Pills too bitter to swallow

My mother had a fall three weeks ago and broke her
I did not realize that a broken arm could result in such
bruising but my mother’s arm is still purple with spilled blood.  She has been in hospital since the
fall, and despite early concerns about internal bleeding she’s doing well and
will soon be transferred to a place where they offer transitional care, not so
much rehabilitation but care that’s aimed at getting her back onto her feet
before she can return to her retirement village.
Without two good arms, my mother cannot push her walker
and without a walker it’s not safe for her to walk. 
When I was fifteen years old my mother asked the priest at
our local church, Our Lady of the Assumption, to offer suggestions about how
she might best help her daughters to adjust to the difficulties of our life at home with our drunk father. 
The priest suggested visits to the elderly as an
Every weekend I visited Mrs White at the old people’s
White-haired Mrs White who
smelled of age and lavender sat beside her bed in bedclothes covered by a
matinee jacket of pale pink nylon. 
She was a gruff old thing but mellowed over the time of my visits into
someone who seemed to look forward to them.
She never said as much but I knew I had broken through
when she asked me one day to buy her something for her indigestion.
‘Terrible, dear. 
It puts me off my food.’
Mrs White gave me a handful of coins and full instructions.   She wanted De Witte’s antacid in
a blue roll, each piece shaped like a lolly, or preferably in powder form which
was easier to swallow.
My mother now has a terrible time swallowing the multiple
pills the nurses feed her every day. 
To watch the struggle is agony. 
My mother cannot get the pills past her throat without a battle.  She swishes them around her mouth and
sometimes chews on them to make them smaller.  She barely grimaces but it’s easy to see she does not enjoy
them.  I can only imagine the
If the nurses are not careful my mother has developed a
strategy whereby she tucks a pill into the side of her mouth and waits till the
nurse is out of sight then spits it onto the ground. 
My older sister finds these pills on the floor.  My older sister is attentive to these
things and complains to the staff. 
I reckon my mother does not realize that these pills help to keep her
alive.  She sees them as a nuisance,
only to be tolerated in the presence of others.
Similarly with food. 
The nurses have told my mother she ought to cut down on her sugar.  She takes at least two spoons in every
cup of tea and coffee.
‘At my age,’ my mother says. ‘I don’t care.  Why should I?’
The nurse explains to my mother that the sugar gives her a
quick energy hit that does not leave room for  any hunger for the more sustaining
nutrients, the protein and vitamins from meat and vegetables.
At the moment my mother prefers anything sweet, small tubs
of ice cream, stewed fruit, custard, but for the rest she cannot be
 ‘I’m 94,’ she
says.  ‘I can do as I please.’
If only her body would let her.  And her mind.
There is something willful about my mother in her old age,
something that is a contrast to the strictures of the past, her concern about sin
and the need to do good, which brings me back to my do-gooding days of visiting
Mrs White at the old people’s home.
In the end I arrived one day and Mrs White was gone.  She had died, quietly just like that, and
I could not bring myself to form another relationship with another old person,
knowing that there was such a likelihood of death.
Those were the days when I had decided I would like to die
at sixty; sixty seemed a decent age to go. 
Then two days ago I played ball with my six year old
grandson in our backyard and rejoiced at my stamina despite reaching
Once with the arrogance of my youth I could be cavalier
about the notion that there is a good age at which to die, but not any more. 

6 thoughts on “Pills too bitter to swallow”

  1. De Wittes antacid. Blast from the past. My grandfather thought he had indigestion and took De Wittes and spend some time trying to force himself to burb, and then he died.

    Your mother still has some spirit. The day will come soon enough when she doesn't.

    When I was a teen I thought about the year 2000, when I would turn 43, and imagined myself as a stooped old man using a walking stick.

  2. “I hope I die before I get old.” So sang Roger Daltry back in 1965. Townshend, who wrote the lines, is now sixty-eight and still hanging on in there. When I wrote Living with the Truth I was about thirty-four. I made Jonathan fifty-four and considered him old. Now, of course, I am fifty-four and I feel like Jonathan, prematurely old. When I went to the Glasgow Memory Clinic last (this time for a full bank of memory tests) one of the questions I was asked by the nurse—in all innocence I’m sure—was when I retired and I wanted to ask here there and then exactly how old she thought I was. Hanging around with Carrie—who will be sixty-seven on her birthday—doesn’t help but I’ve always been taken for older than I am, certainly since my early teens.

    Being old doesn’t bother me. I was never that crazy about being young. Being old and unwell—yes, I know the two often go hand in fist—is a bit of a bind but then I’ve always been sickly, ever since I was a little boy. God alone knows how long I’ll last. I see people dying around me all the time and not all are ancient coots. I’m aiming for seventy-five. That’s about when my parents died. I’d hate to get to the stage that all I was doing was popping pills and hanging around waiting on my body deciding enough was enough. I’ve always been surrounded by old people. Mostly they’ve never bothered me except those who milk it but that goes for people of all ages.

    My mother was fond of saying, “You are what you eat.” At the end she pretty much lived off microwave chips and her logic was very much like your mother’s. I get it although I have a healthy diet now—I don’t take any sugar in my coffees (or milk or even caffeine (“Why bother?” I hear you ask))—and since food is increasingly becoming a source of pleasure in my life I’d hate that to be taken away.

    The phrase ‘quality of life’ gets kicked around a lot these days. I think it’s an important one. Existence is not ‘life’. Years ago I used to go round asking people what they though Man’s primary drive was. Most people didn’t have any better answers than Freud (sex and aggression), Jung (belonging), Adler (mastery), Maslow (self-actualisation), God (God) and the Beatles (love or money depending which song you listen to). For me meaning is the meaning of life. I need to feel that what I do, who I am has meaning. It’s not enough to fill the time. I read a novella by Robert Silverberg many years ago called Going which tells an emotional tale of a 135-year-old man dealing with a decision to end his life. The custom of the day allows the man to retire to a sort of nursing home, where he is allowed as much time as needed to prepare for and determine the exact day of his death. The process is completely voluntary. I was young when I first read it but it’s stayed with me. It’s made me appreciate freedom of choice and it does puzzle me when you consider the number of freedoms available to us (including the freedom to subsist on microwave chips) that people might get themselves in a kerfuffle over my freedom to decide when and how I might choose to die.

  3. At 94, your mother is a feisty soul! (Perhaps words other than "feisty" would appropriate, but that's what seems best to me.) My parents lived to their mid-90s, so I understand some of the challenges. I have no problem swallowing pills, but I know others who do, and I have a lot of sympathy for them.

    I'm much troubled by our attitudes to the care of the elderly. We want them to live long and well, perhaps to meet our needs rather than theirs. The ultimate question: are we prolonging this person's life, or death?

    I hope you mom's are heals up reasonably. As for the rest, the jury is out.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!

  4. At my dad's nursing home, if a resident can't swallow pills, the nurse can crush them (may have to change a med to something crushable) and feed them in a bite or two of yogurt or pudding or whatever they like the taste of. Just a thought.

  5. One of the biggest problems today is the increasing longevity of people.

    We all die, sooner or later, and it's the 'later' bit that is the cause of pain and hardship in our aging population.

    I was quite happy to have reached the 'three score years and ten' but now that 'four score years' is only seven months away I keep wondering: "What's the bloody point?"

    I've done my bit to keep the species going; a son and two daughters. I have two medical problems that mean I have to swallow (on average) 8 pills a day together with regular visits to the medical centre and hospital. Everything is being done to keep me staggering along until the final curtain … but WHY? I have nothing much to offer to anybody; just not up to doing much at all.

    We oldies tend to just exist, lounging around in the Reaper's waiting area. Costing the NHS a colossal multi-billion amount in money. Making life harder for the younger generations.

    I reckon at 75-ish we should all be 'disposed of' in a quiet and peaceful way. I really do.

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