I went to visit my 88 year old mother in the hospital this morning. She had taken a fall, as 88 year olds are prone to do, and was slowly recovering.
     Her hair disheveled, the hospital gown hanging loosely off her bony shoulders, IV and monitors attached to her arms and chests, oxygen tubes in her nostrils….I had to stop and remember what a strong, vibrant woman my mother had always been.
     "I didn’t sleep a wink last night," she complained as soon as I walked in her room.
     "Why not?" I asked.
     "Well, I fell asleep at 8:30, as usual, and the nurse came in at 9:30 and woke me up to give me a pill."
     "That’s not unusual in a hospital," I counseled. "What was the pill for?"
     My mother, whose physical frame was a shadow of its former self, had a slight twinkle in her eye. "To help me sleep."
     We looked at each other, both with slight smiles. "Let me get this straight," I said. "The nurse woke you up to give you a sleeping pill."
     Pretty soon there was more than just a smile. We were both howling as my mother explained that she couldn’t get back to sleep because she was so mad.
     It has to be true that laughter is the best medicine. My mother, bless her heart, has the ability to laugh at the predicament of aging, and it keeps the rest of us laughing along with her.
     When my sister visited her in the hospital a couple of days earlier, they had tears running down their cheeks discussing my mother’s concern over whether the hospital (CPMC in San Francisco) was accredited. This was prompted due to one of the nurses placing my mother’s breakfast at the foot of her bed, where she could hungrily see it but not reach it.
    "This has been the worst week of my life," she announced to me, once she stopped laughing about her fitful night’s sleep. "I’m so anxious to go home."
    "Home" will be skilled nursing at her retirement home. Already in a walker before her fall, she’ll need extensive therapy just to get back to that level. Maybe she will, maybe she won’t. But it won’t be for lack of trying.
    She’ll certainly have the help of drugs. As we talked, the nurse brought in her morning doses of medication. I counted ten different pills, which she placed in her mouth one by one with her trembling hands.
    "Do you know what each one of those are for?" I asked.
    "I’m hoping they’re steroids," she replied, laughing. "I need to build some muscles."
     Always laughing. Well, not always. There are times when she’s in pain, or wracked by anxiety, and laughing is out of the question. But those times, fortunately, are rare.
     My mother is old, and her body is failing. She knows it, and she has chosen to laugh about it. She jokes about going to "never-never land," and insists on giving away all her earthly possessions to her children and grandchildren before it’s too late.
    I tell her the only thing I want is her walker and the nurse’s call button she wears around her neck at her retirement home. She thinks that’s funny. But then again, she thinks everything’s funny.
    Her body is poor, but her attitude is excellent. She knows she gets confused, and asked me this morning to please correct her if she says something weird. She wants to know.
    But I don’t correct her. Instead, when she asks if I’m bringing her home when she checks out of the hospital later that morning (she’ll go by ambulance, as always), I tell her that we’ve decided she should take Muni. "But don’t worry," I add. "One of the nurses will walk you to the bus stop."
     She looks harshly at me for a few seconds, a scowl covering her face. Then she turns bright, and that wonderful little twinkle in her eye returns.
     "They’d better give me the senior rate."
     Laughs all around. Long live the Mama.

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