Emma is standing at the kitchen sink doing the dinner dishes. I am upstairs in my writing studio, the room above the kitchen. I hear a PHLUMP. Then, silence. Alarmed, naturally, I descend the back stairs from my studio into the kitchen. I find Emma crawling around on the floor across the room from the sink, over by the powder room. She is trying to find something to hold onto to pull herself up, a chair, probably.
“What happened?!” I ask, bringing a chair and helping her up.
“I don’t know,” she says.
“Were you standing at the sink and you got dizzy and fell?”
“I don’t know.” She simply doesn’t remember. One moment she is standing at the sink, the next she is on the floor.
The fall in the kitchen in 2005 was her first. In succeeding falls, she experienced moments of insensibility, where she would be down and unresponsive, her eyes glazed over. I’d look into her eyes and call her, “Mother. Mother!” It was frightening. Each time, I thought this might be the end. I’d lift her and prop her up so she sat against the wall until, after about three minutes, she regained her sensibilities. Then I’d run to a neighbor, once getting one down off his roof, to help me pick her up.
Her first major fall happened when I was helping her get out of the tub and she folded up and got wedged on the tile floor between the side of the tub and the front of the toilet. It was her birthday. Her legs and an arm were bent at odd angles. She could not get up on her own and I could not get her up. So I ran next door hoping to get my neighbor. She is strong, experienced at this. She knows what to do. But she wasn’t home. Her younger brother, in his early 40s, came instead. We wrapped her in her robe, helped her into her room, he left and I dressed her.
By 2007, she was making her way around the house by grabbing onto furniture. She fell and hurt her arm. She couldn’t climb into her king size bed, then. I had to help her, but I couldn’t lift her. My gardener’s wife helped me that time. She came right over herself, even though she lives 20 minutes away, has six children and it was dinnertime. We got Emma undressed and into bed. After that, I placed a small stepstool beside her bed. She used it even though one night, to my surprise, I saw her climb into the other side of the bed without it.
Around then, I had a party, and a woman friend said to me, “You need help. You really need to get help.” I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it. I thought I couldn’t, I suppose. And it wasn’t easy. After weeks of my calling various healthcare agencies. one responded and sent us a wonderful, caring aide who bought a foot tub for Emma. The aide bathed her, washed her feet, applied body lotion, face cream, Emma’s favorite red lipstick, perfume and jewelry, all of which Emma would have done on her own had she been able. Medicare paid for this help because Emma needed physical therapy after her arm injury. So, this was temporary, for about six weeks. But for a time, I got help five hours a week and Emma got a walker.