Pain in the Neck!
Updated: Oct 5, 2018
I adjust the strap of my handbag on my shoulder, catching it just before it slips off my shoulder. I lean forward, peering through the door's narrow window and focus on what is beyond the diamond pattern in the safety glass. There Mom sits, just staring off into space.
Me: (With a peak of excitement in my voice) Oh look, Honey, Mom’s not in her room tonight!
Joe: (Focusing on the keypad and punching in the ward's code) Huh?
Me: She’s in the hallway. That’s always a good sign!
Joe: (Pushing the door open so I could pass first) We’ll see . . .
I look at Joe as I pass through the door, his expression is neither worrisome nor hopeful, just noncommittal as he looks down the hall to his Mom. We pass Dorothy, a resident here, as she holds onto the large oak railing, shuffling her feet and pushing her way slowly down the hallway.
Me: (Bent forward a bit to level my face closer to hers) Hey there, Dorothy! How are ya tonight?
Dorothy: Oh just fine, I’m so glad you came by! I hope you can stay, you don’t need to . . . I’m so glad . . . Oh fine, just . . . (She abruptly stops talking, looks at me, and blinks three times.) Yes, you don’t need to . . . Just come . . .
Me: (smiling) It’s so good to see you; I’m glad I came by too!
Dorothy: Oh yes, it’s . . . Just come . . .
I give her shoulder a gentle squeeze, Dorothy always wears a smile, I imagine back in the day her home was open to family and friends. She’s continually reminding us that we can "just come right in, that we don’t need to knock." I’m happy for her sake that the place her mind takes her seems to be a happy place.
Joe is a few steps ahead of me, almost to Mom's side, I watch him say hello to her and will Mom to register who he is.
Joe: Hi, Ma!
MIL: (With a weak smile) Hello . . . (her eyes dart away from his face and back again)
Joe: How ya doing?
MIL: Good? (Mom looks up at Joe, the right side of her lip curled up and her eyes squinting at him, most likely searching for a clue on who he is.)
Me: Hey, Beautiful! (I step into view smiling widely and hold my bag back with my right hand as I bring my face closer to hers.)
MIL: (Smiling widely) Hi!
Me: Well look at that!
Me: That’s one big smile you’re wearing tonight.
MIL: (Shrugging) I guess so!
Me: (Nodding toward Joe) Well, of course you are, you’ve got two for the price of one tonight!
Me: You’ve got both of us to spend time with tonight.
MIL: (Lifting her chin a little as her eyes dart from Joe back to me) Uh huh . . .
Joe: Yep, you’ve got me your favorite son . . .
Me: And . . .
MIL: (Now looking up a Joe, possibly starting to make the connection and reaching for Joe’s hand) Ohhhh . . .
Me: He’s a keeper.
MIL: He sure is. (Now looking at Joe more intently)
A ruckus arises around the corner, a repetitive banging accompanied by a series of short bursts of yelling.
MIL: What the . . .?
Me: Hmmmm, guess someone is a little upset tonight.
The "ruckus" is quickly defused, much to my relief. Often loud noises or outbursts cause Mom to be startled. Shirley, another resident sitting next to us, grumbles under her breath, her right foot across her left knee as she pulls on her compression stocking.
I look at Mom, who is watching Shirley quite intently. I glance back at Shirley who now has a bit of the stocking knotted around her hand with her arm completely extended as far as she can reach. From her hand to her foot was the tautly stretched compression stocking. It looked just like an elastic band that was going to snap at any moment. I start to softly giggle, I shake my head and turn back to Mom.
Me: How was dinner? (We had arrived only a few minutes before and I was already grabbing at straws to strike up a conversation.)
MIL: Dinner? Good? I guess?
Joe: Well, if you’re out here I bet you ate in the dining room again.
Me: Waaahooo! Two nights in a row! (I hold my hand up for a high five.)
Mom smiles and responds with a firmly planted palm against mine. As it makes a solid "smack," Shirley’s sock lets go and a gentle "thawph" complements our high five. I look over my shoulder to find Shirley quite pleased with herself, she carefully drapes the stocking over the arm of her chair and pulls out a hospital "grippy" sock and attempts to pull it over her foot. I watch as a health aide approaches her.
Aide: Whatchya doin’ there, Shirley?
Shirley: I. Do. Not. Need. This. (She holds the stocking defiantly up at the aide.)
Aide: Ooookk! Well, you do, but it’s time to get you ready for bed so . . .
Marge, another resident starts toward the aide.
Marge: I told you . . .
Aide: Marge, please sit down. I’ll be right with you.
Marge: I will not be arrested.
Aide: Marge, no one’s getting arrested.
Marge: (Placing her hands on her hips, squints her eyes and concentrates on the aide's face quite intently.) Did you not heeeaaarrr me? I'm not . . .
Aide: (Sighing heavily and looking at Shirley) I’ll be back, Shirley.
The aide walk over to Marge and ever so gently places her hands on the woman's shoulders, turning her to walk down the hall.
Aide: Marge, you’re in a good place. Let’s head back to your room.
Marge: I don’t . . . I will . . . I don’t want . . .
Aide: I know, Sweetie. We’re not mad about the door, you just can’t slam it.
As the aide and Marge disappear around the corner, I turn my attention back to Mom.
Me: Well, that went well. (Rolling my eyes a little)
MIL: Geezzee yea . . . what the heck?
Joe: Marge is just having a bad night, that’s all.
Shirley, behind us, was now working on the other compression stocking, mumbling and grunting.
Me: Mom, guess where I’m taking Joe later?
Me: He needs a tux!
MIL: A what?
Joe: A tux. She has some fancy place to take me to in Florida.
MIL: Ohhhh, lucky you! Florida.
Me: (I look blankly at Joe for a second. Was Mom actually partaking in a conversation? I look back at Mom.) Ya know, he looks mighty handsome in a tux.
MIL: (She takes Joe's hand and looks up at him adoringly.) I know.
Then it hit me. Crud. She was confusing Joe for his dad.
Me: (Thinking maybe I can distract her) Hey, we had a great visit, you and I, yesterday.
MIL: (Looking up at me, grabbing the back of her neck) Ohhhh, ouch! We did? (Rubbing her neck) Ohhhhhh.
Me: Does your neck hurt, Ma?
MIL: (Closing her eyes tilting her head back and rubbing her neck.) Yyyesssss.
Meanwhile, next to us, Adel, another resident who was on the phone, was trying to hang the receiver on the oak hand rail. I watch her repeatedly say goodbye and try to hang the phone up. I look at Joe, who was already starting to make his way to her.
Joe: Hey there! Do you need a hand?
Adel: Uh huh. It won’t . . . (focusing on her hand shaking as she held the receiver)
Joe: Won’t hang up, huh?
Adel: (Looking slowly up at Joe) Uh huh . . .
Joe: Well, I think this one's broken. (Pointing at the oak railing) Here, there’s another one up here want me to hang it up here?
Adel: (Looking quite relieved) Yea, uh huh that would be good.
I return my focus to Mom. There she sits craning her neck back, scrunching her face into a knot, and rubbing her neck. Joe steps behind her chair
Joe: How about we help you into your room?
I pull her walker out from against the wall and place in squarely in front of her. She just looks at the walker.
MIL: Yep! (Not moving)
Me: Okay! Let’s go . . .
MIL: Okay! (Still just sitting)
Me: Well, Beautiful, if you want to lay down in your bed we have to walk to your room, which means you’ll need to stand up. I’d love to carry you, but I didn’t eat my Wheaties this morning.
MIL: Huh? (Looking up at me blinking)
Me: (Giggling softly) Come on, grab this walker and let’s go.
MIL: Oh, okay.
As she stands, Joe guides her with his hand on her back. She grabs the sides of the walker and steps forward, but then she hesitates. I wonder if she is thinking through what the next step should be. We make our way to her room, passing a few residents along the way. As I settle her into her bed, raising the head of the bed, Joe gathers the laundry.
Me: (Adjusting her pillow and struggling to adjust her bed pad under the weight of her body) I don’t know Ma, should I start eating more Wheaties? (Giggling again)
MIL: Huh? (Grabbing her neck) Geeeeezzze . . . (Closing her eyes and wincing)
Me: Wheaties, they’re supposed to make you stronger, at least that’s what the commercials said when we were kids.
MIL: If you say so. (Rolling her eyes at me)
Me: You love my humor, Ma.
MIL: Yeah. (Looking at Joe, nodding her head toward me, and rolling her eyes again)
Joe: You’ve got more than one pain in that neck, huh?
MIL: Yep, I do. (Looking squarely at me with a slight smirk)
Me: Wait! Are you calling me a pain in your neck?
MIL: (Falling into a fit of laughter) Uh huh!
Joe: She’s crazy, Ma.
MIL: Oh, she is. (Looking up at me smiling wide, craning her neck forward, and opening her eyes wide) I’m sorry . . . but . . . (laughing so hard now that she's holding her belly) oh my . . . you . . . (laughing) . . . you’re . . . a . . .
Me: Hey! (Now playing into the fun little banter, smiling, and winking) Are making fun of me?
MIL: Noooooo! (Falling right back into an outburst of laughter)
As the laughter fills the room, Mom's eyes twinkled. She grabs her cheeks and wipes a tear of joy from them. We visit a little longer, settling into a little storytelling of fun, happy memories. Mom is relaxed and, just, well, good. I makes both our hearts swell as we catch glimmers of the woman we knew decades ago. Even if it is for just a minute.
Joe: Whadya say, Honey? We’ve got to get that tux.
Me: Yeah. Mom? We’re gonna head out.
MIL: Hhmmm? Oh okay.
Joe kisses her forehead. I watch Mom's eyes close as she savors the touch. She opens her eyes and turns her head up toward him. As she does, she winces, tightly squeezes her eyes shut, and grabs her neck again.
Joe: You have a pain in that neck, huh?
MIL: Yep! (She opens her eyes and looks between Joe and me) Sure do . . . two of them!
Joe throws his head back in laughter. I playfully let my shoulders slump while I try to pout, which is impossible, since I myself am breaking into my own giggle.
Joe: (Looking at me) Did you hear that?
Me: Sure did! Ma, you made a funny!
MIL: Well, yeah I did! (Snickering a bit)
I sit on the side of the bed and stroke her forehead for a moment. Her eyes close and her face wears a soft smile.
Me: I love you, Mom. Even if I am the butt of your jokes.
Me: The butt . . . nothing . . . I love you.
MIL: I love you, too.
It is gone, she no longer knows the pain the neck joke. But, instead of being saddened by the loss of the momentary fun-loving woman I knew, I will cherish the moment.
Joe signs us out at the front desk. As we walk to the car, he slides his hand inside mine.
Joe: She was good tonight.
Me: She was! Joe: I can’t believe she was following along with the pain in the neck. (A chuckle rises in his throat) She was pretty funny!
Me: She was. I loved it.
Joe: You’re good for her.
Me: We’re good for her.
He kisses my forehead and smiles.
Joe: Come on, Pain in the Neck, (tapping me lightly on the backside) we gotta get that tux.
I’ll welcome being called a pain in the neck if it brings this much joy to Mom; and, honestly, it’s great to see Joe enjoying it so much, too.