Problems with Pacing

Year Five

Despite the fact that we had no resolution, no reliable narrators, no positive identification regarding the incident with her lover, The Bear, she was moved to a new facility in West Hollywood we’ll call, The Gardens.

There my mother’s pacing and general nervous agitation progressed. I received calls at all hours from the director, Mona, or Didi at the front desk, or one of the “Techs” (nurse’s aides with little training who administer all the medications).  They would describe my mother’s pacing – up and down the carpeted hallway, like she had entered a silent marathon for anxious folks. They said she became combative when they asked her to go back to her room. She claimed her bed was on fire. Maybe it was. 

It’s important to note that once all the residents were put to bed after dinner, the night team of two or three caregivers was most likely tired from a long day. They didn’t want to be bothered. The word combative was used throughout Pat’s long illness. It became synonymous with non-compliant. Words are so important. Words and emotions. 

I eventually understood that in the world of assisted living, a sleeping or inert resident was a cherished resident.

My mother, described her problem with pacing. She said it was a result of her feeling that she was “going to jump out of [her] skin or peel off [her] skin. Or both.”  She was always a bit dramatic, a trait I inherited. From the swelling of her feet and her manic look, I imagine this was apt.

I was at an event at my children’s school. I think it was a special chapel during which one of them was receiving some kind of award. I remember I had just parked my car on the back field lot and I was heading to my seat when my phone rang. Mona sounded very annoyed.

“Your mother is bothering other residents. We can’t have this. Last night she set off an alarm. Then she walked into the room next door and scared Helen so badly she fell out of her bed!”

“Oh, that’s…shit…I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said.  

“You’ve got to do something about this, Deirdre, or I’m going to call an ambulance and have her taken to a psychiatric ward in The Valley for two-week hold and observation.”

“Please don’t do that,” I begged. “She has no idea what’s going on. You can’t just strap her down and cart her off to a psyche ward —  I can’t get over there right now.”

“Get her to a psychiatrist by tomorrow and get her meds adjusted, or she has to leave for observation,” Mona warned. “Too many residents and staff complaining about her.”

The Russian-accented geriatric psyche in Beverly Hills was the kind of scary doctor trope you see in old movies. The lobby of her building was dimly lit, the halting elevator seemed like the kind of  box that could take you to another dimension, and the shaded noir office looked like the kind  the KGB would bug while the doc was out to lunch.

“Are you having trouble sleeping?” the doc asked Pat. My mom was pacing like a banshee and holding an unlit Marlboro 100 in her fist.

“Am I what?” Pat asked. “What did she say?” 

“Yes, you are, mom,” I said. “That’s kind of why we’re here. Apparently, you frightened your neighbor and she fell out of her bed.” 

“Oh her,” Pat said, dismissing any wrongdoing.  “She’s very fussy.” 

“We can give your mother Seroquel,” the doc said, as she scribbled on the prescription pad. “It might work, might not, but we can always adjust again.”

I explained that she’d had trouble with Seroquel, a blackbox warning antipsychotic med used to treat schizophrenia and  often recommended for dementia patients.

“Not problem. I got something else similar, and we change the dosage on the Seroquel…and then she rest, and then no more problems maybe…”

I nodded, gratefully. I had gone from a no-drugs stance to being in favor of just about anything that could help her get some relief. Gingko. Coconut oil. Melatonin. Acupuncture. Music. Green Tea.  Skin creams. Xanax…

Off we drove in the direction of The Gardens, with our potions and our prayers and our faith in one another. I remember we stopped for frozen yogurt on Fairfax, and she leaned in to hug me. Tears of exhaustion mixed with confusion rolled down her cheek.

“When can we get away from all this?” she asked. Her voice was deep, theatrical, like Lauren Bacall’s. 

“Soon, mama,” I said. “Very soon.”

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