Tuesday, 30 November 2010
The Hills, the Views and the Cats
The sun rising over the hill lights up the snowy landscape making it gleam like a mirror. I'm reminded of our last Christmas, a White Christmas and the last time that Mama was here at Cottarton. We were eleven around the Christmas Eve table; luckily the snow didn't keep anyone away. One morning, while she lay in her bed, she saw Cocia Renia (Cocia means Aunt in Polish), walk by on her way to the bathroom.
Mama asked , “Who’s that old woman I saw?”
“Oh, then I must look old, like that.”
These days unfortunately we can no longer have such a fluent conversation. Her stroke has affected her ability to form words. But we do communicate. She's always overjoyed when Amber or I appear in the ward room. Amber introduces herself as, "Your best Presbyterian daughter in law." Mama always asks where we came from, as if we'd dropped from the moon. She'll say a word or two that I can make out; her eyes ask the question. Often she has to try a couple of tries before I understand.
“You’re asking where I live?”
“Cottarton --- you’ve been there.”
Her eyes look puzzled; they ask me to explain.
“It’s the house in the hills, with the beautiful views and the cats.”
Her smile indicates that she’s made the connection. She asks again, trying to form a couple of words. At first I don't reply but she can tell from my look that I don’t understand. After a couple more attempts, I realize that she’s asking about Johanna and Natalia. Do I have any news from them? I begin by recapping that they live in London and about what they do for a living. Natalia has an upcoming concert of Handel’s Messiah. Johanna is enjoying her work at the British Library. She has a boyfriend. The girls call often to ask about their grandmother.
Mama smiles, a crooked smile where the right side is lower than the left but quite endearing. Her broadest smile is reserved for Natasha, when she runs into the room and flings her arms around her Cocia’s neck. The past five years Agata and her daughter, Natasha have lived with Mama and cared for her The three have grown close as blood family. Twice a day, at mealtimes, Agata is at the hospital. Yesterday she trudged for two hours through kneehigh snow to get there. She feeds Mama, spoon by spoon, a process that sometimes takes two hours. Mama must be reminded what to do with each bite. That it must be swallowed. The process doesn’t always work, and for Mama it's often exhausting. But it’s the only way to feed her.
That's on a good day. Last week when I was there, Mama slept the entire time, a deep comatose sleep that lasted 48 hours. But when I held her hand, her fingers tightened about mine. For two days she was out. Phones buzzed between Cottarton, Scone and Edinburgh. We waited. Wondered if her turn meant that she was in a terminal process. Then Mama woke up and asked for breakfast. She greeted Agata and Natasha with a smile, then asked what the fuss was all about. Can’t she go home yet? Why not? Her Consultant (the doctor who takes care of her) shakes his head, telling us he doesn’t know what to make of Mama’s condition. Her brain, shot through with Alzheimers has only limited regenerative ability to deal with the effects of the stroke. She may never speak as before, or be able to feed herself. But he admits that he doesn’t have a prognosis.
Mama has surprised us before. Like many women who lived through the war years in Poland, she emerged tough as nails. She’s not about to give up. Over the past couple of years she received the Last Rites at least ten times. Every time we think we’re about to lose her, she’s back, asking for breakfast.
A few days after her last stroke, I told her that Amber, presently in the States, was coming home early to be with her. Mama laughed. She mumbled out more clearly than usual: “Does she think I’m about to keel over?”