The point of physical therapy, as I understand it, is to recover strength, mobility, or flexibility after an injury. Art theft and sexual harassment should not enter into the equation. However, if that equation includes an old lady then all bets are off, and this is especially true of my grandmother.
Several years ago Nanna was in a rehabilitation hospital with a broken shoulder. This happened a lot, back in those innocent days when we trustingly did whatever the doctors told us. It was always the same – some physician would recommend days or weeks of physical therapy or observation, and we would warn him that Nanna’s likelihood of going insane went up exponentially every additional night she spent in the hospital (see earlier post about Doctors and Dementia), and he would wave his hand airily and assure us that things would be fine. So, against our better judgment, we would sign Nanna up for the extra week, and it would inevitably end up being seven days of hell for everyone involved.
Anyway, Nanna was supposed to stay at this rehab center for two weeks. The very first night she panicked and started calling up all of her loved ones (with the exception of her daughters, who had flocked from all over the South to support her in her time of need and were subsequently quite annoyed at being omitted) to tell them that she was on her deathbed and she wanted to say her last good-byes. By the second night, the nurses were putting up guards around her bed because Nanna was convinced it was a coffin and she kept trying to escape. By the third night, when my uncle came to sit up with her, he was mobbed at the door by a host of doctors and nurses crying, “Thank God you’re here!”
Eventually Nanna settled down and recovered her usual assertive personality. She was still in a state of hospital-induced disorientation (doctors kept coming in to ask her if she knew where she was or what year it was or who was currently in the Oval Office, and her answers were always years off the mark) but this did not prevent her from trying to dominate the people around her. Going to have a family lunch with her, for example, might go like this:
A nurse would come in bearing unappetizing hospital food, make pleasant conversation for a few minutes, and depart. Mom would say, “She seems nice.”
“Oh, she is,” Nanna would say, reaching past her wilted vegetables to get to the pudding. “She has the cutest little mole on one of her breasts but she always keeps it covered up. So whenever she comes by I just reach up and pull her shirt down so people can see.”
And Mom would look aghast and say, “You can’t do that, Mother! They’ll think you’re crazy and they’ll never let you out of here.”
And then I would suggest that perhaps sexually harassing the nurses would inspire them to let her out sooner, and then Nanna would give me her don’t sass me look and then tell my sister that she, too, could stand to show a little more cleavage.
(Side note: The first time Nanna met my cousin’s new wife, Amy, she pulled her aside for a private chat. Afterwards my Aunt Sharon noticed her new daughter-in-law wearing the bemused expression of someone who has just realized what it means to acquire eccentric in-laws, and demanded to know what Nanna had done to her. “Oh,” said Amy, blushing, “she just wanted to tell me that she thought I had beautiful breasts.” I don’t know when my grandmother became an expert on appraising bosoms, but it’s a responsibility she takes very seriously.)
The only other thing that was notable about that particular hospital stay was that in one of the hallways they had a painting of a little girl sitting outside holding a teddy bear. The girl’s head is angled away so you can’t see her face, but Nanna was convinced it was a picture of me that had been painted by a neighbor many years ago, and that the hospital had stolen it or at the very least purchased it on the black market.
I am pretty sure that no such painting ever existed, and that although I did spend a lot of my childhood outdoors, I would never have done so with a polka dotted dress or a teddy bear. We tried to explain to her that this painting had nothing to do with our family, but Nanna refused to let her faith in her own judgment be shaken, despite the fact that at this point she had been unable to pinpoint exactly which decade she was in several days in a row.
Every time one of the nurses pushed her wheelchair past the painting, she would tell them that it was of her granddaughter and suggest that it really ought to be returned to its rightful owners. She was so persistent that when they finally discharged her the hospital gave her the painting as a parting gift (or possibly a good-riddance gift).
We considered the painting to be ill-gotten gains and tried to persuade her to give it back, but Nanna was triumphant. She insisted that Mom take the painting home with her, overruling her protestations that she didn’t like the painting and it wasn’t of me anyway.
Mom stuck it in a closet, but the next time Nanna came to visit she was highly offended that it wasn’t up on the walls. “Fine,” Mom said, exasperated. “See that collage over there? My daughter made it herself and it won a prize in the school art show. I’ll just take it down and replace it with a painting of some random girl.”
Nanna is impervious to passive aggression. “Good,” she said smugly. “That’s the perfect spot for it.”
My hair has never been that straight in my life.