For the last three weeks, I have been thinking about mom a lot as she has been battling a cough / illness which was subsequently diagnosed as community-acquired pneumonia. I have spent a lot of time with her and thought she was finally rallying as she sounded better. Until I called her on Friday night. It sounded like her cough was worse and she said she felt nauseated and didn’t want to go to dinner. I called the assisted living place where she was and asked them to check on her. Heard that she said she was feeling fine and didn’t need anything; she’d see them in the morning.
The following morning when the med nurse went to give her her meds, she was nonresponsive and had died. I always remember mom referring to Pneumonia as a “friend of the aged” as it takes you when you are sleeping. When I arrived here Saturday morning, she looked like she always did – quiet, resting comfortably – content. Whenever I arrived here previously she be napping and yell “who’s making all that noise doing dishes in my kitchen?” (usually the first thing I did when I arrived – tried to be quiet but not always successful). On Saturday, there was no response, she was gone. It has not been an easy 24+ ish hours here. Thankfully one of my close friends drove up to lend support and help me develop a plan. Other calls to and from friends have been tough but have also included really funny, very poignant “mom” stories.
In Boston at Brigham and Women’s, there’s a doc who trains other docs on how to handle codes in a compassionate sort of way that encourages Docs to not just leave the room once the code is called. After she calls a code she say’s “may choirs of angels greet thee at thy coming” – which is what I whispered in mom’s ear yesterday morning.
I knew she was ill, but I just wasn’t quite ready for her to go. At one point, the assisted living place was on “lockdown” as visitors were discouraged from coming as a few of the residents were sick. Mom and I basically camped out in her room which was serious but sort of funny when the kitchen staff would show up with masks on and look at us fearfully before saying “we’re not allowed to come in here.” – I felt like saying “that’s okay, just surrender the food.”
At her worst, she had a few nights of severe wheezing. I would go into her room and sit with her while she would point at the places on her back to pat and help her breathe better. We discussed going to the ER a few times as well as the benefits of an IV to help her but she said “no, I’m fine” and eventually would fall back to sleep. We had a few discussions about the severity of her wheezing, weighed against the potential for infection if she went into the hospital. If I had a dollar for every time she said: “No, I’m fine….”
So many of my friends are compassionate and wonderful nurses as mom was, but on this day I can tell you – trying to help and support a nurse and help them feel better – when you are not one, is one of the most hopeless experiences I will ever know. Having the amazing nurse friends that I do and knowing first hand about the rewarding work that they all do has been nothing short of phenomenal. Mom has taught me a lot – several of them have shown abundant compassion and empathy to the patients and families they serve, – it’s been amazing to see.
My brother and I have a little bit of a journey ahead of us but I think I can speak for both of us when I say how much we appreciate the support that has been given to both mom and dad during their more challenging moments and throughout their lives. We are blessed; mom and dad were loved and now she is with him – probably watching over all of us. I had told mom a few weeks ago that sometimes there are parts of my childhood that I just don’t remember. When I arrived to her room on the day that she died and everyone had left (and it was finally quiet), I noticed the baby book she had put together for me when I was born – sitting neatly on top of a few things on a table next to her chair. A bathrobe I had given her, nicely folded on top of the chest where I normally place my boat bags when I arrive – it’s like she knew – phenomenal woman my mom.