Normal History Vol. 445: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Aug. 5, 2016 (last year)

I got a bus at 7 a.m. for the two-hour trip out to my elderly parents’ mobile home (trailer park) for a meeting with them, my brother and a social worker. My mom says she cannot go on making meals, that she wants to go into some kind of care facility. She’s 96. Dad’s 91. The meeting itself went OK, but it was too long. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with the social worker asking my parents a million questions and talking about various options.

Weirdly, during the meeting my parents seemed pretty on top of things, but by the time I left around 4 p.m. they were fucking nuts. I just kept telling them that everything was the same and to go and have a nap. My mom was asking, “Do I still take all my pills? Does your dad still take all his pills?”

When the case worker arrived at 10:15, she jumped straight into asking my mom the assessment questions. I interjected and said we didn’t really even know why there was a meeting—like, what is the purpose and direction? So she slowed down to clarify, but I don’t think my parents really got it. My mom was extremely focused on the woman’s name: Azmina. She said it about 15 times—including various versions of it: Azmeera, Amina—asking her if she was saying it right, etc. She seemed obsessed with the name, more so than listening to the fucking details being presented.

I watched Mom pick up Azmina’s business card. Her lips moved around the name. She set the card down and next time she answered a question, she said “Azmina” at the end as if saying the woman’s name correctly was the main focus of the meeting. It’s entire purpose.

“Yes, I do feel life is worth living, Azmina dear.”

Azmina wanted to see my mom’s pill bottles. My mom handed over a list of her meds to Azmina. Azmina took it, put it down and asked again to see the pill bottles. Over and over. I finally crossed the room and gently brought out the pill bottles for her to look at, but I think this must have seemed like an incredible invasion of privacy and a great mystery to my mom. I watched Mom slowly raise herself out of her chair to put the fucking list back where it was supposed to be. Her shoulder-length white hair a messy lump pressed between her tiny shoulder blades. She lowered herself slowly back into her chair. All the while Azmina talking (later to be referred to as “blabbing” by my mother) very quickly. Then, for some reason or another, Azmina’s hand darted out and she grabbed the list of meds, glanced at it and handed it to my mother, who then, without any hint of … anything … took it and again slowly raised herself up and reached out slowly with her bony arm to put it where it is supposed to be. I was watching all this, thinking that while she is doing this, she is not thinking about the meeting. She is thinking about the list and wondering why it wasn’t regarded when she first handed it over and why she has had to put it back twice.

The questions went on. Azmina asked if Mom drank or smoked and Mom said, “Two quarts of whisky and four packs of cigarettes a day.” So that was funny. She does neither. Several times while questioning Mom, Dad jumped in and answered about himself.

“Yes, I have pain in my feet!”

That was weird. Or not, depending on how well one understands him.

“We’ll get to you in a minute,” Azmina said firmly.

When it was my dad’s turn to be questioned, Azmina said, “What would you do if your dinner was burning and there was a fire on the stove?” Dad sat there for ages and finally said, “I’d move the pan to the sink.” Azmina escalated the scenario to say it was too big a fire to do that. Dad just sat there—over-thinking the whole thing, no doubt. I finally interjected, “Dad, what do you do when there’s a fire?” And he slowly said, “Call the fire department?” And Azmina said, “Do you know the number?” He did. Then the next question (and this was pretty funny), “How much education do you have?” I joked and said the two questions were unrelated. Everyone laughed.

Turns out Dad has been forgetting to take some of his pills! These are heart pills after several heart attacks and strokes almost three years ago. After being diagnosed with 80 percent blockage. All those disruptive trips back and forth to the hospital—and now he’s not taking his pills??? He is supposed to take them three times a day, but there were “untaken” pills in his bubble pack thingy!!

Azmina called this “non-compliance” and said she’d have to include it in the assessment. Dad was not happy about all this even though none of us know what non-compliance results in. I gave him heck later, and he didn’t like that much either. I was pretty fucking surprised because they make a big deal out of documenting all my mom’s pill-taking activities, marking it down carefully.

I noticed that he hinted at trying to blame my brother because he’d brought the pill packs mid-week (three years ago) and so it has been confusing that it didn’t start on a Monday. Then he started haranguing my mother, saying, “Can you tell me how if I took my evening pill I didn’t see that I hadn’t taken my afternoon pill?” I went out to the kitchen to do the dishes, also known as drowning out the insanity with running water. When I returned he was asking her the same fucking thing–over and over—as if it was now her fault for not knowing why he didn’t take his fucking pill.

“Dad, no one but you knows why you forgot. Just try and remember. Maybe move the pill package out to the kitchen or keep it on the bed so you’ll see it at nap time,” I said.

The upshot of the meeting is, of course they want to stay where they are and, in fact, they are both ineligible to go anywhere because they are fine at home. If they did want to go into Assisted Living—a small one-bedroom apartment in a facility that provides meals in a dining room—they have to have been using specific services through the regional health authority for three months and then they could apply for Assisted Living, but they don’t actually need any help. They don’t want any help. Although they do squawk about not getting any help. All of this is basically normal—and they are both forgetful and confused in fairly normal ways, but they are very highly strung and have baseline personality disorders, shall we say. Extremely self-involved, both of them. I have solid boundaries. I will not go and live with them because that would crush me. Totally. Everything is always only about them, and they are both very blunt, harsh, vociferous, disgruntled, suspicious and demanding. They are a fucking handful. They maintain a non-stop heightened intensity like I have never seen in any other interpersonal dynamic. They do not soften it for my benefit when I visit. I am expected to become involved in every detail of their concerns. I need to keep my distance. My phone is never plugged in. I do not have a cell phone. This is why. They can’t email me because they don’t have a computer. Never used one. But, I love them, and I will do what I can for them, short of destroying my own life.

Azmina felt Mom should get some help with her bathing once a week, so Dad doesn’t have to help her every time. She was actually more concerned about Dad overdoing it because he carries the groceries and does the laundry and Mom has him running around doing her bidding 24/7.

At the end, I asked the social worker directly if strategically it was better if they took the services and then, if something did happen and one or both of them needed to get into an Assisted Living facility, they’d be eligible. Otherwise, if something arose, they’d go into a more miserable situation called Residential Care—they’d get split up and stuffed in with a buncha people crammed together. And, yes, that’s the idea. I said I thought Mom should take the help and then be eligible for the Assisted Living. So, Mom agreed and Azmina signed her up for bathing service at 4 p.m. on Thursdays.

Mom doesn’t really want or need the help, but this is how one becomes eligible for the Assisted Living, which could come in handy at some future point. My brother was overjoyed that I made the move toward bringing in services, to enable their eligibility for Assisted Living farther down the line.

After Peter and Azmina left, Mom seemed awfully confused and Dad was in a total fucking tizzy. She got Assisted Living all mixed up in her head, and it went around and around and she was totally confused as to what it was. After telling her about eight times, I drew her a map!!! The trailer, the highway, the Assisted Living facility way down the road, but she still asked if the Assisted Living people would be coming in. Oh my god!!!!

Dad was sitting there with his eyes closed, head titled back. I’ve never seen him do that. They were totally toast. Totally overloaded. Mom kept asking the same question over and over—I’d answer, then she’d ask it again in a slightly different way. I’ve never seen her that nuts before. Kinda stressful. Dad said he gave up listening to the social worker about half way through. He figured I’d tell him everything he missed afterward.

But it is pretty weird, when you think about it. In order to get into an appropriate facility at some point, mother must be bathed once a week by a succession of strangers for three months. What the fuck kind of equation is that????

And to this Mom asked if it could stop after the three months and would she still be eligible—and we didn’t really ask Azmina that, but I don’t think so. It became apparent that my mom regarded the bath as the price to pay for Assisted Living. It felt sad to me, that my mother’s naked body would be viewed and touched by various people so that she would be eligible for help at a later time. During the meeting, I did say, “We need to be sensitive to Mom here. This is her naked body we’re talking about and she may not be comfortable with people coming in to bathe her.”

She thanked me for that. I mean Jesus!!!!!!

I talked to them on the phone when I got home, after they’d had a nap, and they seemed a bit more stable, but man, they just aren’t used to having to take in information and process things. By this time, she’d decided she wasn’t going to have strangers bathe her and she was going to cancel it all. I suggested she ask Azmina about having them come in once a week and change the sheets on the bed. “Tell Azmina that it’s too much for Dad and see if that constitutes services for their eligibility,” I said.

Then Dad got on the phone and asked me what the huge bill was that he’d signed. One for $1,000 and another one for $1,600. I explained that they weren’t bills. That they were simply the agreements for the rates for services if you used the services—as he’d read from the page. Two rates: one for Assisted Living ($1,600) one for Residential Care ($1,000—that would be each, per month. But it was pretty weird having them sign these papers in three different places without too much from Azmina about what they were signing.

Dad resumed reading, but I was done. I’d just come in from two-and-a-half hours on public transit through various hellish parts of this region. Shout out to Burnaby, New West, Langley and Surrey! I had to draw a line, but I imagine the upshot will be that we speak of nothing else for many months.

“Engine Rain” from Dovetail (K, 1992) (download):