Anne’s Story – It all comes down to this

ALERT: Not an entertaining post. Don’t read if you are looking for an uplifting Christmas story.

My 91-year-old mother has been declining. I don’t intend to post daily depressing accounts but I need to acknowledge this period, in all seriousness. When my extended family gathers (likely before too long) I will welcome our raging black humour. In the days following my father’s death in 2007, even my mother said she hadn’t laughed so much in ages.

Blood tests (done at home) show that Mom’s  potassium level has skyrocketed to a level (7.5 mmol/L) that the doctor says is “not compatible with life.” She should be in the hospital having it treated, but why would we do that? The underlying heart and kidney failure isn’t curable.

I have booked off work until at least January 6, and have moved into my mother’s apartment. I have arranged for palliative care but it will be a few days before that starts. She has severe spasmodic pain in her arm, excruciating leg cramps, and constant twitching and itching all over. Sometimes she says “I’m on fire” with the itch and yesterday said “I feel like I have spiders all over me.” She startles very easily, dreads more pain, and is generally miserable and fed up. There is no serenity and reflection on a life well-lived. Rather, she is preoccupied and disgusted (her word) with how she is not living up to her own expectations of dying with dignity, grace, minimal intervention and certainly no deliberate shortening of the process. This is a philosophy that she has firmly advocated for years and years, and thought she had figured out. Unfortunately for her, the non-intervention seems to have gotten in the way of the dignity and grace. Perhaps I should have ignored her clearly-stated wishes.

Her only brief moments of pleasure are my homemade soup, slushy ice cream and crushed ice. I got an amazing new blender that pulverizes ice in seconds. I may soon start making frozen daiquiris for myself after each batch of ice.

Today Mom called me into her room and said “I can’t take this anymore.” But almost in the same breath she reiterated her mantra of not wanting more medication. I tried to explain the dilemma. In the end she accepted a Tylenol with codeine, only because it is familiar to her (even though she has very rarely used it herself) and doesn’t seem so much like “medication.”

A couple of hours later, Mom woke up and said “That’s the best night I’ve had…” She said, haltingly, it was odd – she still itched and hurt the same, but she felt more hopeful. Amazing what a bit of narcotic can do!

Postscript: Further doses of codeine were not so effective, but the extreme discomfort fortunately abated.

9 thoughts on “Anne’s Story – It all comes down to this

  1. Clare, It says alot about you that you dropped everything and are with her during this difficult time. Maybe she will keep up with the tylenol #3 and get some relief. And maybe you should make those dacquiries and enjoy. I am thinking of you and your family! Candy

    • Candyce – Thanks for the comment and the thoughts. Fortunately I am in a situation that allows me to step in fairly easily. I am not the sweetest and most sympathetic person in the world (major understatement here) but at least I am reliable and competent!

      Are you still blogging?

      – Clare

  2. It is hard to witness the suffering of a dying mother and sometimes even harder to comply with her last wishes. We all want to be good, kind daughters, and sometimes that means accepting end-of-life decisions that we don’t agree with. You can take heart in the fact that you’ve done your best to make your mother comfortable while she has been allowed to choose her own path.

    • Yes, I am trying to toe the line between what she has said she wants (in more convenient times, when it was easy to be idealistic), what she says she wants at the present moment, and what I think she needs. I can influence her present decisions. Thanks for the encouraging words!

    • She shows no sign of accepting another Tylenol 3. Au contraire. She is still trying to determine the “right” thing. We had intense discussions this evening. I just hope that tonight she doesn’t get up at 2:30 a.m. for a 90 minute meal in the kitchen.

  3. As i am reading your article no words of wisdom, no thoughts of comfort come to my mind. That must be the time we start to pray. Dear God. Love you Clare! Take care.

    • She seems to have recovered from the medical crisis and now I need to figure out how to withdraw my round-the-clock services. She is not happy about having more time from care workers but I need to get back to work (not to mention getting back home occasionally)!

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