There are few people in the world like Mary Frenkel. Maybe there are more than we know, but in the walls of a nursing home, Mary stood out among the rest. She moved in and quickly covered her twin sized bed with paper towels, bottles of baby powder, jewelry boxes, zipped bags of cosmetics and plastic icons of the Virgin Mary. There was so much stuff on that bed that she could not have slept upon it.
Instead, Mary Frenkel had her red velvet recliner delivered from her own living room. She sat upon it, a queen in her own world. This was unusual, for a person recently admitted into long term care. I came into the room of Her Majesty, and asked her how she planned on living in a chair. This would not be good for her health, I told her. Mary held a rescue inhaler to her lips. She puffed from it every few seconds and peered at me with scorn. Her eyebrows were perfect. Were they penciled in, I wondered?
I left her room that day and did not think much of Mary. Until the day I had to return and initiate a walking program with the resident queen of the nursing home. I had learned that the Fire Marshall had come into our place and declared Mary’s room to be a fire hazard. The queen had screamed at this portly man, and he had run away in fear.
Mary had a cell phone. This was an unlikely commodity in a nursing home. Most patients had push button bedside phones, with the extension of the nursing station typed in bold lettering, so that patients could call if there was an urgent matter at hand. Mary bypassed all of this. She used her cell phone to call the nurses station. She left a voicemail every 15 minutes, with the message, “This is Mary from Room B6. I cannot breathe. Send a professional into my room immediately!” When this was unheeded, Mary called the front desk of the nursing home to speak with the receptionist.
Mary had a condition known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD). This caused her difficulty in breathing and swelling of her legs. The swelling became so significant that she was prescribed a diuretic, so that she might pass out the fluids that were filling her body. Now the queen really had something to complain about. She was incontinent of urine.
I came to her room, in the hopes of giving her some physical therapy. She needed to get out of her chair and walk, so that her muscles could pump all of that excess fluid back to her heart. “I will now allow you to work with me, you cheery little girl! Take me to the bathroom,” the queen declared. I complied with her suggestion, as I needed to keep my job and produce some actual results for this woman.
Mary and I walked to her bathroom with her rolling walker. She huffed and she puffed, but she got there. She plunked herself down on the toilet and caught her breath. I am not sure how long we sat there. The queen looked down at her fingers. She told me that she had been married five times. The first was for love, but he had been an alcoholic. The second was for property; there had been a nice farm. The third was for a chain of grocery stores. I tuned out the rest. Instead, I looked at all of those glistening rings on her hands, as she urinated for what seemed like hours.
Mary finally returned to her red velvet recliner with my assistance. She took three puffs on her inhaler. “Perhaps you are not the woman I judged you to be. A happy woman would not work in this place. You must have something wrong with you. Whatever it is, you don’t have five husbands!” And she laughed, Mary laughed so hard that I had to put oxygen on her face.
I look back on the queen on the nursing home. I wish I could say that she lived to rule the house and continue to scare the Fire Marshall. But her reign did come to an end. What I do hold close to my soul about Mary Frenkel is that she lived according to her own rules. She married several men, she called her staff four times an hour from her cell phone, and she demanded the very best care towards her end. Isn’t this what men have always done? So, why not women?
I often joke with my coworkers about this story. While I hope that I will expect and demand the best for my own care as long as I can, I worry about becoming incontinent, like Mary. Will I require the Leaning Tower of Kotex when I am old? My friends assure me that I will not. They say that because I am a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist, I can avoid this. I believe that I can. On a larger scale, I believe that women will live very long and very well, with as many husbands, diamonds, and thrones as we choose. A new reign has come.