My mother is 83 years old. She describes herself as an educator, a serious collector, and a Republican. She belongs to the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, which means she is also a genealogy buff. Her parents were from Texas, and her Scottish ancestors helped settle Virginia. She has 6 children, 12 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. Oh yeah, and a Bernese Mountain dog. My mother is open and talkative; she generally makes a friend wherever she goes. From the UPS man to the grocery store clerk, my mother is not shy.
For a long time, my mother had made it quite clear about her intentions as she grew older. She was determined to never live in a nursing home, nor in a community for the elderly. She wanted to have her own home with her own antique collection and her own gardens to enjoy.
As a child, I never considered my mother to be overly strong or feisty or opinionated. But as an adult, I have learned my mother is independent. Fiercely independent. I don’t know if this quality blossomed due to age, fear of growing old, or if my child’s memory is inaccurate and perhaps she was this way all along. Whatever the case, I am now in the position of taking care of a woman who has been in denial over her age and her faltering health for too long. What do you do with a woman whose pride actually creates more problems for her?
My mother spent the next 5 days in the hospital. They ran a bunch of tests trying to figure out what precipitated the collapse. The best anyone could come up with is a diuretic called Lasix. They think because it had been a recent change in her meds that it interacted badly with her system.
The other problem they discovered is that she doesn’t get enough oxygen when she’s sleeping. Her O2 levels drop to 80% when the ideal levels should be 90% or above. This likely explains her poor sleeping habits, her disorientation and confusion upon waking, her shortness of breath, and exhaustion during the day.
Being that I have 5 siblings, I feel fortunate that I don’t have to handle this alone. However, it probably doesn’t surprise you that even if I had an army on my side, my mother was going to have things done her way, and that was that.
The consensus in our family was that my mother wouldn’t be safe at home alone without making some changes like a cordless multi-phone system, a shower chair, a walker, temporarily removing her overly exuberant and badly behaved dog, and clearing walking paths throughout her house.
While we were prepping her house, my mother was making quite a name for herself at the hospital. In a matter of 3 days, she had alienated the entire nursing staff, the on-call cardiologist, and a neurologist. They wanted her to go from the hospital to rehab because of her difficulty with walking and blood pressure and breathing issues. She would have none of it. And when I say that I mean that she covered her ears with her hands, saying to the neurologist, “I have stopped listening, so stop talking.” When she demanded her personal PCP, they tried to tell her that because he was not contracted with that hospital he couldn’t treat her there.
That did it. My mother signed out of the hospital against medical advice. Because of this, she was not given discharge papers. We, her children, weren’t convinced she was ready to come home, but she was perfectly capable of making decisions. Even if we refused to drive her home it wouldn’t matter. She’d just call a taxi.
My sister-in-law, my sister, and I banded together and told my mother that we would bring her home and get her settled as long as she promised to wear oxygen at night (equipment provided by a healthcare company) and to let VNA come in to check on her regularly.
My mother considered the deal, and she agreed. Sounds like a reasonable plan, doesn’t it? So, why was I waiting for the next shoe to drop?
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