Mom stayed with us Thanksgiving night. She couldn’t make it to dinner with my husband’s family on Long Island, but we fixed her a plate of food and a piece of pumpkin pie and brought her to our house. She ate with relish, as if she’d gone weeks without a meal. We watched a movie together before bed. The next morning she complained about pain in her toes so I bent down to look at them while she sat on the bed. I clipped her toenails, which were extraordinarily long and noticed what looked like a rock on the top of one of her left toes. Examining it further, I realized it was a wad of necrotic tissue and tried to clip it off with the toenail clippers but it was too hard. I asked my husband to come upstairs and take a look and he said she needed to see a doctor (he comes from a family of doctors and nurses so I often defer to him on medical matters).
I made an appointment with a geriatric podiatrist in her neighborhood. She had an evening appointment, and we were the only ones there. The doctor was very congenial and asked her to sit on what looked like a Lazy Boy chair. She told him she was embarrassed to show him her feet. He said something funny to put her at ease and removed her shoes and socks, examining the afflicted toe. “This is a cinch,” he said, and proceeded to pull out a scalpel and excise the dead hunk of skin. Then he pulled out a sander—felt like we were at Home Depot now—and filed down the top of her toe and the jagged nails. When he was done, she said, “I never believed such a thing could be done. It already feels better.” He gave her a toe sock, a rubbery flesh-colored kind of bandaid with gel inside and told her to wear it in the daytime to give the toe extra cushioning, but not to wear it at night because it restricted circulation. We put her socks and shoes back on and went into the waiting room while the doctor did some paperwork.
Dr. Herman had a couple calendars from pharmaceutical companies laying on the waiting room table and we looked at one. It had vivid color photos of worldwide points of interest, both urban and rural, and mom was enchanted. She savored every photo, particularly the one of Sweden. I asked her if she still wanted to go to Sweden as she had once mentioned and she said, “Yes, I do, but not right now.” “No, of course not,” I said, “but someday.” She told me about a program she’d seen on PBS about Christmas in Sweden. She said the family went swimming in frigid waters, then returned to their cozy cabin, toweled off, went into a sauna and ate delicious chocolates. She said she wanted to experience that one day. We continued flipping through the calendar, and I read the captions out loud. I asked, “Where else would you like to go if you could go anywhere in the world?” She said, “Well, Norway, and Switzerland.” We continued flipping and found a photo of New York City skyline. “Oh, who needs it!” she said, exasperated. I laughed and said, “We don’t.” Then we started on the second calendar. I asked her which one she liked best and she said the first one. The doctor completed the paperwork and scheduled her for a follow up visit in two months. I asked if we could take one of the calendars, and he said sure. Mom was thrilled. She didn’t have a 2011 calendar.
We immediately put the calendar on the door of her broom closet, where she puts all her calendars. The old Carl Larsson calendar from the ‘90s was nailed onto the wall next to her sink. She couldn’t bear to part with it: the paintings of his home and family in Sweden were too precious to her. Maybe someday we’ll all go to Sweden.