Anticipate every need

Her house was like an erotica museum, I told her one day after I'd had the FedEx guy step into the front hallway and I saw the place through his eyes.  Straight ahead there was the larger-than-life painting of southwestern ladies with big round breasts and nipples and the pink flower vagina. And to the right there was a little square white canvas of a pink thong hanging on a clothesline. And this was just the front hallway.

Bubbie was an artist.

  This hangs on the wall of my living room now. Some people find the big vagina a bit shocking.

This hangs on the wall of my living room now. Some people find the big vagina a bit shocking.

But also she had congestive heart failure. Which meant that her heart was no longer so good at pumping blood.

That led to the introduction of the oxygen machine and the tubes in her nose. And it was the long plastic oxygen cord that had gotten in a tangle and led to her falling and breaking her right arm one morning when she was trying to feed her scrappy little dog, Willie. That put an end to her days painting.

And so now it was her heart plus the broken arm plus there was a growing list of other ailments. Which is a lot to ask of an old body, to deal with.

I was there at her bedside. And I wanted to anticipate her every need.

Which made sense. Since she was the one who taught me, as I grew up, to do things without being asked. To just see that the geraniums needed watering or the floor needed vacuuming, and to just do it. And when I did, she’d give me a little nod and I felt the warm intoxication of her approval.

  Quite a hat you have there, Bubs

Quite a hat you have there, Bubs

But this wasn’t like watering geraniums. She always needed something, but what exactly she needed was hard to pin down. The kitchen counter became a medical outpost. There was a printed list of her medications, changing daily with hand-written amendments. A clear plastic vanity case had been commandeered to store all the prescription bottles. There was a giant container of something called Thick It, to thicken fluids when she couldn’t swallow. There were sleeping pills, Metamucil, eye drops, enormous jugs of tomato juice. Following instructions, I monitored her vital signs religiously and recorded them on a legal pad. A small increase in weight, for instance, meant that she was dangerously waterlogged from the congestive heart failure, and so then right away I’d need to administer a drug called Lasix.

But at every turn there was a new problem. And for each new problem I had no corresponding answer.