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Sophie is my mom’s roommate at the nursing home. Before she came, my mom had begun to isolate, and wouldn’t go out of her room, except for meals and therapy. But then Sophie arrived, and she has been a joy to all of us. She is 83 years old, and recently began having dizzy spells, blackouts, and some disorientation. She is of German heritage, and is proud to be both a German, and a citizen of the United States. Sophie will tell you very quickly-if you don’t like the U.S.-then go back where you came from.

When I first met her, she was making my mom’s bed. Sophie came bearing 2 twin spreads, and shared one with my mother, who is always cold. (I have also bought my mom several blankets to keep her warm.) From the moment that Sophie arrived, their room became a home.  She is very protective of my mom, and my mom tells me that she “mothers” her in a good way. I told her that was good, since I have mothered her for 3 years now, and she needed another mother when I couldn’t be there.

My mom was “serving time” for a broken right foot, and a broken left leg. Together they have made tremendous progress in physical therapy, and all the staff just love them. Seeing them use their walkers faithfully, has inspired others to use theirs.

Sophie even got my mom to attend a Bingo session, where she won a quarter. (My mom was always a gambler.) They eat their meals together, and have become inseparable.

Early Monday morning at 4:30 a.m. my mom was headed toward the bathroom, when she slipped and fell. Sophie was horrified, but showed tremendous courage and friendship. She told her not to move, and pushed the call button. She then got my mom a pillow, and covered her so that she wouldn’t be cold. She got down on her knees, and held her hand, saying, “Remember what Sophie always says-it will be okay.”

The staff began to question Sophie about the accident, and she told the best she could what had just transpired. The EMS came and got my mom, strapped her to a body board, and took her away to the nearby hospital.

The next day, Sophie was depressed. The therapist asked why she wasn’t motivated, and Sophie told him that her friend had suffered a very bad fall. He took her for a walk outside the building to lift her spirits in the sunshine, but Sophie missed my mom.

After 6 agonizing hours in the ER, my mom was admitted to the hospital and scheduled for surgery the next morning. I stopped by the nursing home to get some things for her, and had a nice chat with Sophie, who was a bit teary-eyed. I got her number and promised to call her as soon as my mom was out of surgery.

I did call Sophie the next day, but there was no answer. The voicemail message wasn’t her voice. Hesistantly, I left a message, telling her that my mom had made it through surgery. I was not allowed to see my mom after surgery until almost 9:00 p.m. that night. They had her in a holding room in surgery, until they could get a critical care room. The consensus was that my mom had so many health problems, that it would be better to monitor her closely after surgery.

The next day Sophie called my mom, and the miracle was that she was able to speak to her in CCU. It turns out that the number Sophie had given me was her home phone number, and not her cell, which was all they have in the nursing home. Every patient has to have a cell phone, because there are no phones in the room otherwise. (Shocking to me.)

Once Sophie heard my mom’s voice, she was calmer. When I visited my mom later that day, after she had been moved to a regular room on the 4th floor, she told me that Sophie had gotten through to her. I vowed to go see Sophie on my way home, as the nursing home was just across the street from the hospital.

Sophie always keeps their door shut, because the lady across the hall is hard of hearing, and her television is always blaring very late into the night, and also because you never know who could come wandering in (though no one ever has.) I called out to her, and pushed the door open. There was Sophie, curled up in her bed with a book. But there was something different about the room. In the soft lamplight, my eyes immediately fell on a lighted aquarium.

“You’ve got a fish!” I squealed with delight.

“Yes, I was so lonely when your mom left, that my daughter thought I needed another roommate.”

Laughing along with her, I acknowledged, “It’s the best kind.”

“Yes, but I miss your mom so much,” she added sadly. “Sit down and tell me how she is.”

We discovered that Sophie had given me the wrong number, and I reassured her that I tried to call, but there was no answer. We discussed my mom’s hip surgery, and shared a few sighs. Sophie told me that she would be there for about 2 more weeks. The decision had been made that she could no longer live in her home. It was becoming much too dangerous, because of her dizziness and blackouts. They had placed a shunt in her back to drain fluid from her brain, and there did seem to be an improvement, but her children were adamant that she could no longer live alone, and were already looking at assisted living apartments. This had broken Sophie’s heart initially, but it seemed that as the days went on, she was a little more resigned to it.

I understood both sides of the matter, as I have wondered how much longer my mom would be able to live independently. Her health care needs were fast becoming more than I could handle, and my home was such a logistical nightmare for her. The kitchen is upstairs, the bathroom down the hall from my daughter’s vacated room, where my mom now slept during emergencies. She has lived on her own, since my dad died 3 years ago, from hospital acquired infections, following a triple bypass. We have many safeguards in place, such as the Life Alert type necklace, and she calls every morning when she gets up, and when she is safely in bed. (And I call or go there in between.) I see her frequently, as I take her to all her appointments and errands. We always laugh and say that between the two of us, there is a different doctor for every body part. We all felt, that as long as it was possible for her to stay in their little house, surrounded by her precious memories, she should be allowed to be independent. It is risky, but until now, we felt it was worth the risks. I don’t know what will happen now, but we are just taking it one day at a time.

So, I understood the concern of Sophie’s children, and also the desperate need that we all have to stay independent.

As I pulled a chair up to Sophie’s bed, I commented on how beautiful the classical music was, that was playing across the room. Sophie had arranged pictures of her family around her. I had recently made up baskets for my mom and Sophie, with many treasures. Each one had a small teapot and teacup for decoration, a white lace handkerchief that said “Get Well”, shampoo, lotion, notebooks, pens, liquid hand-soap, chocolate, sugar free candies, a cosmetic case, and various other goodies. Sophie had placed her teapot by her pictures, and I had placed my mom’s in front of her favorite picture of our family from “back in the day.” She lovingly calls it “Young Family” picture, and requested that I bring it to show Sophie.

This room has been transformed from a lifeless four walls, to a room that held soft music, beautiful treasures, and heartwarming memories. My mom and Sophie have the best view in the whole nursing home. Their window looks out toward a nearby golf course, and they have a birdhouse and feeders just outside the window by my mom’s bed. Sophie’s daughters have filled the feeders often, and the birds delight in quickly eating all the seed. Some of the other rooms have a single birdhouse outside, but my mom and Sophie have a virtual bird sanctuary outside their window.

I enjoyed my visit with Sophie so much, that I talked my husband into stopping in for a moment the next night, after we had visited my mom. We shared with Sophie that a case manager from the hospital had already called me about moving my mom back to the nursing home. This was a bit of a shock, as she only got out of surgery on Monday, but that seems to be the way they do things these days.

I watched as my husband pulled up a chair, and asked Sophie about what part of Germany she was from. He had been stationed there many years ago, and always talks of his time there fondly. He said that the German people were always cleaning-their sidewalks, and even the streets. Sophie agreed, and said that even in the coldest weather, they would open their windows to get fresh air in the house.

We spent lots of time with Sophie, and I have gotten her address and phone number, and hope that she will be a lifelong friend to our family. We love her dearly.

Now tomorrow, I must remember to get the name of the fish…

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