Remembering: Leaving Oma Behind

/ 26 March 2011

The same week Oma returned to Huschkagasse I had to return to the US with Nathaniel. Before we left, though, we got to spend a couple days with Oma at home.


Anna came home from Rudolfinerhaus with Oma, which turned out to be a huge blessing. Anna was amazing, able to pull Oma up in the bed all on her own, able to listen compassionately, but still insist on doing things Oma didn’t like, like cleaning or eating. Anna came to us from Curavita in Vienna, a firm that places nursing care in the home for extended times. They typically place a nurse in the home for two weeks, followed by another for the next two weeks. These two then trade off biweekly for as long as the care is needed. The care may be part time or full time. The nurses, like Anna, are not necessarily “licensed” as we know them in the states, but they are screened and trained, usually from neighboring countries like Slovakia or Hungary. Oma clearly liked Anna, and we quickly learned why. It is amazing how quickly this sort of stress brings someone into the family. Anna became one of us.


One of the highlights for me during these first few days at home was that Nate, who had been faithfully practicing with his cello the whole two weeks, finally got to play where Oma could hear him. He’d been too shy to bring his cello to the hospital, but sharing this with Oma at home was easy, he just practiced in the living room while she lay in the next room. Oma clearly enjoyed this connection, and the chance to hear Nate play.


Having Oma at home was wonderful, but I also needed to get away from the stress and silence of the house. We went for walks, on missions to Ikea, and visiting easter markets and other haunts around Vienna. One very special visit was to the Jewish Museum, where one permanent exhibit shows ghostly holograms of artifacts from lives lost, from a past that can no longer be touched. There we also saw a temporary art exhibit of works created by Viennese artists who were killed by the Nazi regime. One painting struck me particularly, it portrayed Kahlenberg from the same street we often walked on. This is a walk that my Opa took me on before he died and it was a walk that often soothed me during Oma’s illness and at many other times of stress in Vienna. I was so moved to find this beautiful image of my special walk painted so lovingly by someone who was so unappreciated at the time that he was thrown away by his society. It was labeled “Alte Kahlenberger Straße, 1933” by Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg. Would we all be so forgotten? Do our spirits linger in the places we love?


Oma was getting stronger these days. She was sitting up in bed regularly. We were eager to see her improve and pushed her to do more. At one point, Stephen and I tried to help her stand with Anna hovering nervously nearby. Oma was super shaky. She certainly could not stand on her own. We held her for a minute and then let her down again. She was quite relieved when the ordeal was over. I was impressed by her frailty, being that close helped me understand how weak she really was.


The thrum of the oxygen generator became the sound of the house, the curtains across the dining room, now Oma’s bedroom became our new normal. The visitors began to stop by to see Oma. Her dear Trude, faithful Sigrun, amazing neighbors Heinz and Helga, problem solver Gerd, along with the evolving medical team of Curavita, the local mobile hospice service, and the neighborhood doctor from the bottom of Huschkagasse. Dagmar planned to stay in the mix until I could return in April, but for now it was time to leave Oma in her new matrix and pray that she would recover with the help of this wonderful community around her.

The nights were rough. Oma continually cried out for help, pressed the buzzer for Anna, woke us looking for attention and solace. I was only got two hours sleep the night before Nate and I left. I can’t say I was terribly upset to get the relief of an ocean between me and the situation, but I was terribly afraid that I would not be there with Oma. We left on Tuesday 3/23.

I returned from Austria yesterday, so we are no longer with Oma. Natalie will be returning from Vienna tomorrow. Dagmar will be alone with Oma and her nurse (Anna) as of Thursday. She will stay in Vienna until April 6th. I plan to go back to Vienna on April 6th (possibly with Alex) and stay through May 4th. I think Dagmar plans to go back in mid-May.

Two days later, on 3/25, Dagmar wrote to me with increasing concern:

well…yesterday her blood pressure dropped so low the doctors did think we might loose her. the other problem may be her kidneys. has had problems with those for a while.

This would clearly not be a comfortable few weeks in America.


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