by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 3, 2009
LONG DISTANCE CARE
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- She seemed so frail.
She was asleep in the hospital bed. Her mouth was open. There was an oxygen tube in her nose. Every inch of her bony hands and her skinny arms was black and blue from where the nurses had tried -- and tried and tried - to get a line into her. Her wispy white hair was stiff with sweat. When I walked in, though, her eyes opened, she smiled, and she said "You are so beautiful."
From Rose Kagan - the dancer, the beauty, the star, my mother - this was a very high compliment.
It had been a long week. We almost lost her twice. Me in Vermont, clutching the phone, and her in Plantation, Fla., alone with only an eight-hour-a-day aide named Ina who just may have saved her life.
I can't even remember how this started. It was just before Thanksgiving, I know that. We'd decided that I wouldn't come down for the holiday because the airfares were too high. Instead, I was coming down a week later to help her pay her bills.
Then, suddenly, she was in the hospital. She's 92, and any little thing can send her to the emergency room. Was it another spiking fever? I honestly can't remember. It's all a blur of frantic telephone calls.
But she hates being in the hospital, and she was furious that the doctors wouldn't let her go home. At one point Ina called me to see if I could calm her down; she had threatened to call the police if they wouldn't let her go.
And then she was home and exultant. Ina fed her and made certain she was OK. When I talked to Mom at 5:30 p.m., she was happily sitting in her recliner and watching television.
Sometime soon after that her muscles collapsed and her kidneys started to fail. She passed out in the recliner. Ina called a few times to check up on her, and was concerned when she didn't answer the phone.
So instead of coming to work at nine in the morning, she came at seven - in a pouring rain. "Cats and dogs," she said. "Cats and dogs."
She didn't have a key, so she knocked and rang and banged on the door and finally called on her cell phone. Somehow - and I will never understand just how - Mom heard her, managed to stand up and wobbled to the door. Have I mentioned that my mother has a will of iron? Oh yes, you probably guessed from the part where she threatened to call the police.
Ina took one look at her, thought fast, pulled a chair over, pushed Mom into it and called 911. Mom was quickly admitted to the local hospital.
We keep in touch by phone, so I was on the line when the nurses came to wheel her into the ICU. The ICU? Oh my god! What's happening? Should I be on a plane? It's Thanksgiving, for God's sake. How am I going to get on a plane? Why does this damned woman insist on living 1,500 miles away?
But Mom didn't want me to come down. "When they were wheeling me into the ICU," she said, "I thought, 'Oh my God, she's going to jump on a plane.'"
We talked until late in the night. Maybe the possibility of death focused Mom's mind - she wasn't complaining at all. She was funny and full of interesting stories. It was the best conversation we've had in years.
The next day she started to fail. She was crying when she begged, "Please, come down now."
Panicked, I called her doctor. Whatever it was, it was "life threatening," he said. But I should wait and see how the medication worked. The next day she was stable and I was booked on a Monday flight. The next night we almost lost her again. Again she stabilized.
She was relieved that I was coming down. "When they were working on me, I kept thinking, "She's coming too late. She's coming too late," Mom said.
"You mean, you want me to be with you when you die?"
"Yes, I guess I do."
"Well, then don't do it until Tuesday. I'm going to be tired when I get in on Monday night."
"OK, I'll put it in my date book."
Did I mention that we share a cynical sense of humor?
I'd been traveling for 10 hours when she told me I was beautiful. I found 43 messages on her home answering machine.
By Tuesday morning, she had revived wonderfully. She was alert and cheerful. Ina was still at her side. Me? I was a wreck.
Color is returning to Mom's face. She can get out of bed and walk - they clocked her at 90 feet on Tuesday! The doctors are talking about a week in rehab and then home.
Best of all, her New Year's Eve date - her longtime dance partner, Red - called to make sure she was still going out with him.
"I have to get well," she told me. "I have a goal."
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a Vermont columnist and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com.