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Beth’s adventures in surrealland.

My mother is herself and yet not herself – tucked into bed in the Ottawa Heart Institute, looking about twelve years old, very beautiful still, incredibly – with more wires running out of her body than look humanly possible. You can check her heartbeat on a monitor in the hall, along with all the other patients on the ward, see the words ATFIB, see the numbers jump about. When cheery Dr. Duchesne came through, he listed her current afflictions: pneumonia, atrial fibrilation, and edema indicating congestive heart failure. Along with a recent heart operation and being nearly 89. Otherwise, good to go!

But the medicine is working, the diuretics have reduced the swelling in her legs, the antibiotics are attacking the infection. Her mind wanders alarmingly, but the doctor says it’s normal with all she has been through recently, including, let’s not forget, a major move to assisted living – her month in a recovery room at Amica and now her new suite there, which she slept in twice before going back to hospital. I went there with my brother, who got her moved and arranged everything, and saw it with her furniture for the first time. He did a wonderful job; it’s lovely – small, of course, but bright and homey, even elegant. Our great prayer is that she will be able to go back there and enjoy more time.

So I spend my days sitting by her bed; we chat, she falls asleep in the middle of a sentence, and then awakes and we resume our talk. She doesn’t quite know where she is. Old issues re-emerge. “Why did I have that strange trap put into my ceiling?” she cried once, staring at the hospital ceiling where there is no trap. “Who are those people sauntering up and down out there?” she asked, looking at the other patients who push their heart monitors up and down the hall for exercise. “Time for the guys to go,” she said sternly, “with their equipment.” Not sure about that one.

But then she’s there, she’s lovely, we laugh a lot. After a black orderly named James helped her back into bed, I arranged her covers and told her she had good colour today. “But not as much as James,” she giggled. Her snack arrived – a pot of yogurt. She’s so thin, we’re desperate for her to eat, so I fed it to her spoon by spoon, the way I’ll be feeding my grandson before long. But mostly she can eat the ghastly hospital food on her own, though very slowly, with shaking hand. Being her always flirtatious self, she snaps to attention when the husband of the woman in the next bed enters the room. “What a handsome man,” she whispered once, “so trim, with a good figure. And a Brit.” And he is.

In the middle of all this, Anna and I are texting about her son, and she sent me a photograph on my phone of him trying a Jolly Jumper for the first time – at two months! “He’s in love,” she wrote.

When I can’t take any more hospital, I come back to her condo for a break, and my brother takes over, or her caregiver Nancy. Her place is odd now – much of her furniture has gone to Amica, her TV and radio, pictures from the walls. Again, it’s both her place and not. I am sleeping in her bed – the bed my parents shared, the bed my father died in 24 years ago. Yesterday I did something I’ve wanted to do for ages – her bookcases have gone to Amica and all the books were on the floor, so I was able to pile up the vast collection of old magazines – Bon Appetit, Chatelaine, Homemakers – each with little bits of paper stuck into them, indicating recipes she’d like to try one day – and will take them downstairs to the garage, stack by stack. You can leave things by the bins there, and people claim them and take them away. Perhaps someone here will try all the recipes she didn’t get around to.

My first night here, Auntie Do came over – my mother’s older sister, at 92 living alone, still driving, mind sharp and body bent but strong. We had dinner together, and she told me the old family stories again. She told me that despite their many marital problems, my parents were always crazy about each other. Treasure. She has lent me her car, because all the rental agencies came up empty, so I drive back and forth in a 1980 Toyota Tercel, rusty but functional with even a bit of zip, like her.

Luckily, Mum’s condo is in Britannia, right next to the park and the river and beach; I walk there once or twice a day, under the trees, and breathe. The weather is heavenly, hot and breezy. My mother is not only still alive, she’s getting better. “Are you all right?” I asked last night, before leaving.
“Perfect,” she replied, with a smile. “Well, would you believe – slightly imperfect.” And then her eyes closed again, and she nodded off.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

Some Blogs I Follow

Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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