Dearest Readers, those of you who have been with me for some time are aware that I am an ACoN, which stands for Adult Child of a Narcissist. The Narcissist in my life is my mother.
I have never understood her way of thinking, and she has never understood mine. Therefore, our relationship has always been superficial and unsatisfactory on both sides.
Narcissists, by definition, are unable to think outside their own box. They are the center of their own universe-no, the Universe. Anything negative that happens is someone else’s fault. Positive things, on the other hand, are clearly their own handiwork.
They thrive on praise and flattery. The latter is as good as the former. Sincerity is not an issue, as long as the adulation is centered on themselves. They will work hard to achieve success and status, for the purpose of feeling important, and hopefully getting publicly honored.
Narcissists see their children as reflections of themselves. The children are expected to bring praise and adulation to their narcissistic parent. They must succeed and excel in academics, accomplishments, and anything that reflects well on their Narcissist.
A Narcissist expects, no–demands, respect and admiration from her children. If she does not get it, she will retaliate with all kinds of abuse, be it physical, emotional, psychological, and sometimes even sexual, if she needs reassurance that she is still beautiful and sexy.
Somehow or other, I ended up with not one (which would have been enough, dayenu*) but two narcissists in my life–my mother, of course, and her sister. As often happens, I was much closer to the sister when I was growing up, and her two children were my mother’s darlings.
Time has passed and the sisters have suddenly found themselves in the category of the very elderly. My mother is 88 and her sister is, I believe, 91, although that side of the family has no compunctions about shaving a few years off their true age. They tend to live to over 100, God help us, so what does it matter, really?
It doesn’t matter in itself, but they also don’t mind stuffing their purses with the packets of sweetener, soy sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise, that populate the tables in various types of restaurants. One time I was sent to retrieve something out of a purse, and had to paw through enough condiments to run a fast food joint.
My mother has no problem using my father’s handicapped placard to get a space closer to the supermarket doors, even if the weather is fine. No matter that he’s been dead for six months. I try to explain to her that this is lying–she is in no way handicapped (she said her knee hurt, and feigned a limp for a few steps, then forgot about it and switched into her locally famous confident stride)–and it is also stealing, because she is taking a parking space that a really handicapped person might need. I had that happen once, when I was on crutches for something, and all the handicapped spots were taken. While waiting for one to open up, I watched several totally able-bodied people come along to their vehicles parked in spots that I could have used, had they not been stolen by the Temporarily Able Bodied. So in Jewish Law, at least, using your late husband’s handicap tag simply because you can, is both lying and stealing. Bad things. But she doesn’t think it’s bad. She thinks it’s “getting away with something,” sort of like shoplifting, which she doesn’t really see as a crime.
To get to the meat of this story, now that I have given a dissertation on Narcissistic Personality Disorder: the sister’s life has taken a devastating turn for the worse. First off, her husband, who has been her landmark in her stormy emotional sea, and whose constant praise has sustained her, got MRSA (Multiply Resistant Staph Aureus, AKA Flesh Eating Disease) in a sore on his leg, and being 97 (although an extraordinarily active, and healthy up till now, 97), his immune system couldn’t fight it, and he seemed imminently moribund. All the family gathered at his hospital bed, gowned and masked against the horrid disease, to await his demise.
Imagine their surprise when they showed up one day to find him sitting up eating a hearty breakfast! Miracle.
But it didn’t last too long. The profound dips in his blood pressure during the critical days of his illness had done their work on his brain, and now he is being cared for by his daughter, who says that he is “in and out of it.” No telling how long he’ll last.
In the meantime my mother flew to be with her sister, which was a good thing because her sister has florid dementia and can’t be left on her own. I think she might have had it for quite some time, but her husband kept things together and served as her stabilizer. But now he was not at home, and to her that means he is gone, no matter how many times they brought her to see him.
But that’s not all, folks, that’s not all. The sister had a sore place on her leg. It was red and puffy. My mother took her to her doctor’s office, but the doctor had no openings, so she saw a PA, who diagnosed her with MRSA empirically, (which was probably correct), did not take a culture (bad), and sent her home on the wrong medicine. Bad, bad. Possibly fatal.
In the meantime, my 88 year old mother is reveling in the adulation she’s getting from the rest of the family for caring for her sister. It was the right thing to do. But she was wallowing in an environment crawling with MRSA, since it is passed by fomites. That’s one of my favorite words, fomites. A fomite is any article that can pass germs from one person to another, like a hand towel. Let’s say somebody’s sick with oh, let’s say, MRSA, and they touched an infected part of their body. They went to wash their hands, and they opened the bathroom door with the now-contaminated hand. The MRSA germs are now on the door handle. Different germs live for different amounts of time on different surfaces (did you know that the HIV virus can only live less than 5 seconds on a fomite?). MRSA can live quite a while, especially on damp surfaces like the hand towel they just dried their poorly washed contaminated hand on.
Now we have an infected bathroom. Door handle, sink handles, hand towel.
But someone else has been impatiently waiting because they have to go to the bathroom. The infected person comes out and closes the door. The Someone Else opens the door, getting MRSA on their hands. They use the toilet and flush–now it’s on the toilet handle. Wash hands, dry on the infected hand towel…
Now you might be wondering, in that case, why doesn’t everyone come down with it? The answer is: it’s because of the wonders of the immune system. If you are a healthy human being with a normal immune system, you’re going to be fine, most likely. But if you are 90 and have a weakened immune system, you might be in trouble.
How does MRSA get into our bodies in the first place? Usually it needs a break in the skin, no matter how small, to take hold, and a weakened immune system that can’t fight it off. So let’s say the person comes out of the bathroom, having been bathing in MRSA bacteria, and scratches an itch. This causes a tiny break in the skin; and the MRSA germs that have been patiently hanging out under their nails just bail right into the tiny cut.
Under the right conditions, these germs can now have a holiday infecting skin, fat, muscle…whatever they can manage to spread. Since they are Multiply Resistant Staph Aureus, that means that most of the usual antibiotics used for soft tissue infections will not work. And the library of resistant Staph Aureus germs is growing at a frightening pace.
MRSA is not something that can or should be treated on an outpatient basis. Anyone with a confirmed MRSA infection needs to be hospitalized and treated with the few remaining IV antibiotics left in the arsenal. And, oh yes, they must be isolated, quarantined so that they can’t spread the disease to others.
Back to the present. My dear aunt is now surrounded by her two terribly dysfunctional children (in their 60’s), who are almost as clueless as she is. They are ostensibly taking her–today–to live with, or near (in a nursing home), one of them, which involves an airplane ride. That should be interesting.
So the female cousin mentions, this morning before the flight, that both of my aunt’s legs are swollen up to the knees today. She’s not eating. Not good. I get this information by way of my mother, who I’m pretty sure is losing what marbles she had left. She should have put a halt to the travel plans and had her sister hospitalized right away. Instead, they took her on the plane (which is now a contaminated plane), with the plan of taking her to the ER when they landed. Sigh.
As my mother was telling me this sad story, she digresses to mention the ice in her driveway and how she needs something outside (nothing critically important), and she is going to put her ice grippers on and go and get it.
Please, Mom, don’t do that. I don’t want you to fall and get hurt.
“What, you mean you don’t want me to mess up your trip?” she says sarcastically.
It took me a minute to figure out what she was talking about. Then I got it! She was talking about my plans to go RVing, sometime in the near future, when the weather finally breaks.
She was projecting her thought process onto me! That is what she would have assumed, were she in my position. For a fleeting moment I understood how her mind works.
*Dayenu=Hebrew for “Enough for us!”