Those of you who follow my personal blog know that my 76 year old mother had her leg amputated at Christmas and has yet to leave the hospital. She lives on the other side of the country so I can’t visit her that often. I flew home the beginning of June to spend a couple of weeks home.
Sharing her room was a 80 year old woman – I’ll call her Liz – recovering from a mild stroke. She had lost a fair bit of strength in one arm. The doctors told her family that they didn’t like the idea of her living alone and that they’d prefer her to have round-the-clock care. The family decided to put her into a nursing home. Liz did not get a choice in the matter. When she protested, her family used guilt tactics, such as “mom, we don’t want to worry about you,” and “think about us for a change”. When that didn’t work, they used threats and insults: “if you’re arguing with us, then maybe you’ve lost some of your mind, too.”
It took everything in my power to not freak out on the entire lot of them. In fact, if it had been ten years ago, I would not have possessed the power to have controlled myself. How dare they force a woman into a nursing home against her will and without her having an opportunity to prove if she needs the help? How dare her family treat her like an ailing plant, to stick in a corner and forget about it?
Liz spent most of the time I was there talking about how she wanted to die. She said that, if she had known this would be the result, she would have killed herself the moment she felt the stroke coming on. She talked about her dead daughter and how her daughter would never have allowed this to happen to her.
I tried my best while I was there, smuggling her in whatever she wanted – even the McDonald’s chicken nugget happy meal. I faced down the nurses who got mad at me and said, “her body, her choice.”
Too often, “my body, my choice” is narrowed down to the issue of abortion, when it’s actually a much larger issue. As long as I have my mind, I should always be allowed to make decisions for myself that affect me. I should be able to decide if my body can handle living alone.
The hospital was going through renovations for five days and they were given the option to go home during that time or transfer to a different facility. My mom went home and proved to everyone that two legs or one leg, she wasn’t an invalid and get out of her damned way. Liz’s family wouldn’t take her home for that period and was sent to the other facility. She had a massive stroke within hours of moving. It doesn’t look good for her now. I hope that, either way, she finds peace.
I want Liz to know that her suffering was not in vain. I enjoyed and loved the time I spent with her in the hospital. She helped lift my mother’s spirits, who stopped feeling sorry for herself to help her new friend. I learned to be prepared and ready for the lack of respect that I might encounter at her age.
And, above all, she confirmed in me that “my body, my choice” is a life-long statement and not just about my reproductive rights.