Cautionary Tale By Cheryl Hughes
Until this past weekend, Garey’s mom, Aggie, had not been in her own home for two weeks. She has been living with Garey’s sister, Charlotte, for the last two weeks, because she lost the feeling in her left leg while on the way down her side walk to the mail box one day. Aggie struggled to pull herself back up her front porch steps and into the house, where she called Charlotte for help. Who knows where her Life Alert lanyard was. She doesn’t always wear it because she says it rubs her neck. Aggie is ninety-one years old. She doesn’t think she is quite old enough for a Life Alert, a cane or a walker. Her aging body has forced her to use all three. The walker has been a particularly hard blow to her self-esteem.
On the day of the no-feeling-in-her-left-leg, Charlotte took her mom to the hospital, where they admitted her and did a whole battery of tests, none conclusive that Aggie had had a stroke. They said it was more than likely plaque buildup and poor circulation in the veins. When she was dismissed from the hospital, she went home with Charlotte, where she remained till Garey and I picked her up Wednesday afternoon to take her to her own house for a few days. While staying with Charlotte, Aggie has been having physical therapy, and she is doing somewhat better, but the therapist insists that she not take a step without her walker.
When the physical therapist visits Aggie, Charlotte tell him all the things Aggie has been doing that she thinks Aggie shouldn’t be doing. The therapist is particularly alarmed by the fact that Aggie still goes up and down the basement stairs in her own house. The reason she still goes up and down the basement stairs is because her washer and dryer are in the basement. Garey and Charlotte have tried to convince her to let them get a small stackable unit installed in a room upstairs, but Aggie doesn’t want holes drilled in her floor for the water and vent pipes.
The physical therapist tells Aggie about his eighty-one-year-old patient who insisted on going up and down her own set of basement stairs, and one day when she was going down her basement stairs, she went down them face-first. This was a couple of years ago, and she is still having plastic surgery procedures on her face. This tale seems to get Aggie’s attention, because appearance is a big deal to her—she won’t let you take her picture if she is leaning on a cane or her walker is anywhere around—although later that day, Charlotte sees her walking around in the kitchen without the assistance of her walker.
“Mother! What did the therapist tell you about not taking a step without that walker?” Charlotte says.
Charlotte and Garey have discussed the likelihood of Aggie continuing her trips up and down the basement stairs. If she won’t listen about the walker, she probably won’t listen about the stairs, they conclude, and they devise a plan to put locks on the upper and lower basement doors. Charlotte told Garey that when Aggie goes back to her own house, she will come by and pick up the laundry, so Aggie won’t have to go to the basement.
On the way down to Alabama on Wednesday, Garey and I stopped by Aggie’s house in order for Garey to install locks on both doors accessing the basement. He wants them to be ready for Charlotte to lock when Aggie is ready to come back home. When we got Aggie back to her own house that Wednesday, Garey had a heart-to-heart (as he calls it) with his mom.
“Mother, if something happens to you beyond your control and you need somebody to wipe your rear end, I’ll be happy to do it,” he said, “But if you do something stupid like fall while going up and down the basement stairs, I will put you in a nursing home and they can wipe your rear end.” (Garey used the words NURSING HOME, because he knew those words would get Aggie’s attention. She has told her kids at least a thousand times that she doesn’t want to go to a nursing home.)
I really try to stay out of the whole thing with Aggie and the walker and the basement stairs, but before we left Kentucky to go to Alabama, Garey had me type and print two signs. They say: NO STAIRS. DOCTORS ORDERS. He and Charlotte plan on putting one on each basement door. I just don’t want to be there when Aggie reads them. She will not be happy. And I’m really glad they’re typed, because I know she would recognize my hand writing.