While the nurses came to change Peggy’s sheets, I spoke to her nurse in the hallway. When Peggy arrived at this facility about two weeks earlier, she had pressure ulcers on her heels and lower back. In Peggy’s room, her nurse changed her bandages and pointed out the wounds on her heels, which didn’t look bad, but on her back, just above her tailbone, a plate the size of a plate was sore, yellowish, and raw. “It’s gotten so much better,” said the nurse, running her finger over a circle about a third larger than the one I could see.
Both pressure ulcers and pulmonary embolisms can be caused by lying in the same position for too long. Nobody accused their previous nursing home of neglect, but they made it clear that the wounds were already there when they arrived. They had developed in the first four months of the Covid shutdown when my sister, her principal attorney, was not allowed to pay a visit.
Her bandages changed and her sheets were fresh, Peggy turned on her side. Her eyes were calm and when she fell asleep I could see that she knew who I was.
While she slept, I explored her room to see what remnants of her curious and acquisitive life had remained in this institutional space. Her photo album was sticky and the pages crackled with age. I knew a lot of these photos. There she was like a bridesmaid, tall and deeply tanned, her blue eyes shining and holding the hand of our father, who lived not long after this picture was taken. There were photos of us as the five sisters we once were and one of Peggy, who was 10 years older than me and who acted as a surrogate mother when I graduated from high school. There was a photo of the friend who followed her to the end of the world, but to whom she could not commit. There are photos of our New Jersey home, nieces and nephews, green decks and swimming pools, and Peggy on her skis.
They came from a life none of us lived anymore and ended around 2005 when my mother sold her house and moved into assisted living, leaving Peggy without a landing for the first time in her life. Her bipolar illness, which was difficult to manage, began to feed on the life she had built before Alzheimer’s quit the job.