Sunday, June 7, 2009

the day ends with Mom still in the hospital

In the context of Mom's rapid deterioration over the past few days, today was a day of small victories. Mom ate a decent breakfast, at one point taking the fork in her left hand (I had been feeding her) to scoop up some eggs on her own. She even reached out to grab a piece of bacon with her fingers, showing a measure of volition. She smiled and attempted to laugh on many occasions throughout the day, and once or twice gave Dad a dark look when he seemed to be getting too talkative with the hospital staff ("Ned, these people have other things to do and you're holding them up!"). Dad fed Mom at lunch-- an improvement over yesterday, when she didn't eat lunch at all. At dinner, David and Sean fed Mom, and at David's urging, Mom fed herself most of the time. Sean occasionally prodded Mom to eat when she seemed to hesitate: Mom would sometimes stare at her loaded fork or spoon, contemplating the contents with blurry fascination instead of simply eating the food. She did this with her iced tea as well, holding the tiny, foil-covered cup in her hand, contemplating its shape and the straw jutting out of the foil. one of us would have to prod her to drink.

Perhaps most remarkable was that Mom sat upright today. I had no idea she was capable of that, but one nurse, Vera (kudos to her, by the way: another good one at Fairfax Hospital), asked us whether we'd like to have Mom sit in a chair. I guess I'd gotten used to seeing Mom lying in bed, moving only rarely, the picture of helplessness. Vera's suggestion represented a welcome change of pace, and Mom proved up to the challenge: Vera easily maneuvered Mom into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, and with Mom's own help, Vera got Mom on her feet and rotated her ("We're dancing!" Vera chirped) so that she could settle straight into the chair that had been placed next to the bed.

Once Mom was in the chair, she seemed more awake and more interactive. The challenge of gravity may have motivated her to test the movement of her limbs and the strength of her neck. She held her head aloft the entire time she was in the chair, never once lolling, and that was where she ate her dinner.

Nurse Vera mentioned that it might be possible for Mom to interact with Sean's dog Maqz, but that the meeting would have to take place outside, on one of the green spaces. This was, I think, Vera's purpose in getting Mom to sit in the chair today: if Mom was able to perform that feat, she'd be able to sit in a wheelchair and be taken outside to see the dog. It's a great idea, and if Mom's going to be in hospital a few more days (at this point, we have no clue how long she'll remain), I'm fervently hoping we'll set up a play date for Mom and that perky charcoal chihuahua.

Later in the day, around 6:45PM, a different pair of nurses came to Mom's room and offered both to change Mom's bed linens and give Mom a sponge bath, to which Mom weakly agreed. Dad had left early to work on his ever-present mountain of paperwork (hospital bills are coming in... the parents have insurance, but a million dollars would be nice), and we three brothers took some time to explore restaurants near the hospital, quickly settling on a local Panera about two miles away.

Panera was apparently a major Korean watering hole; I saw at least three tables surrounded by young Koreans there, and one of those tables was actually two long tables doubled up to form one longer table. Panera's ambience is reminiscent of many of the shops now scattered throughout Seoul: well lit, lined with bland wood paneling, and sporting a Starbucks-style coffee-and-pastry bar on one side of the establishment. It's easy to see why the place would appeal to a younger Korean crowd. Sean, who cleaves to an Atkins regimen, had a salad; David and I had sandwiches and pastries, which turned out to be OK, but no big shakes.

Panera isn't the only place where I encountered Koreans. Because Fairfax Hospital sits next to Annandale's Koreatown, my peeps are everywhere, and that includes the roster of hospital staff. I've already spoken in Korean with two Fairfax staffers, and today I finally had the chance to exercise my French with two other staffers-- one a French Muslim from Lyon, the other a lady from Afghanistan who spoke a deliberately paced but picture-perfect French. This second lady told me that French was the first foreign language she'd ever learned. The first lady, la lyonnaise, told me I had a good accent. "You've still got it," was Sean's sly, sotto voce comment about my language skills. French proficiency was, for a good part of my life, one of the few things I could brag about. Even that, alas, has been deteriorating, especially after eight years in Korea speaking English and Korean most of the time.

Later in the evening, after I'd returned home and said hello to Dad, I spoke with two of Mom's Korean friends in Korean. Each of these conversations lasted around 15-20 minutes, and as anyone studying a foreign language can tell you, talking in a foreign language is always harder when it's done on the phone, because you're missing all the visual cues that help you understand your interlocutor in face-to-face interaction. Speaking in Korean is more of a struggle for me than speaking in French is; I stumble badly in Korean all the time, and usually end up speaking a mangled "Konglish" in which English expressions are routinely interspersed in Korean sentences. This practice doesn't make me feel too guilty, though: many Korean folks who have lived in the States have adopted the same habit. The only risk for such folks is when they go back to Korea to visit relatives, who expect them to speak entirely in Korean. Both Mom and my aunt experienced some rude awakenings when they were in Korea a few years back.

So for me this was, in some respects, a positive day. First, Mom was more active and interactive, and seeing her in that chair, upright after days on her back, was a delight for all of us. Second, as a lover of languages, I enjoyed the opportunity to chatter a bit in French and to fumble about in Korean. You don't get any better at anything if you never practice, and even after you've mastered something, you still have to practice, practice, practice to maintain and develop it. There's a spiritual truth in there somewhere. The Korean term man-haeng, the ten thousand (i.e., the myriad) ways, comes to mind: everything you do in life, from singing hymns to scratching your butt, is practice-- especially when done deeply and mindfully.

ADDENDUM: We noticed that Mom used her left hand much more than her right when eating; the right hand was either inactive or performed a subsidiary function, such as pushing vegetables into the spoon held in her left hand. When Mom was lying on her back in bed, her eyes and face tended to track left, as if she were more aware of things happening on that side of her head. This could be a sign that she's relying on her right brain to do a lot of the sensory processing. To encourage her to use her left brain more, Sean and David fed Mom dinner while sitting off to her right front side, obliging her to turn her head somewhat rightward to acknowledge their presence and to receive whatever help they were giving her.

In addition, we noticed that Mom's right-side limbs seemed to "come alive" while she was sleeping; her normally dormant or uncoordinated right hand would rise up and scratch an itchy point on her face, locating the itch with great precision and with more graceful coordination than was evident while Mom was awake. We have no idea what this means, but it's worth asking the docs about it.



KimcheeGI said...

Our thoughts are with you always.

imp said...

Scratching one's ass mindfully is a worthy pursuit.

I know I don't say much, Kevin, but you and your mom - and dad, and brothers - are in my thoughts and my meager prayers every single day.