helen gertrude kotze
91 years old
this is michael's mother. a lovely, gracious lady who lives in a retirement centre in diep river. she had a fall nearly 2 years ago while in canada and it was only since her return to cape town that she has not been driving. up until then she was pretty self-sufficient even although her short term memory was not great. she took herself to visit her sister twice a week to read to her (aunty joyce was nearly blind and died early this year - aged 93), to church on sunday morning and then to our place for lunch. that was about the extent of her driving and because it was all in her routine she managed ok.
well 2 years down the line the lady is physically strong and fully recovered from her fall and partial hip replacement. however, her short term memory is rapidly declining. the brain is such an amazing organ but you do wonder how certain information, often not useful at all, can remain in your brain forever and the important stuff that is necessary to help you function on a day-to-day basis disappears?
helen is one of the cleverest people i have ever met. she is extremely well read, recites yeats and shakespeare, knows her bible and her basic arithmetic skills are awesome. she, to this day adds up the numbers on the registration plates of the car in front of her. not only adds the numbers but adds the scrabble numeric value of the letters as well - all fine for CA - 4 + 1 but when it gets to GWX i am out of it (not being a fanatic scrabble player as she was). in fact it is a game that now irritates me immensely as not once have i ever managed to beat the grand dame. for one her eye-sight is sharper than mine as well so i cannot even cheat and start adding before we get to the traffic lights. it has become a habit of michael's now as well and i have told him to please stop playing when i am in the car with him. perhaps i will start playing with him when he reaches 80 but for now, please stop. i much prefer "punch buggy blue" (because i am the best at it).
she has a carer every day during the week for a couple of hours. loretta arrives in the morning, organises her breakfast, helps her bath and dress, gives her her medication and writes down details of the time that she is going down to lunch. michael then checks on her in the evening and reminds her about her tv show 7de laan (which goes with the brandy and ginger ale and a small helping of pringles in a silver dish). she is a creature of habit and as long as her routine is kept, she is, for the most, fine. weekends we take over (mostly michael) and sundays she spends with us. very predictable sundays which she enjoys, tells us the same stories over and over again, tells me how lovely my garden is over and over again, toasts me at lunch (over and over again) and tells stories about her early days in klerksdorp and about her love of trees and climbing them. everytime she walks into our kitchen and looks at the tree in the courtyard we have the same "oh what a beautiful tree. when joyce and i were young we so loved climbing trees. we had a tree over the road which the 4 clegg sisters would climb. we each had a branch where we would sit and read. we had these 2 brothers who lived next door who we called "the stare, stare boys" because they could not work out how we girls could climb the tree and they could not. they would stand below and stare up at us.................."
the past few weeks have been particularly confusing for her. we think that because winter is now here and it is getting darker earlier so she is going to bed too early and waking up too early. whereas before loretta would usually wake her up she is now waking up much earlier...very early in fact. we sometimes have 3 calls in the morning before we even leave home for work. asking what day it is? time? is it sunday?
this monday morning took the cake:-
phone rings at 5.30 in the morning
jenny answers (it is on her side of the bed)
jenny (sleepily): hello jenny speaking
helen (urgently): hello is that you jenny?
jenny (suddenly alert*): yes mom, is everything alright?
helen: oh is that you jenny?
jenny (slightly louder): yes mom, are you ok?
helen: oh jenny it is you, i am very pleased now that i picked up the phone because it is you. what do you want?
jenny (thinkingly): i am glad everything is ok, get back into bed mom it is cold, loretta will be there later and michael will speak to you when we get to work
helen: ok thank you, what day is it?
helen: (obviously looking at her clock which has the day, date and time (and a light)) oh monday 23 may 5.33
jenny: that is right (i think so). goodbye mom
helen: goodbye for now jenny - love to michael
michael (now kind of awake): who were you talking to at 5.30 in the morning? everything ok?
jenny: your mother. she is fine. the phone did ring, didn't it? (now doubting myself)
michael: i didn't hear it
*(about a month ago we had an early call from her telling us she had had a fall in the bathroom and please could be come and help her clean up all the blood. on getting there it looked like the scene of a murder - we took her off to the ER and she was stitched up in a couple of places - so much blood because she had cut some small artery on the one spot). she could not remember how it happened, besides the cuts on her head so had no other bumps or bruises. when we got her back to her flat and started cleaning the bathroom she said "oh dear, what happened here. it is an awful mess".