By Elizabeth Shean
By the time I pulled the SUV into the garage, it was nearly dark. Mom sighed and said, "I can hardly wait to get in the house. I feel exhausted."
I couldn’t blame her. When we’d left that morning, the sky was blue and bright. We took a ten-minute drive to her primary care doctor’s office, where we used valet parking and took the elevator up to the second floor.
But her doctor was running late, and we spent nearly an hour sitting in the waiting room. Upholstered in a flowered vinyl fabric, the furniture looked more attractive than it proved to be comfortable. By the time we were called back, Mom limped noticeably on her right hip as she walked slowly to the exam room.
"You’d think these things would be simple," Mom commented to me as we walked, "I mean, it’s just a doctor’s appointment. Why does life always have to be so complicated?"
The medical assistant took Mom’s vital signs and duly noted that her blood pressure was a little high—not surprising given the hour-long wait and the lengthy stroll to reach the patient care area. But we were not prepared for the tug-of-war that ensued when the physician finally arrived and declared she wanted to change Mom’s blood pressure dosage due to the high reading today.
Mom tried to say she did not want to tinker with the dosage, but her halting speech due to the dementia provided opportunities for the doctor to interrupt, which in turn would cause Mom to lose her train of thought. At that point, I intervened to make the case that Mom’s blood pressure is good at home, so why not stay the course and only make a change if her daily readings begin to rise?
After considerable back-and-forth, the doctor relented. But the contentious conversation clearly took a toll on Mom, who had trouble mustering the leg strength to climb into the truck to leave the medical center.
Nonetheless, we headed for our favorite restaurant for a bite to eat before tackling the next scheduled appointment. "We need to have some extra iced tea and maybe a piece of pie to fortify us for the next ordeal," Mom joked, referring to her afternoon appointment with the geriatric psychiatrist who manages her dementia medications.
Mom’s comments proved prescient, for the psychiatrist likewise wanted to switch up one of Mom’s meds, and we had to engage in another spirited discussion about quality of life and patient preferences. I sometimes think the doctor-patient relationship should not be such a struggle, but it often feels as if it is.
Back at home, I switched off the ignition while Mom unbuckled her seat belt. "I’m going to need your help to get down," she commented.
I assisted her out of the truck and kept a firm grip on her as she shuffled into the house, across the tile floor to her recliner. She flopped into it, closed her eyes and sighed gustily.
"Now, the question is what are you planning for dinner," she said without opening her eyes. "I almost feel too weary to eat."
"I thought tonight I would make us a nice broth," I began, "and then follow with hamburgers and grilled onions. How does that sound?"
Mom opened her eyes and smiled. "That sounds delicious!" she said with a chuckle.
In the kitchen, I poured homemade chicken stock into a saucepan and diluted it with a little water. As this mixture came up to a boil, I minced a shallot and thought about how hard it had been on Mom to do two doctor appointments in one day. I could hear her snoring softly in her recliner. I added the shallot to the pot, along with a small handful of frozen peas and some dried dill. In the future, I told myself, I’ll have to keep it simple, no more than one appointment per day. I allowed the soup mixture to simmer for a few minutes while I sliced the onions and formed the hamburger patties to be fried directly.
I ladled the steaming broth into bowls, grabbed a couple of spoons and returned to the sitting room. As I placed the bowl of broth on Mom’s TV tray, she bent over it and inhaled deeply before bringing a spoonful to her lips. "How can something so simple be so restorative?" she asked. "I feel stronger already."
We slurped for a few moments in companionable silence.
"Do we have anything planned for tomorrow?" she asked between sips of broth.
"No," I replied and then joked, "In fact, let us rejoice in the knowledge we have no further doctor appointments for the rest of the year."
"And will you be off on Wednesday? Can we go grocery shopping, as usual?"
"Oh, yes. We definitely will get back to our routine next week, Mom," I said. "We will buy groceries for sure on Wednesday."
Mom finished her broth and dropped her spoon into the bowl with a clatter. "Oh, good," she said, leaning back and closing her eyes again. "I enjoy it when we can just have our simple life."