A Heavy Scent of Bananas But Not a Hint of a Hearing Aid


Oh dear. The last few times I’ve visited my mom, her room smells like bananas. It’s not due to a new air freshener. It’s because she’s started hoarding bananas.

They’re always on the dining tables at meal times. Bananas are good for you – full of potassium and stuff – and they’re easy to eat, an important factor for many older adults. Besides, it’s something easy to take and keep in your room in case you want a snack later. I’m pretty sure the snack later part never happens for my mother.

Every time I visit, she offers me a banana. Every time I decline, explaining how I’m off bananas for the time being as they make me gassy and I work with the public.

Here’s what my mom doesn’t have right now: her hearing aid. It was getting loose as it got older and I suppose the shape of her face and head has been changing. Sometimes she takes it out for a moment if her ear itches, or she knocks it askew while putting on her glasses. A couple of days ago, the hearing aid disappeared.

Nurses and aides have turned the place upside down. They did their best to retrace Mom’s steps from the day the instrument vanished. Nada.

Today I went to visit and saw a banana, as usual, on my mom’s nightstand.

“You want a banana?”

“No thanks, Mom, they give me gas. Did they find your hearing aid?”

“No. They looked through everything.”

“I’ll look, too, in case they just missed it.”

I opened the top drawer of her nightstand. I didn’t find a hearing aid, but there was a second banana, this one wrapped in a paper towel. Same thing with the bottom drawer. Likewise, the footstool that doubles as a storage unit held no hearing aid I could find, but there was a banana.

“Mom, do you think you have enough bananas?”

“You want one?”

“No thanks. I’m off bananas for the time being. I’ll check with Medicaid next week and see if they cover hearing aids.”

Pneumonia Falls

Pneumonia Falls — it’s the dystopian anti-vacation destination my mom has been visiting for the past several days. First she spiked a fever, then she got weak and dizzy, then she fell. Nothing broken, so I guess that means her osteoporosis medicine is working.

After a series of tests, it was determined she had a mild case of pneumonia. Antibiotics have taken down the fever and cleared up congestion. But neither her strength nor balance has returned. She’s fallen two more times and is now under injunction not to walk anywhere without the accompaniment of an aide.

Yesterday she told me she has to stop and rest on her way to the dining room and asked me to bring her wheelchair the next time I come. This feels like a big step down to me, as she’s been adamantly anti-wheelchair up until now. But she’s looked a lot closer to the edge of death than this in the past and then bounced back.

I guess we’ll go on the way life has to go on anyway. One day and then another day and then another until eventually there isn’t one more.

And Then…

Update on the hearing aid situation:

The day after I posted about my delays in getting my mom’s hearing aid repaired I did, in fact, manage to get it fixed and back to her. Mad props to Columbia Hearing Center for excellent and speedy customer service, especially as the holiday weekend approached.

I delivered the working device to my mom with the satisfied feeling that comes from one less item on your to-do list. Only to have her say, “I got something in the mail. I don’t remember what, but I remember thinking you should look at it.”

I found the envelope the top drawer of her nightstand:

Jury summons

I looked it up on the state’s website. There is no maximum age for jurors. Apparently, residing at a skilled nursing facility is no automatic exemption, either. What can you do but laugh?

No worries. I contacted my mother’s doctor, who was happy to email a letter stating Mom should be excused from jury duty indefinitely.

It’s always something, rarely anything I expected.

What to Talk About?

You’re back in your hometown for the holidays and you go to visit your Great Aunt Hilda at her nursing home. You give her a box of chocolates, ask how she’s doing, show her pictures of your kids, tell her a story about  your new puppy…uh, discuss the weather…look at your watch. Seven minutes. Really, seven minutes into the visit and you’re out of things to talk about?

You could ask what’s new with Hilda, but you know her life is pretty static. Maybe the podiatrist was around last week and everyone got their toenails trimmed. But there’s only so much ground you want to cover on that topic. So what do you talk about? How can you pass the time pleasantly?

Here’s one idea:



Conversation starter cards. There are a variety of sets. This one happens to be what I own. Since I suffer from a generalized case of social awkwardness, I use them in different settings. I don’t always take the box along, often simply looking through it for ideas before I’m in a conversation-making situation. My kids and I have read through the cards on road trips. They can be fun to use with a group, especially a multi-generational one.  I’ve taken the box with me when visiting my mom and it made for some good discussions.  There are questions such as “Are there any unusual food combinations you like?” and “What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken?”

This could lead to interesting reminiscences. I’ve heard some tantalizing tales about my mom’s life that were new to me. You might want to be ready to take notes, or even record the conversation for posterity.

Another idea is to take a deck of cards or simple board game with you. By the time someone’s in a skilled nursing facility, they’re probably not going to be with it enough to play duplicate bridge, but Crazy 8s might not be out of the question. Or checkers.

If you have a tablet and you know there’s an Internet connection, you can bookmark some short on-line videos and share them. Who doesn’t love to watch cute baby animals doing adorable things?

You could have an informal literary discussion. Bring a poem or short short story to read aloud and talk about it.

These are all ideas that have gone well for me. If anyone else has suggestions, I’d love to see them in the comments.



A Latte Experience

I love the activities director at my mom’s nursing home for the variety of ways she finds to expand the lives of the residents, from bringing in musicians to having a banana split social, to loading up those who are able to go for a country drive. One of the things I find depressing about the idea of nursing home residency is what I see as the shrinkage of a life. I compare my life – my ability to get in a car and run around town, shop for food I want at the grocery store (within my budget), go for a walk, have pets – to my mom’s situation of spending most of her time within the same building, her choices curtailed.

I see it as part of my job description to help her keep connections to the outside world and to help grow her life experiences into something bigger than the walls of one building. This doesn’t  have to be  a major undertaking on my part. Little things can go a long way.

Mom has her own phone, with large numbers, but she can’t seem to manage making a phone call on her own any more. She gets flustered by the need to dial “9” for an outside line, and then loses her place while dialing, forgetting which numbers she’s pressed already. It’s easy enough, when I’m visiting, for me to ask her whom she’d like to call today, and then put the call through for her.

Since she was unable to go to my son’s piano recital, I got permission to let him come play his pieces on the piano at the nursing home, so she could see him perform. As a bonus, several residents heard the music and managed to get into the piano area, so he ended up with an audience.

Most recently, I decided my mom should have the opportunity to try a latte at least once in her life. She’s never had much in the way of spare cash lying around, and spending on a frou-frou coffee drink was far outside the realm of anything she’d consider. But I thought she’d like it, so I drove through Starbucks on my way to see her and picked up one for each of us.  See what I did there? That way it was us doing something together, rather than her feeling I was getting her something extra or expensive. She verified what I expected – she’d never had one before. But she liked it. She kept saying, “That’s so good.”

Finally, she admitted that maybe she wouldn’t feel too bad about the money spent if I wanted to bring her another one some time, though she insisted I should take it out of her bank account. I’m not going to take it from her money, and I won’t tell her how expensive it is. But I will be happy knowing you can still have new experiences at the age of 87.

The Big Adventure

My birthday is today, but I celebrated yesterday. I dragged my husband and kids, plus my daughter’s bff, out to see “The Hunger Games.” This was followed by an ambitious plan to spring my mother from the nursing home for a couple of hours to go eat at IHOP.

I was excited to get to spend my birthday with her. I can’t remember the last time that happened. She seemed excited to be able to go out with us. Yet, I had a lot of fear, too. Unhelpful thoughts presented themselves again and again:  “What if she falls? What if, while I’m responsible for her, I accidentally let her fall? What if she can’t get into our van? What if she can get in, but not out?” It’s like learning how to handle a baby. “What if I drop it?”

We took a step-stool, since it is a big step up into the van. This was useless. We eventually figured out the best way for Mom to get up into the seat was to turn around with her back to it, and kind of scooch up with my help. At one point, she did think she was going to fall, and called out. But I had her. It was a relief to realize I really had her and I was capable of making sure she didn’t fall in the process of getting seated. I kept a continual body check going during the entire process. For the second time, I found myself glad that I’ve put on a few pounds. (The first time was when I read that women who gain weight in their forties have lower rates of osteoporosis.) Even if my Mom had started to tilt out, she’d only fall against me, and she wouldn’t budge me. At this point, she weighs a slight 110 pounds or so. And I weigh…more than that.

So, it all worked. We got Mom into the van, out of the van, into the restaurant, and we had a birthday dinner – three generations of us. My kids came through, carrying my tote bag for me while I helped their grandma, stepping ahead to hold doors open, and other little helpful things.

By the time Mom was back to her room, I could tell she was pretty worn out. But she seemed very please, too, as was I. We did it! And she didn’t fall.