Monday, July 19, 2010

A long and lonely road filled with sunshine

It was a long and grueling weekend – for my mom and family. I could write pages, detailing the health issues that had us spending days in an area emergency room and hospital, but it all can be summed up in two words – blood clot.

My Mom, gamely plugging away on that long and winding road we label dementia, was not feeling well toward the end of last week. Aides checked her out at the assisted living facility she now calls home and decided to call in the medics.

Her vital signs were good but she continued to complain about some vague discomfort – pain in her legs, a sense of unease and a small problem with breathing. At some point she used the words chest and pain in the same sentence. Bingo! That’s the magic phrase that will win you a trip to the local emergency room every time it’s uttered.

I met my daughter Lauren at the ER and the good news is Mom seemed to be more alert than I had seen her in weeks. She was kvetching, but alert. Her nurse pretty quickly had Mom tethered to an assortment of monitors and within the first hour or so had managed to draw enough blood to feed a family of vampires and keep a battery of techs busy for the evening.

The ER doctor – a friendly enough sort of guy with a shock of white hair, the body and facial features of Woody Allen – checked Mom out, examined her leg – which, btw, was swollen – and ordered up another series of more sophisticated and invasive tests.

The good news, I guess, is that within the next hour we learned that Mom had a blood clot dangling about in her left leg, that she was to be put on blood thinners immediately and would be admitted to the hospital for observation to figure out the next step in her treatment.

That next treatment ended up being one of those little medical miracles that are now available – a tiny filter implanted in her vena cava. It’s a simple device, “a tiny catcher in the vein,” that should snag any bits of a clot before any real damage happens in her heart or lungs.

This news was offered up early Friday and by that afternoon the filter was in place and Mom was back in her room recuperating. The family – sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren and others hovered about while Mom pretty much slept. My brother Larry, sisters-in law Amy and Betty Ann and niece Allison dropped by the following day to pay a short visit and learned that Mom was to be discharged.

I’ve been around hospitals now for a couple of years, taking Mom for various visits and exams; simple procedures and hurried emergency room visits. One of the happiest words you can hear in these places is “discharge.” It generally means that all is well and the ordeal is about to end.

Sadly, is also means that you’re nicely buried in the bureaucracy and there’s a good chance you’re going to be beaten to a pulp before you make your way out the door.

About eight hours after being told Mom would be released, my brother, sisters-in-law and niece managed to make it to the parking lot with Mom. The last two hours or so were spent waiting for a wheelchair to be delivered.

The family stayed busy chatting with Mom, telling her stories and teaching her songs, feeding her lunch and offering her snacks and water. I kept track with them throughout the day, planning to meet Mom and the others back at her assisted living facility.

We all finally managed to get together in the early evening. Mom looked haggard, but in reasonably good spirits. We got her settled and arranged for one of the aides to get her dinner. Betty Ann, one of the angels of the day, fed Mom bits of Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes, while the rest of us stood around and made small talk.

The facility, about as good as these places get, is still pretty much buried down in the proverbial rabbit hole, dazed and befuddled residents wandering about, looking for relatives and friends, watching TV or staring off into space. Yes, a few of them are drooling.

For whatever reason, one of the other angels of the day, my sister-in-law Amy, began singing one of the songs they had taught Mom earlier that afternoon – “You Are My Sunshine”. Most everyone picked up the tune, a tiny chorus celebrating family and love.

Mom continued eating, hearing how she makes us happy when clouds are gray. For a moment I thought we might be disturbing a few of the other residents, but after only an instant I realized there was little chance of that happening. If anything, several of those nearby seemed pleased by the break in routine.

A few minutes more spent singing and chatting, then we said our goodbyes. As we were all headed out to dinner, Mom was being wheeled to her room. I overheard one of the aides ask her if she was happy to be home and Mom quietly whispered, “Oh, yes”!

Well, perhaps. I like to think in some fashion Mom was happy and in some fashion knew that she was connected to all those folks coming in and out of her life over the weekend.

Monday afternoon I was back visiting and checking on some pressing health care issues. Mom was in bed, pillows strategically placed about to keep her resting on her side. I mentioned the weekend, the hospital and minor problems with her leg. She nodded and smiled occasionally, but mostly drifted slowly away, her eyelids heavy with sleep.

I sat back, glancing out the window just feet from her bed and watched a few clouds roll by and a bit of sun streak across the lawn and into her room. It was about then that I heard a tiny sound and looked around at Mom.

It appeared she was sleeping peacefully, but she seemed to be softly humming. I leaned over but couldn’t make out any words. Then I recognized the tune, “You Are My Sunshine,” and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

It would seem that at least on this day, somewhere on that road she’s traveling, Mom no longer has to worry about skies turning gray. I like to think, if nothing else, she still remembers how much we love her and we'll make sure that her sunshine never goes away.

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