As the nursing assistants came to change Peggy’s bedding, I spoke to her nursing nurse in the hallway. When Peggy arrived at this facility about two weeks earlier, she had sores in her heels and lower back. In Peggy’s room, her nurse changed her bandages, pointing out the wounds on her heels, which didn’t look too bad, but on her back, just above her tailbone, was a sore from the size of a plate, yellowish and raw. “It got so much better,” the nurse said, her finger tracing in the air a circle that was about a third larger than I could see.
Pressure sores and pulmonary embolisms can be caused by lying down too long in the same position. No one accused his previous nursing home of neglect, but they made it clear that when he arrived the sores were already there. They had developed in the first four months of the Covid shutdown when my sister, his main lawyer, was not allowed to visit him.
Her bandages changed and her sheets fresh, Peggy rolled over onto her side. Her eyes were calm and as she fell asleep I could see that she knew who I was.
While she slept, I explored her bedroom to see what remnants of her curious and acquisitive life had lingered in this institutional space. Her photo album was sticky, its pages crackled with age. I knew a lot of these photos. She was there like a bridesmaid, tall and deeply tanned, her blue eyes shining, holding the hand of our father, who didn’t live very long after this photo was taken. There were pictures of us as the five sisters we once were, and one of Peggy, 10 years older than me, standing as a surrogate when I finished high school. There was a photo of the boyfriend who followed her to the ends of the earth but was unable to commit to. There are pictures of our home in New Jersey, of nieces and nephews, of the leafy patios and pools, and Peggy on her skis.
They came from a life that none of us live anymore and they ended around 2005, when my mother sold her house and moved into an assisted living, leaving Peggy, for the first time in her life, with no place. where to land. Her bipolar disease, which she struggled to manage, began to eat into the life she had built before Alzheimer’s disease ended work.