The Terrible, Wonderful Week

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Mother’s Day, 2017– the start of a momentous week in our family’s life.  Sunday was a day to celebrate Mom, and the following Saturday was my son’s wedding–an occasion greatly anticipated in our household.  In between, my daughter and her husband were flying in from Portland to share in the festivities.  Even though Mom would not be attending the wedding, she shared the joy of this special family time.

Mom woke up around 9:30 and was her usual happy, morning self.  We started our routine as we did every morning–after helping her into her robe and settled in the chair by the window I brought her orange juice and medications.  When I asked Mom what she wanted for breakfast she surprised me by saying she would like her protein drink.

She hasn’t been able to drink it for several months now.  No one understands why, least of all Mom.  It’s been her morning drink for many years–a concoction of calories, protein, fiber and healthy fats.  But over the course of several weeks after Christmas she had begun to have more and more trouble drinking it.  She would take a mouthful and hold it, unable or unwilling to swallow.  I would sit with her and coach her through as much of the drink as I could.  Finally we reached the day when we could not continue and I started fixing other breakfasts for her.  It took her an hour to eat a bowl of oatmeal or a scrambled egg and toast but at least she could get it down.

On Mother’s Day, however, when Mom requested the protein drink I could not refuse.  Taking advantage of the opportunity, I packed as many calories into that shake as I could manage. In very short order she drained it dry.  Everyone but Mom was surprised.

I helped her get dressed and ready for church.  These days church for Mom is a comfortable seat in the family room watching Grove Avenue Baptist Church as we stream it from the laptop to the TV.

Mom attended Grove Avenue Baptist in Richmond when she was in training for her RN at MCV in the early 1950’s.  One Sunday when Mom first moved in with us, she was watching and remarked the pastor was the same one who preached when she attended all those years ago.  Even though he did seem a little ancient we just looked at each other in sad recognition of Mom’s mental decline.  At that time we were still trying to convince her of reality so I looked the speaker up online.  To our utter amazement he was indeed Pastor Emeritus of Grove Avenue Baptist Church and had been the senior pastor when Mom was a student.  It was God’s sweet gift for Mom that Sunday.

The rest of Mother’s Day was a fine day of family celebration.  My husband fixed a scrumptious roast chicken for lunch.  Our son and his fiancee joined us for lunch, and afterwards we all went outside to enjoy the beautiful weather.  We gathered around the carport and watched my son and husband change the oil on 3 cars.  It’s an odd sport for family fun, but we are easily entertained.  Later I made a decadent dessert for our evening repast.  It’s Mom’s favorite–chocolate molten lava cakes with ice cream.  And yes, we sometimes eat dessert for dinner–usually on a Sunday.

The next day everything changed.

I heard Mom in her bedroom at 7 a.m. fumbling around.  I went in and asked her what she was doing.  In a somewhat slurry voice she told me she was trying to find her clothes. It was too early to get up so I guided her back to bed.  Mom usually sleeps until 9 or 10 a.m.  If she tries to get up earlier than 8:00 I often put her back to bed.  It’s the one time of day I have to myself.  I jealously guard that little morning time slot between the last person leaving for work and Mom getting up.

At 9:30 I heard Mom again and went in to help her.  As she was trying to drink her juice and take her pills she was having quite a bit of trouble.  I could tell she was holding juice and pills in her mouth.  I encouraged her to swallow but she couldn’t.  Eventually I had to let her spit out the juice and pills.  I fixed her protein drink for her again, hoping she would be able to get it down as she had the day before.  She couldn’t drink any of it.

I began to realize Mom seemed weaker than usual. She needed a lot more assistance from me in getting dressed.  After she got dressed, I finally took the time to really look at her and assess the situation.  That is when I noticed her mouth was drooping a little on the left side.  I followed the stroke guidelines and asked her to smile, raise both arms and repeat “Twinkle, twinkle little star” after me–all of which she was able to do.

I already had an appointment with her primary care doctor that morning to check for a UTI.  I helped her out to the car and we headed to the doctor’s office.  We were led into an examining room to wait for the PA.  When she came in I asked her to notice Mom’s drooping smile.  And that is when it all began.  She told me to take Mom to the ER immediately.

After I wheeled her into the ER, Mom was whisked back into triage.  She responded to the same directions I had given her earlier and smiled, raised her arms and then her legs at the doctor’s and nurses’ requests.  Everyone wanted to see her perform.  Each performance, however, got a little weaker.  She was finally admitted that evening and by the next morning she could not lift her left leg or left arm.  The MRI confirmed Mom had a stroke.  Over the next few days further tests were done and by Friday it was determined she was “stable” which just means there was nothing more to find out about her condition.  She was discharged to a rehab facility.

At any time this would have been difficult, but this was the week before my son’s wedding.  We had carefully planned for providing Mom with with all the support she would need over the weekend while we were in Richmond for the nuptial festivities.  None of the caregivers would be needed now since she would be in a rehab center.  In a way I could rest easier knowing she would be well taken care of with nurses and CNA’s looking in on her around the clock.

I decided I would compartmentalize the issues with Mom for the weekend.  My daughter and her husband were here and their visits are rare.  We were all spending the weekend in Richmond together to celebrate with my son, his bride, our families and friends.  I wanted to enjoy this time to the fullest with the people I loved and make some sweet memories.  And that is what I did.

Reality set back in Sunday morning when we got back and I went directly to see Mom and see how she was doing.  Since she came in on a weekend she had not been to any of her therapies yet.  The first thing she asked about when she saw me was Rocky.  She couldn’t understand why she hadn’t seen her dog.  She cried when I told her about the wedding. Mom didn’t know where she was and did not understand she had had a stroke.

I’ve been visiting Mom twice every day since she’s been in the rehab center.  I try to get in for a meal and her speech and/or physical therapies.   The dementia is detrimental to her progress–eating is a long difficult chore, she cannot stand on her own and her left arm is useless.  Though the dementia inhibits her progress, it allows her to believe all is well.

Only God knows what lies ahead.  I’ve asked Him several times to give me a hint but He has been silent.  I have prayed He would give me the grace to take one day at a time and that is the prayer He has answered.  Though I have felt utterly overwhelmed at times, my faith upholds me and the strong love and support of family and friends are sustaining.  I have no doubts of God’s goodness and mercy and love for me, my mother and my family.  Wasn’t that most evident in this terrible, wonderful week?

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