The problems with growing old


July 10, 2000


            Karen has the same problem most of us of the only-child breed have: She has to take care of her mother at a time of life when her mother cannot take care of herself.

            We have become the sole provider of a social life for these people and the burden has become all too much to bear.

            This comes at a time when Karen and her husband have their own physical ailments. With her mother ninty, Karen has reached the age where she herself might be considered old. Her husband developed a serious blatter ailment, some kind of cancer, then during treatment found his testicle infected as well. After several doctors examined him, they determined that the one was caused by treatment of the other, and then treated him for the second ailment as well.

            During the final examination, the doctor looked over at Dick's cheek and noticed a discolored mole.

            "He said I'd have to get that treated," Dick said. "He said it was skin cancer."

            Meanwhile, Karen got a scare of her own when during a routine check up for her epolepsy, doctors discovered she had a growth on the brain -- they claimed would have to be operated on. She had changed doctors over the last year because the doctor she had seen for 30 years had decided to retire. When the case was shifted from the examining doctor to the surgeon, the surgeon looked at the results, scratched his head, and mumbled something about the results looking odd to him. He ordered new tests, and then when these came back, discovered that the blockage was not something new, nor a clot so much as a scar.

            "He said I must have hit my head when I was younger," Karen said. "That caused the epolipsy, it also left the scar."

            In the midst of all this, her mother grows perpetually older, causing as great a headache as the variety of illnesses Karen and her husband suffer.

            The woman, now ninty, has been fighting off the landlord, who in the middle of the biggest real estate boom in history, wants her out so he can rennovate. While she pays under $400 a month, he could be getting five times that from a more modern couple. But the old woman, who lived her whole life in Hoboken, won't move, not a smaller apartment, nor to a senior citizen complex -- even though both will likely do more for her than her daughter can now.

            Karen talked about her visits to her mother, and how she couldn't wait for them to end, mother and daughter sitting in that large ancient apartment with nothing to say to each other, her mother spending day and night otherwise alone.

            Many of the feelings Karen expressed, I have felt, the resentment, the fear, the longing to have my mother become part of some more supportive community. Recently, my mother has begun to take part in a program, giving me a slight edge over Karen, since I can now relieve myself of some of the guilt, knowing that when I see my mother, we are sharing something important. I am not sitting around, glancing at the clock, waiting for the hours to pass.




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