Tuesday, May 10, 2016


I've been absent from writing for so long; I can't believe my last update was in January.  Things have changed around here and I'm still working on getting used to the new routine.  That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it, but in the meantime, here's what happened over the long winter:

Back in early February, I caught a nasty cold.  In order to hopefully prevent my mother from coming down with it too, Carl took over dispensing her medication over the weekend.  I called Mom on Monday morning to remind her that we had a doctor's appointment with her general practitioner at 10AM, but when she answered the phone, I realized we had a problem.  Mom's voice was very weak and she could only talk in two word phrases.

"Mom, are you ok?" I asked.

"Yes.......I'm  ok.........I.................just.............can't seem...........to breathe.........very well," she gasped.

Oh, dear!

I got in my car and sped up to her house where I found her sitting on her bed, trying to put her shoes on.  I knelt down to help her and discovered her feet were swollen twice their normal size.  When I gingerly raised her pant leg, I was stunned by the edema in her legs all the way past her knees.  She was in big trouble.

I called the doctor's office, spoke with the nurse and told her I was taking Mom to the emergency room.

I told Mom I should call an ambulance, but she was terrified they would make her lie down.   I doubted they would have, but Mom had vivid memories of my father's death fifteen years ago and a tragic mix up that occurred with the ambulance crew.  Mom did not want to have the same experience he'd had.  The only way she could breathe was in an upright position.  I decided to take her into the hospital on my own so I wouldn't cause her any more stress.

Even though she could barely talk, she was still able to walk, albeit slowly. I helped her down the stairs and into my car.  It was bitterly cold out, and she had a hard time breathing when she first went outside. After I had her seat belted in, we started on the fifteen mile drive to the hospital.   I kept talking to her as I drove carefully, making sure to set my cruise control to the speed limit.  Fifty-five mph seems so slow when you're in a hurry. 

All was well until we came to the first traffic circle (or roundabout, as they're known here).  If you're not familiar with roundabouts, don't feel bad, they're a relatively new thing in our area in the last few years and they take some getting used to.  A roundabout is a type of circular intersection or junction in which road traffic flows almost continuously in one direction around a central island.  The basic thing to remember in a roundabout is to always yield to the traffic on your left.  If there is no traffic coming on your left, you don't have to stop.  

Apparently the driver of the car in front of me was brand-new to the area; there was no traffic in sight and yet they came to a complete stop and didn't budge. Mom was having more trouble breathing and I was getting frantic.  I'm a patient driver, I've never blown my car horn at anyone ever, but I guess there's a first time for everything, "Beep!  Beep!  BEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPP!"" I laid on the horn as hard as I could.  The car finally jumped to life and went through the roundabout.  I felt bad for being so rude, but we had to get going!

Finally free of the slowpoke driver, we headed down Hwy 172, across the bridge and the busy freeway traffic, exited, waited for the stop light, and down Webster Street we went at 35 mph for the next three miles.  Lots of stop and go traffic and I'm driving as carefully as I can all the while wondering if this was going to be the last time I would go for a ride with my mother.  She did not look good, and she sounded worse.  My blood pressure was way up, I could feel it pounding in my ears.  

"I...........can't.............breathe...............why?.................can't.............I..................breathe?" she gasped.

"I don't know, Mom, but hang on, we're almost there," I could see the hospitals in the distance.  One more light and we'd be there.  Well, at least that's what I thought.  As soon as the light changed to green, I went through the last intersection and was searching for the entrance to the hospital.  I was so relieved to see the big red 'EMERGENCY' sign plastered on the side of the building, this is the place, thank God!  

I pulled into the driveway and a valet parking attendant came out and took my information while I was dashing for a wheelchair by the entrance.  I got Mom out of my car and into the wheelchair (the first time she's ever ridden in one of her own free will) and whisked her off to the ER.  We made it.  Phew.

Mom was taken to an exam room quickly.  The doctors were all very good, they could see the problem was congestive heart failure and they set to work at getting the extra fluid removed.  We sat  in the ER from 8:30AM until nearly 2:30PM before she was assigned a hospital room.  Mom wasn't happy about this at all, she wanted to go home and couldn't figure out why they were keeping her in the hospital.  

The one question that kept coming up after she was stable was, "Her doctor is affiliated with Bellin Hospital.  Why did you bring her to St. Vincent's?"

Um.....good question?  I had to admit I hadn't realized we were at the wrong hospital, I was in a panic situation, I saw the first emergency room sign on the side of the hospital and went for it.  The two hospitals are actually joined together, in order to get to Bellin's ER, I would have had to bypass St. V's hospital and go down a side street and then turn into the Bellin Hospital emergency department.  I apologized to the doctors and nurses, I'd panicked.  I asked if we could simply move her across the building to the correct hospital, but no, that wasn't possible.  Eventually they had all of her records transferred, sadly I realize it made more work for them.  

Mom had chest x-rays and a plethora of exams and medications.  She was unable to tolerate lying down at all, she had to remain bolt upright or she couldn't breathe.  

She kept asking me over and over why this happened?  Why did she need to be here?  How long would she have to stay?  Couldn't we go home now?  

I reassured her the doctors were doing their best to help her and we'll just take it one minute at a time.  It was heart-wrenching to see her tiny little body in the big hospital bed.  I hadn't gotten around to giving her a perm or cutting her hair since the holidays, and she was in bad need of a hairdo.  She was very worried that her appearance was frightening.  I was cussing myself out for not catching all of this sooner.

She was hooked up to oxygen and a catheter and all sorts of bells and whistles.  The staff was excellent, I can't say enough good things about them.  They all loved Mom, and treated her with great respect.  

Family is so important.  Carl came to the hospital after work as did Joel.  David came up after his 1 AM work shift was over and volunteered to stay overnight with Mom so I could go home and get some sleep, but Mom said she would be fine, and that we both should go home.  Ann came up with Dave to lend me moral support too.  I stayed until 3AM the first night and then headed home.  It was the start of the coldest weather we'd had all winter and I was shivering uncontrollably by the time I found my car with Dave's help. I don't know what I would do without our sons; they are so comforting to me.  I am blessed. 

Mom was in the hospital for four days.  She was always hoping to go home, but the doctors wanted to make sure she was stable, and so did I.  Her confusion and slight dementia haven't been getting any better; she's not terribly bad, but she is forgetful and the hospitalization wasn't helping with her memory.  She was a card with the staff, though, and especially liked a young physical therapist guy who came in every day 'to take me for a walk'.  She loved to tease him mercilessly.  I hadn't seen that side of Mom in a very long time and I found myself wiping away tears frequently.  Despite everything she's gone through in her long life, she is still able to see the funny side of things and try to set the nurses at their ease.

I know she was scared, though, and so was I.  You'd think I'd be prepared for the loss of my mother at the ripe old age of 95, but, guess what, I'm not.   Truth be told, I'm just a big baby.  I woke up on Tuesday morning and for a blissful second my mind didn't catch up with the events of the previous day.  But when it did, I found myself lying in bed sobbing for no good reason.  

When I was a little girl, my father absolutely hated tears and would banish me from his presence if I cried.  To this day, I'm appalled when I cannot control myself even though I know crying is a healthy way to release tension.  And the older I get, the easier my traitorous tears seem to flow.   

What was I crying for that morning?  

The loss of my mother.  I'm not ready.  I know I'll never be ready.

The truth is Mom has been leaving me for some time already.  Her memory hasn't been great, she often repeats herself and asks the same questions over and over.  I know she can't help aging, but I can't help missing the mom I used to know, either.  Sometimes it seems as if she is a stranger to me (and I'm sure I appear strange to her, too).  I've whined to Carl more than once, "I want my mom back!  I don't like this new version." 

I've been through this before.  A few years prior to his death, my father didn't often know who I was.  He was always looking for a four year-old version of me and I often joined in with the search.  

"Have you seen Karen?  She's about yay high," holding his hand about three feet off the ground, "and she's got long, blond hair.  I haven't seen her for a long time.  She's got to be here somewhere!"

And off we'd go looking for me.  Joel would often accompany me to visit my parents and my father always confused him with my late brother, Bob, who had died in 1995.  

"Bobby, have you seen Karen?" Dad would bark at Joel.  

Joel played along the best he could, no, he hadn't seen Karen either. 

"Well, who knows where she went to!  She could be lost in the woods!  And I won't ask that woman in the house anything about it, she says she's my wife, but I don't know who she is.  I know she's not my wife!"

I managed to change the subject with some distraction and soon the issue of Missing Me was settled and Dad forgot all about it.  For about two years I was a complete stranger to Dad until the day he died. I took him shopping and out for car rides, but he had no idea who I was.  At times that led to some very embarrassing situations, but I survived.  I know he wasn't in his right mind. 

I am hoping against hope that Mom's mind will remain a little clearer; it's very hard to care for a person with advanced dementia.  Dad was 86 when he suffered what the doctor thought was a mini-stroke.  He passed away at age 88 after a fall down a flight of stairs, independent and stubborn to the end as he was working on putting the cab on his tractor for snow blowing.  Less than eight hours after he fell, he was gone in October of 2001.  

My mother has been a widow for fifteen years.  She's handled widowhood gracefully, the same way she's handled her entire life.  Never one to brood or feel sorry for herself, she always finds something to keep her busy and her house is as neat as a pin.  Her bed is always made every morning, dishes done every night.

It was so hard seeing her helpless in the hospital bed.  The nurses gave her the TV remote control which also contained the call button, but of course she couldn't remember how to work the silly thing. She was increasingly restless, and whenever I walked in the room, she'd tell the nurses, "Sorry, I have to go now, my daughter is here."

Finally, after four days, the doctor said she could go home.  His recommendation was she should go to a skilled nursing facility (an old folk's home, in Mom's terms) for rehabilitation for two weeks.  I received the call at home that Medicare would pay for her stay.  It was all settled, or so I thought.  As I was driving in to the hospital, I received a call from the benefits coordinator; there was a change with the insurance, she wasn't going to qualify for the nursing home rehabilitation after all.  

As it turned out, the fact that Mom was able to put on her own socks and walk down the hallway with no assistance for short jaunts even with congestive heart failure meant she was not 'sick enough' to need skilled nursing rehab, at least in Medicare's estimation.  The nurses and physical therapists all remarked on how fit she was for 95, they said she could teach some of the sixty-year old patients a thing or two.  

They wanted to know what her secret was.  She told them her secret was being a farmer's wife for sixty years.  Amen to that, I know it's the truth.  I do not know one woman who has worked as hard as my mother did all those years. 

 I was really concerned as to what to do with Mom after they discharged her.  Would she be ok home alone?  

The doctor said she could go to rehab for two weeks if she wanted to private pay.  I thought about it and finally said, yes, ok, draw up the paperwork.  While they were doing that, I set about getting Mom's things packed up and getting her dressed.  She was not against going to the nursing home, but she wasn't thrilled with the idea, either.  

Who would be?

After another flavorless meal (they put her on a salt-restricted diet) she was ready to go to the nursing home.  I was to go and get the car and the nurse would wheel Mom down to the entrance.  Just as I was getting ready to leave, the fire alarms went off and the elevators were shut down, so I had to run down four flights of stairs to get back up the ramp steps and find my car parked on the roof of the parking lot.

 Carrying all of her belongings, the trip took me longer than it should have and the nurse was waiting with Mom in the wheelchair for quite a while before I came around with the car.  

"We thought you forgot about her," the nurse said as she helped Mom into my car.

No, I didn't forget, how could I? But I was debating with myself about this two week stay at the nursing home.  Should she go?  Was it the right thing to do? 

Mom settled back in the seat as we drove home in the bright afternoon sunshine. 

"Now where am I going?  To the old folk's home?  Is that what you want me to do?  I'll do whatever you want me to do, I don't want to be a burden to you.  If you want me to go to the home, I'll go," Mom said.  "You have a life of your own, you don't feel good; you don't need to fuss over me."

I didn't know what to say.  Since last October, I've had another bout of ill health which turned out to be Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is very hard to diagnose because there really aren't any definitive tests for it, but all my symptoms for the last twenty-odd years are now starting to make sense, my auto-immune thyroid woes were most likely caused by a stupid wood tick bite who knows when ago.

Since October, I'd had a nasty bout of what I thought was hemorrhoids. (Yes, the pain in the butt that no one likes to talk about, much less write about.)  Sitting was unbearable (which is also why I haven't written any posts lately since I don't type standing up very well).  Even standing was painful.  I spent most of last winter soaking my derriere in sitz baths with epsom salts and trying one remedy after another to no avail.  The pain wouldn't leave me alone.  And when Mom went to the hospital, it was worse since there wasn't much to do but sit with her on very uncomfortable chairs or pace around the room like a caged cat.

So there we were, a daughter driving her mother to the old folk's home.  I didn't talk much on the drive, the nursing home is in our little community of Seymour, so Mom would only be three miles from home.  I comforted myself with that thought, I could go and see her every day, it wouldn't be too bad.

"I left the house without making my bed," Mom fretted.  "When you go in there, you're going to see how messy it looks, I wish I'd had the time to make the bed."

"Oh, that's ok, Mom," I said, "I washed clothes this morning and stripped your bed, I'll make it up later."

"You washed clothes?  Mine too?  You don't need anymore work, I can wash my own."

But then the reality of where I was taking her set in and she became very quiet.  I was having the hardest time driving because the unshed tears were burning my eyes.  I couldn't do this, could I?  Should I? 

Finally we arrived in Seymour.  

"I'm so glad to see familiar places," Mom said.  "I don't like the big city."

I drove the last mile to the nursing home and parked the car in the lot.  Mom was weak yet, so I told her I'd go in and find out where we had to go and I'd be back for her. It was very cold out, but the car was parked in the sun and I hoped she'd be warm enough.  I didn't intend to be gone long.

I wandered into the facility and past a few elderly patients sitting in their wheelchairs, looking completely catatonic.  Finally I met a nice woman who asked me my business and said, yes, she had Mom's paperwork, let's get her settled in.  

That's when I done lost it.  I was standing there with the lady as she explained the terms of the stay and the paperwork she still needed from me and where is your mother, by the way?  When suddenly it hit me.  

I can't leave my mom here. 

The treacherous tears were rolling full force now; the lady's voice trailed off as she realized I was having a meltdown.  

"I'm sorry, is there a problem?"

"Yes, I'm sorry too.  I'm sorry I took up your time, but I'm going to take Mom home," I blubbered.  "I can't leave her here, it isn't fair of me."  

"If you feel the time isn't right, that's perfectly understandable, but it needn't be long term.  After a few weeks of rehabilitation, she'll be feeling much better.  But of course, if you feel strongly about it, just remember you have one month from her hospitalization to reconsider your options."

"Well, it's just that she's my mother, and she's never been away from the farm, and she deserves a better daughter," I sobbed.

"By all means, you have to be comfortable with any decision you make," the director said as she handed me a box of tissues.

I stood there wiping my tears and staring at a picture of a tranquil Victorian home on an impossibly gorgeous autumn evening and made up my mind.   

I smiled at the director, apologized for the third time for taking up her time and marched out of the building.  When I got to the car, Mom said, "Did you find out where I'm going?"

"Yes," I said.  

"Where?" she said, as she unhooked her seatbelt.


"What do you mean?  I'm going home?" she asked.

I blew my nose and turned the ignition.  "Yes, you're going home."

"Oh, I'd better put my seatbelt on." 

And off we went, back to the farm.  The farm my father left horizontally, the same way I hope to leave it, too.  

"Oh, it's so good to be home," Mom said. 

She was right, it was good to be home.  

"Oh, look, my bed's not made!  I told you I left a mess behind!"

And off she went to find her sheets.







FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Oh dear, dear Karen ~ My heart aches for you and your Mom. Taking her home seems like the right thing for both of you. Can't you get some kind of nursing/rehab help to come out to you?

I'm so sorry you have Lyme disease, but glad you now know what has been the cause of all of your health issues. I hope you get the latest 'pain in the butt' figured out.

You all are in my thoughts and prayers ~ Love & hugs ~ FlowerLady

El Gaucho said...

Karen - I am so sorry to hear of the health troubles with your Mom. I hope she feels better very soon. May your lovely garden be a source of solace and relief during the Spring blooming season and beyond.

Garden Fancy said...

Karen, I'm so sorry that your mother is having health issues, especially as you are having your own too! I'm sure it's incredibly stressful and difficult for you. I hope you are able to find some enjoyment in your gardens, and don't worry if you don't do all the usual garden work this year -- some things are more important than pulling weeds. Best of luck with everything, and take care -- of yourself, and I hope you can find someone to help take care of your mother. -Beth

Alison said...

Oh Karen, hugs to you! You are such a good daughter. So sorry both you and your mom are having so many unmanageable health issues.

africanaussie said...

It is good to hear from you again Karen. I was so sorry to hear how ill your Mom has been, and glad you made the deciison to take her home. You are such a good daughter, you know her heart. I love that photo of the daffodil in the sunshine through the hole in the rock. Remember that you can always find the sunshine - you just have to look.

Pamela Gordon said...

Oh Karen. You've been through a lot these past months and I'm so sorry about your mother's illness and dementia. It is so difficult to know what to do but for the time being having your mother in her own home is best. I hope this works out well for her and you too. Take care of yourself. All the best. Pam