By Julianna Eley
“Do you want to give Nugget a treat?”
“No.” These days, no usually means yes but I waited for her to clarify.
“YES! Yes. Yes.”
I tucked the treat into my mother’s right hand. Her grip strength was almost non-existent, her left hand had never properly healed from a wrist break in 2020. Now, in 2022 she couldn’t open or raise her left hand without assistance. Nugget, my chihuahua mix, didn’t mind, eagerly snatching the treat from her thin, pale fingers.
By the time her doctors recognized her rapid neurological decline and got her to a specialist, she was almost unrecognizable. The specialist confirmed what was obvious by then: multiple system atrophy, a terminal illness.
As Nugget made his way around the room, nose to the ground searching for crumbs, I sat down on the couch to begin reading to Mom. She sat in her wheelchair like she had for months, her leg muscles weakening by the day. Up until last week I could lift her from the wheelchair as she briefly stood, pivoting to sit on the couch. This week her leg muscles couldn’t do it anymore and I wasn’t strong enough to lift her completely. The day I realized I couldn’t move her from the chair anymore was one of the more devastating days of the past two years.
I tried to visit the nursing home at least every other day. In the beginning, we would go to lunch or happy hour and of course a plethora of doctors’ appointments. As her mobility decreased so did the car rides and outings. Her neck began to atrophy so she couldn’t watch television anymore. And with her fine motor skills in such a state, using the remote was impossible.
That’s when we started reading memoirs. They were a favorite for both of us; we were reading Educated by Tara Westover. It was the last full book I ever read to her. Most days I read to her until she got bored (two chapters max), or it was time for Bingo with the other residents (2 PM).
I wheeled her down the hall to the Bingo tables. As her MSA progressed, even Bingo was challenging. Marking the numbers with silver dollar-sized plastic coins, atrophied muscles and limited dexterity made her Bingo cards look like a pile of The Goonies gold. She might mark the number called, but unable to keep her arm raised, she’d drag the Bingo card across the table, jumbling any chance of deciphering a win.
I sucked in the hot, familiar air of the nursing home, willing myself not to cry when the Bingo announcer pulled the next number.
“Oh! I’ve pulled Robyn’s favorite number!”
I looked at my mom expectantly, “Favorite number?”
“O-69!” The Bingo caller announced. My mom laughed and reached for a gold plastic coin.