Aunt Dot beats the odds again.
Aunt Dot (Dorothy Arnof to the rest of the world except my brother, Stephen)
is out of the hospital and back in her apartment on East 57th Street.
(If this doesn’t sound like stop-the-presses news to you, please go
back and read the posts for May 21 and May 19).
Aunt Dot’s 98th birthday falls this June 26. She shares it with her slightly younger sister, my mother, Charlotte Zolotow (
according to family lore, when Dorothy, age five, was told she had a
new baby sister for her birthday, she said, "But I wanted a bicycle!"). The two sisters, left, in in the 1980’s, taken by Ned Shank, my late husband. To my eye, they both look beautiful and tense. I believe this was taken at Lyndhurst, a National Trust property in Westchester, not far from where my mother lives and where my aunt’s late boyfriend lived. Aunt Dot and Ned shared interests in history and historic architecture.
But it’s not just that Aunt Dot is alive and well and back
home, despite her age and a prognosis that looked pretty poor for
awhile. It’s that, like Frank Sinatra, when she seemingly faced her final curtain, she did it her way.
See, there was the tube.
The emergency room docs at NYU Medical Center had put it through her nose, down her throat and into her stomach for the
first few days. It probably saved her life, breaking up an intestinal blockage which had kinked her bowels. But she really
didn’t like it. The first time around, they had to sedate her, which at
her age is high risk, to even get it down.
But, a couple of days
later, the minute no one was looking and she was feeling better, she ripped it out.
Over the next few days, four different doctors, each with their own
nurses, tried to reinsert the tube. I was there for part of one of
these attempts, the one done by Dr. O, an Austrian. At least, I was there until he asked me to leave.
On the one hand, it was awful. Two big young strong strangers on
either side of her bed, trying, for reasons she didn’t understand, to
shove this foreign object down and into her. This would have been uncomfortable and strange for anyone, but no doubt her aged passages
were especially small
and fragile. They couldn’t risk sedating her this time, so they tried
to do it by force. There were splatters of blood, and it had to have hurt like hell besides
being just overtly unpleasant and scary.
But the thing is: Aunt Dot wasn’t afraid.
She was pissed, and she was pugilistic. (You can see what a determined person she was — as well as beautiful — even when she was young, like in
this picture taken circa 1945, when she was 35 and a textbook editor at
I watched her fight off Dr. O and his nurse, Michelle. She made fists of her little arthritic hands and
struck out at the two giants forcefully, and she called out to me, "Make them stop it, Mama!" (That
was when the doctor told me to leave). But in the end she won.
The four sets of doctors and her whole "gastro-intestinal medical team"
finally decided not to reinsert the tube. So, with "watchful waiting" (and I
think a few enemas), she slowly but surely got better. On her own
terms. And was released Friday.
I am proud to have DNA like that.
Aunt Dot’s current
state of mind is called dementia. This is another thing that I think is
pathologized (something is wrong) rather than being viewed as developmental (a
normal part of aging, at least for most of us). Who’s to say that our
so-called rational view of the world, our linear version of time, is correct, after all? I think of where Aunt
Dot is as more of an altered state, one many people actually strive
called "living in the now," and it’s the upside to the loss of short-term memory you never see mentioned (at least I never have).
Thus, while she was a thousand percent
enraged at Dr. O and Michelle, the minute, no, the second, they
gave up trying to force the tube down, Aunt Dot calmed down. Her brow
unfurrowed. "Well, that’s all right then," she said. She immediately
began reading the doctor’s name tag, "M-A-R… oh, you’re Martin.
A-U-S-T… Austria! What are you doing in the United States, Martin?"
But, still, seeing Aunt Dot fight them off… it’s as I once remarked to my mother, "No one can accuse you of going gentle in that good night!"
my home, in Vermont, the farmhouse I live in now and am slowly, slowly purchasing, the place that Aunt Dot
summered in for so many years? Here it is. And, below, a photograph taken by David on July 31, 2007, from the front step: a summer view of the vista the house faces, which I’m facing right now from my office. Except the view, splendid as it is, doesn’t always have the rainbow…
And where is this home located? The state named the road for her… it’s