My mother is up at 3 am trying to decide what to wear. She is going out.
Or so she thinks. Or thought. Which now she doesn’t remember.
“It’s 3 am, Mrs. Tyler,” her aide informed her – gently, I hope and assume. I was not there, but I cannot imagine this aide in pajamas, only in her aqua uniform, standing at the door to my mother’s walk-in closet as my mother rummaged through her racks for just the right ensemble of perhaps a scarf, sweater vest, pants, and handbag.
So what if it’s 3 am. I can still go out!”
This was my mother’s screamed response according to her aide who related to me this story the next day, as we sat on my mother’s cream cat-scratched couch, in cahoots somehow, which I didn’t like, but neither would I want my mother to hear us talking about her – which she probably couldn’t have, anyway, as she is going quite deaf and was nodding off in her bedroom.
This pricey-but-finally-extremely-patient-if-tired agency aide was looking quite put-together in her bright aqua uniform, but her large owl-shaped glasses could not hide the shadows under her eyes; she has been up every night with my mother since she arrived a week ago, sometimes until 3 am. Sometimes until 7 am. And does not drink coffee or tea. Nothing caffeinated. Silk Almond milk. Grape juice. I would need toothpicks to keep my eyes propped open.
“She kept taking things out, trying to decide what to wear,” she said, and I could see it: my mother laying out different amalgams of the black-fringed shawl and embroidered vest scarves I remember from growing up, and far newer additions, a hand-painted silk scarf and batik jacket she hasn’t worn in at least a year, as she hardly ever goes out at all now except to the doctor’s.
What I remember about my father’s own dementia, was he too would wake up and not understand why he couldn’t get dressed at 3 am, to walk up to the post office for the mail. How that possibly could be an unreasonable resolve, unless you work some office cleaning shift or bake donuts.
Before my mother’s concussion from falling and gashing her head on the corner of an open bureau drawer, she showed only signs of short-term memory loss. Not complete disorientation. But I could envision the scene, one I remember well under more normal lucid circumstances, before my mother was rendered so dependent: When I was still single and would visit weekends from the city, we would go out to dinner and to art openings, and she could empty her closet of vests, scarves, pants and sweaters to lay out on her bed, unable to decide what to wear.
“I couldn’t understand why it was dark out,” my mother told me that day following her 3 am escapade, as I sat on her bed.
She was slumped back against her pillows, unable to figure out why she was so tired, and I had reminded her that she’d was up most of the night. I don’t know why, but I’d felt she needed to know the facts. Including the fact that she had yelled at the aide when she brought her a chicken dinner, demanding, “What kind of breakfast is this?”
She didn’t remember rooting through her closet, but she did remember “not feeling right.” These “stories,” as if about someone else, actually can make us both laugh. Maybe that was why I needed to tell them, to prove that my mother can still be oriented in the moment. That the disorientation might just be that, something in passing. A result of the concussion as her own doctors suggested, after she’d first manifested confusion in the hospital.
Maybe so. Or maybe not.
In the nights following her closet-rooting, she continued to be up and wondering why it was so dark out. I called her doctor, at first requesting some kind of sleeping pill, as she hadn’t slept now in almost 72 hours. Her doctor cooly informed me that any additional medication in a 95-year-old might only worsen her disorientation. She might even still be experiencing the effects of even just the morphine dispensed only once and initially, in the emergency room.
Or perhaps she had a urinary tract infection.
Why hadn’t I thought of that? Why hadn’t her doctors thought of that when she’d first shown signs of confusion in the hospital, talking gibberish about filling socks with sticks?
Because my mother is 95, and well, to the general public, including all doctors and nurses and aides, it’s all to be expected. Confusion, forgetfulness.
It’s not to be expected. Not by me, her daughter. During all those years of my father’s own mental deterioration, my mother and I worked as a team; on the night he died in a nursing home, we both woke up at the same time. Neither of us could sleep. It was 3 am. The exact time when my father died. We received the official call a half hour or so later, but the official time of death was 3 am. Clearly a witching hour.
And through the years since his death, I would visit weekends at my mother’s house where she still welcomes the deer who devour her bushes, while her neighbors fence in their perfectly orchestrated gardens.
And we would go out to dinner as girlfriends; I would babble on about my writing while I was earning my MFA, then about my students while teaching, and she would ask me into her studio for my opinion on her latest works – vibrant abstract landscapes, emotionally charged responses to the ocean in all its changing moods. Of the beach she no longer has the stamina to walk down to.
I am the one who truly knows my mother better than anyone.
And I knew she had a UTI.
So the next day, I did a quick turn-around trip to pick up specimen jar from her doctor’s office; stopped at her house for specimen; returned specimen to find out, yes indeed, it was positive for a UTI; got antibiotic prescription filled before heading back the hour-and -half drive to pick up kids from school.
A mission well-worth accomplishing, as my mother finally has had her first night’s sleep since being discharged. One she might not remember, but good enough for her to be awake and alert enough to complain about how tired she was of eating chicken.