Thursday, August 23, 2012

Caution! Side Effects May Include Growling

4:00 a.m.
I hear growling.
It takes a minute and the smell of cigarette smoke wafting up into my bedroom window before I'm awake enough to realize it's my mother. She's gone out the side door to smoke. My mom has vocalized almost non-stop since her surgery in 2009. Moans. Groans. Growls. In addition, she talks to herself. Sometimes she yells at herself. Sometimes it's more of a gentle reprimand. "Come on, Ethel," is one of her favorites.
Thank God the neighbors on that side use their house only as an occasional week-end retreat. Groggy, I roll through a scenario where someone hears the noise and calls animal control, and the neighborhood is bathed in searchlights. I have to answer the door in my pink tiger-striped pajamas to explain. But I know the neighbors are not at home, and with my pillow over my head, I eventually go back to sleep.

In the morning over coffee, I tell my mother she sounded like a bear, and we laugh. She apologizes.
The next mini-drama is over her pills. "I know I take five pills in the morning," she says. "Why are there six in my pillbox?" I get out the list my brother's girlfriend has prepared. I get out the plastic box with the prescription bottles. I compare the list to the bottles and the pills in the bottles to the pills in the box. There's an extra one, and no corresponding pill bottle to be found. I go online to I.D. it, and tell my mom that I think it's a pill for heartburn and excess stomach acid, and that it's actually the same as a different-looking pill in her box. One is oval, the other is round. One of them is probably a name-brand pill and the other a generic. "I don't have heartburn," she says. But  I know she suffered from GERD after her surgery. "I'll go to the pharmacy and ask the pharmacist if the pill is really a duplicate," I say. My  fantasy is that the pharmacist will tell me she should stop this medication immediately because the side effects cause growling. Yes, it turns out the pills are the same.

Sometimes my mother is fully herself. She hears what I say completely and accurately. Other times her hearing aids fail her. Once in a while she forgets what I just said even though she heard it. I find that I'm really not at all impatient with her. (It's day 3 of this living together business.) It's not so hard to imagine what it would be like to have arthritis. To hobble around on sore feet. To guess at what is being said. To learn my way around a new house in a new time zone and a new climate.

"Winter coat, winter coat," she grumbles as she heads out to the patio to smoke after dinner. I don't let her smoke in the house, but I take her a fleecy sweatshirt and a portable radiator. The ocean air is cool.

"Grandma needs her own YouTube channel," M says from the couch. It does seem a little like a reality show around here.

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