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.