It was a sunny March morning. I stood beside the hospital bed where my mother lay complaining. “You’re very lucky, you know,” I said.
“You call this lucky?” She said. Breaking a hip is no fun! Try it sometime and see how you like it!”
“My Dear Mother,” I said, “you’ve lived almost eighty-four years without having a major illness or injury! You have a lot to be thankful for.”
Without a word, she gave me an icy stare and turned her head toward the window.
A doctor entered the room, smiled and said, "Hello, Mrs. Toney. I'm Dr. Shaffer. How're you doing?
“I’m hurting,” she whined. “I know it’s painful,” he said, “but we’re going to fix that.” Grimacing, she said, “I hope so.”
Turning to me, the doctor held out an x-ray. Pointing to the picture, he said, “If you look closely, you’ll see that the hip bone is only cracked. In my opinion, repairing it with a screw is a better option than replacing the hip, which is more invasive and a lot more painful.” I nodded in agreement. It never occurred to me to seek a second opinion. In retrospect, I wish I had.
After the surgery, Mother was in the hospital two weeks with continuous difficulties. She had a bladder infection, and very nearly had pneumonia. Breathing treatments and a lot of medications were necessary. I spent many days and nights at the hospital. I couldn’t stay away. I was her only child; she had no one but me and my family. And – she begged me not to leave her.
The drugs did terrible things to her and she became someone I didn’t recognize. She pulled out her IVs and was abusive to me and the nurses. This went on for days before, at my insistence, the doctor changed her medication and she gradually returned – the mother I knew and loved!
Therapy was started, but she was unresponsive. She kept falling asleep. Her doctor finally suggested that I move her to a rehab center, right in her neighborhood, which had a small hospital. She went reluctantly, fearing that I was delivering her to a nursing home. It took some fast-talking to convince her otherwise.
After two weeks at the rehab center, it became obvious that she wasn’t doing well with therapy. She just didn’t feel like cooperating! The reason was soon clear. When her doctor visited and found her legs badly swollen, he had her tested for blood clots and it was confirmed that there were indeed blood clots in both legs. It seemed like the end of the line! I remember thinking, “Will this nightmare ever be over?”
But after yet another surgery to implant a Greenfield Filter, a device which prevents deadly clots from getting to the lungs, she felt much better and started cooperating with the therapist. In no time, she was walking with a walker, even going up and down steps with help. So, with high hopes, the therapists released her to go home near the end of April… with the understanding that she’d have someone with her around-the-clock.
Now we had a problem! Mother flatly refused to come and stay at my home with me and my husband! When I said, “You cannot stay alone!” Mother answered, “I can, too!”
“No, Mother, you can’t!” I insisted.
“Then you stay at my house,” she said.
“Okay. Ken and I will stay with you.”
“I wouldn’t be comfortable with that,” she said. “I’d rather only you stayed with me.”
“Mother, you’re being childish?” I said. Shrugging her shoulders, she turned away and refused to talk.
After a lengthy discussion, Ken and I agreed we had no options. I’d have to stay with her, at least until we could arrange something else or she changed her mind – which wasn’t likely. Although our children were grown, my husband had just retired and we were looking forward to enjoying our lives as we grew older. There was no way of knowing how long this would last. Would Mother ever be able to live alone again? Probably not. But I had promised I’d never put her in a home. What now?
I knew I’d just have to make the best of it. So that’s what I did. I packed up some clothes, said a tearful “good-bye” to my husband and moved in with my mother.
The days wore on, each one pretty much like the last. Mother awakened early. When I heard the clickety-clack of her walker, I knew it was time to help her get dressed and seated in her favorite chair next to the kitchen. Then I fixed her breakfast, gave her medicine and sat down with a cup of tea to talk a while. She enjoyed these sessions. It was during these times that I began to see my mother in a different light. It occurred to me that our roles had reversed. Was I now the mother and she, the child? Though I missed my home and husband terribly, this was a good time for my mother and me. She talked more than she ever had, telling stories about her life I’d never heard. I listened with rapt attention. And she loved it!
In the fall – my favorite time of year, I swept the porches every day just to spend time in the nippy air, enjoying the clear blue sky and gorgeous leaves that were just beginning to turn, allowing a brief preview of the vivid colors to come. After dinner, I left Mother sitting in her comfortable chair with the phone and a glass of iced tea beside her, while I leashed her little dog, Jeffry, and took him for a walk. It was nice to be outside getting exercise and chatting with neighbors. Jeffry enjoyed it, too.
My eldest son, Lee, offered to relieve me one afternoon while my husband and I spent some time together. I didn’t have to think twice about it. Ken picked me up and we went out for a nice dinner and pleasant conversation. He was so good at reassuring me that this wouldn’t be forever. Our short time together was wonderful! When I returned to Mother’s, she was all smiles. She adored Lee and prattled on and on about how well he’d taken care of her. He’d cooked a simple dinner and enjoyed it with her. The change was good for her – as it was for me.
Time passed quickly. Soon, it was the holiday season. One evening, Mother asked meekly, “Would you make some of that scrumptious chocolate fudge you make every Christmas?” I said, “Okay.” Then she said, “And some peanut butter, too, if you don’t mind.” Laughing, I nodded. I put Christmas carols on the player and prepared both kinds of fudge. When it was ready, she was like a child – eating several pieces of each before stopping – oohing and aahing with each bite. It was one of our happier times together.
After the holidays, winter seemed endless. Mother was in pain most of the time. We talked more now, usually at night. Sometimes she mentioned dying, even telling me what she wanted to wear for burial. She had never permitted talk about death before. With spring, came hope. But it was all for naught.
In early March, she fell... exactly a year from the first time. The doctor said the screw that was used to repair her hip had worked loose. They wanted to replace the hip. She begged me not to let them. She said, “Please don’t make me do it! If I have the operation, I’ll die!” It broke my heart.
The doctor said, “If she doesn’t have the operation, she’ll never walk again; she’ll be bedfast.” I gave permission for the surgery. After the required amount of therapy, she was released to go home, but she never got well. Her appetite was poor and she was depressed. In May, she fell again and I had to call the paramedics to take her back to the hospital. In trying to get her up to go to the bathroom, a nurse fractured one of her vertebrae. She was fitted for a back brace, which she hated and refused to wear most of the time.
Early one morning in June, her doctor phoned me and said, “Your mother has pneumonia. You have a decision to make. We can start tube feedings or you can take her home and call in Hospice.” When I told Ken about it, he said, “It has to be your decision,” just as I knew he would.
“I know she has a lot wrong with her,” I said. “She’s 85 years old and hasn’t much time either way, but I’m not ready to give her up so easily!” It was a difficult decision but after a lot of tears, prayers and hand wringing, I finally chose to call Hospice.
Mother had signed papers early on not to be put on life support. I made all of the arrangements to take her home on Saturday morning. Hospice was to deliver a hospital bed to my home. But Mother died on Friday evening. How like her to take control!
Just before she died, she looked into my eyes, smiled and said, “You’re an angel!” Kissing her forehead, I said, “I love you, Mother.”
After it was over, I walked out of the dismal room for the last time. Outside, the evening air was humid and there was a splash of orange in the western sky. At another time, I would have appreciated its beauty.
But this evening, it was just another sunset.
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