. I was becoming a bit nervous about the swelling around Gene’s feet and legs. I propped them up with pillows but the swelling remained. Tuesday brought some hope. We were visited by a social worker that apologized profusely, talked with us about services, and promised she’d personally see to it that a nurse would visit us first thing tomorrow, Wednesday. Wednesday arrived. A nurse came but it wasn’t in the morning. When she arrived she took vital signs but was unable to do much more. Each day I was on the phone, replaying our story to the doctor’s office or hospital switchboard, trying to get someone out to the house that could give us some answers. Wednesday, the hospice organization finally got their “s#@t” together and sent nurses out that seemed to know how to do more than just take “f%*#ing” vital signs. We got a wheelchair, a physical therapist visited, an orderly came to help out with wash-ups and grooming, and a male nurse helped move a mattress from upstairs onto the sofabed to make things safer and a little more comfy for Auntie. The swelling, also known as edema was treated and Auntie’s feet and legs were wrapped with ace bandages to control how large they became. Apparently something was going on with her heart, which was causing the edema, but we were still stumped by her inability to walk. Nearly a week had passed, and this was as far as we’d gotten. I’d discovered another disturbing anomaly; Auntie was mentally absent. She was hallucinating. Having seen Jaquey with Alzheimer’s, this made me nervous. I didn’t publicize it, because I had yet to secure her power of attorney. I did however mention it to the visiting nurse. She dismissed it as a result of being bed ridden and a side effect of the prescription drugs. Either way, Aunt Genevieve showed no signs of being able to care for herself—period. During one of her more lucid moments, I thought it important to state the obvious as a springboard for all my actions moving forward. I held her hand and gave her a big hug. It was time to leave St. Louis. She bit her lip as she tried to fight the tears–me too. I felt her submitting and letting herself be utterly defeated by this disease, so I offered up some encouragement, feeble as it seemed. “We will get through this, and when you’re stronger who knows.” But I think she knew.

To be continued…