I’m sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office in Smalltown, U.S.A., where I’ve been staying for a day short of two weeks, my longest visit in…well, as far back as I can remember. It’s not a vacation, alas. My seventy-eight-year-old mother fell and cracked her pelvis two months ago, and I’m looking after her while my brother arranges for home health care. (He and his wife, who live two blocks away, both have nine-to-five jobs that keep them busy all day.) Mrs. T was here as well, but she had to return to New York last Friday, and since then I’ve been on duty more or less continuously.
Being a full-time caregiver is a new and instructive experience for me. My mother can get around her house with the aid of a walker, but she’s not yet accustomed to using it regularly, and after spending a long and busy lifetime taking care of herself and others, she’s no more used to being inactive. Left to her own devices, she’d be on her feet at least half the time—she is, like me, a chronic picture-straightener—and I doubt she’d be using her walker more than sporadically, either. Thus I spend my days and nights with one ear cocked for trouble, serving by turns as resident picture-straightener, cook, dishwasher, secretary, chauffeur, conversationalist, physical therapist, dispenser of drugs, and maker of endless cups of weak decaffeinated coffee, each one flavored with three heaping spoonfuls of cappuccino mix….
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