“Mom, you’re on the floor.”
“You’re on the floor!”
“Oh. How did I get here?”
“I was going to ask you that.”
I hadn’t heard from Mom for 10 days. Although that is not entirely unusual, a Voice that could not be ignored suggested I check on her before I leave town for the weekend with my family.
“How long have you been like this, Mom?”
“I don’t know, where am I?”
“You’re on the floor.”
“Oh.” She sighs deeply. “I’m so cozy. I’ve had a most wonderful sleep.”
“Can you get up?”
She moves her arm somewhat, flattening her hand on the floor, and attempts to push herself up. After a second she goes limp.
“I’m going to call the medics.”
“No, no, I’m fine. Just let me go back to sleep. Could you get me some water, I’m really very thirsty.”
I hand her a bottle of water, then call 911.
By the time the medics arrive, she is almost lucid. She isn’t sure of the day, but knows it is September, knows the year to be 2006. Knows the president is Mr. Bush, that blankety-blank, but she’s said that about every president since Eisenhower. Her vital signs are normal.
The medics lift her upright and deposit her into a chair. She is dead weight in their arms. I notice an enormous blister on her back, a pressure sore. She’s been on the floor a long time.
“Can we take you to the hospital, ma’am?”
“No, thank you. I’ll be fine.”
I cringe. They tell me that although she obviously needs care, they can’t take her against her will. As they pack up, they tell me to call again when she changes her mind.
They leave, and it’s just Mom and I.
“I have to use the toilet,” she announces suddenly, and launches herself out of the chair. As if drawn by a string, she lurches to the bathroom. She makes it on sheer momentum. But she cannot maintain herself upright on the toilet for more than a few seconds. She lets out a feeble cry for help, and I am just in time to ease her to the bathroom floor.
“Mom, I have to get you to the hospital.”
Her situation is untenable, but she isn’t listening to logic. So I start the process of civil commitment. My husband delivers my overnight bag and then leaves with our kids for the rest of the weekend.
The mental health professionals interview her as she lies there. “I know I’m dying,” she says. “It’s about time. I have nothing left to live for.” She has been depressed for 30 years, and hasn’t left the house for the last six. Her desire to die is not new. Why won’t I honor her wishes and leave her alone?
The professionals head out to obtain a court order, and I settle in. I start washing dishes that have been in the sink for three months, and sort through five years worth of mail. She interrupts me occasionally, requesting her radio, a piece of toast, ibuprofen.
That night her cramps start. Bowel obstruction. I’ve cleared off a spare bed in a room not far from Mom, but I am unable to sleep as every few minutes she is moaning in pain. “Oh, God, please, no…”
They serve her summons the next day. Mom is furious, as she had forgotten the purpose of the interview yesterday. “Get out of here!” she roars. “All of you!” She levels her gaze at me. “You are no daughter of mine.”
I flee downstairs and am absolutely still for an hour. Then I creep back upstairs. She is calling my name, plaintively. I open and shut the front door, as if I had left and returned. She sighs with relief. “I thought you had gone. I need help with my radio. I can’t find my station.”
When the ambulance arrives the next day, she has again forgotten why they were coming. She is too weak to resist when they lift her off the floor onto the gurney, and soon she is laughing and talking about the handsome medics that came to her aide two days ago.
At the hospital she is properly cared for, and the nurse asks her how long she was on the floor. Mom now remembers that she fell on Labor Day, six days ago.
“The window was open, and I called and called for help, but no one could hear me.”
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