My body, my choice – even when I’m 80

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.

5 thoughts on “My body, my choice – even when I’m 80”

  1. While I will agree with this 99%, I also know, from experience, that some folks with mild dementia or stroke damage can be ‘mostly’ alright, except when they are not, and that results in serious mistakes… and I’m not talking just things like starting fires or handing over life savings to smooth talkers or other crazy drama that we see on TV, but simple stuff, like mistakes with medicine or not recording sugar levels properly for diabetes. Such folk tend to be fairly coherent and very convincing too. My mother had actual, very serious dementia, and yet I had to watch her closely at doctors appointments. She’d start talking to nurses who were recording her latest history, nurses who KNEW she had major stroke damage and dementia, and she’d convincingly tell them all sorts of stuff… WRONG stuff, It could have had serious impact on her treatment had I not been there to provide the correct information (even though my mom would argue back and say I was the wrong one – very convincingly!). We put my mother in an assisted living facility for the rest of her life when my dad died.. it wasn’t easy, but we knew she was safer and healthier there. The nurses kept a good eye on her physically, and mom listened to ‘authority figures’ better then she would ever listen to her kids. We also arranged it that all ‘bad’ decisions were ‘my fault’ (I was far away) so she could be mad and blame me for everything, and let my sister, who lived nearby, be the good guy. Not saying your friend Liz wasn’t abandoned by her family, that happens too, unfortunately, but we can’t always see the full story, unless we are a part of it.

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  2. You mother was diagnosed with dementia. That is very different than being diagnosed as an old, stubborn woman 🙂

    For things like medication and such, Liz had requested to have a home care visit every day. She qualified to have it and would have had a trained person visit her every day for a couple of hours to help her with medications, grocery shopping, and trips to therapy.

    As long as I have control over my mind, I vow to be the one to make the decisions for my body and my life.

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  3. In this particular case, I felt that the threat of “perhaps you are losing your mind” was used simply because she was an old woman who dug in her heels. In asking my mother, she said she saw it happen a few times during her stay in the hospital. She said it never happened to old men, who would be allowed to make their own decisions (though, she did admit that the men were more likely to suggest going to a home than the women!).

    In some ways, I’m grateful that I don’t have children. I have my step-kids but they wouldn’t be able to force me. So, at least the final decision would be between me, doctors, and a lawyer. In some ways, that seems easier than dealing with family.

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  4. more and more elders are living in self designed self sustaining collectives in order to support and shield one other while maintaing their individuality and independence. i think more and more about my own elder path–my heart goes out to Liz. And best to you and your mom.

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