Thursday, September 29, 2005

Airway Emergencies

No phone calls in the middle of the night! Hurrah!
I don't show up for my daily visit until 4:30 pm. Mom is already sitting in the dining room, eating grapes while waiting for dinner to start. Several other residents are also early for dinner.
"How was her day?" I ask Jona.
"Fine. She was fine today--not a sleepy day, not agitated."
"Great," I say. "Thanks--you can go now. Thanks for everything." I like to let Jona leave at 4 pm or so because she works a 12-hour day, 6 am to 6 pm. Instead of visiting my mother at 2 pm as I used to, I try to come by 4 pm and let Jona get away before traffic gets bad. But it's now after 4:30 so traffic will be terrible.
"Okay," says Jona, always cheerful and smiling.
I scoop up the pile of red grape skins from the placemat and throw it out.
A staff member of Ocean View brings Mom a bowl of soup, a thin dark broth. She picks up the spoon with her left hand, but I make her use the right hand to eat.
"It needs exercise," I say. "It's still swollen." She takes a few spoonfuls, laboriously. The fingers of her right hand are swollen and clumsy.
I begin showing her photos of Colorado, which I have just picked up from the photo shop. She's looking at each one with interest. She tires of trying to steer the small spoonfuls into her mouth and picks up the bowl to drink the soup.
But on the second swallow she chokes and tries to cough. Some soup must have gone down her airway instead of the throat. She makes choking noises. I thump her back, which doesn't help. Bethlhem comes and raises Mom's arms above her head, which helps. The four other residents sitting around the table watch the scene with varying levels of alarm and alertness.
Soon Mom is coughing well and able to talk. Crisis resolved. I throw out the soup, and she moves on to the main course, pasta with chicken. I make a mental note: "No drinking of soup. Too hard. Her swallowing skills aren't up to it."
Then Elva at another table chokes. She is older than Mom, maybe 92, less glamorous: a small gaunt figure with large black glasses and a few strands of thin grey shoulder-length hair that start a few inches back from her forehead.
Bethlhem and Marnie are able to resolve this crisis too. I admire their skill and fortitude.
"Just another exciting meal in the Reminiscence Neighborhood," I reflect later, leaving Connie to deal with my mother, Bethlhem and Marnie to cope with other crises until 10 pm.

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