It has been far too long since I have last posted. May typically is a crazy busy month with Mother’s Day, my son’s birthday and just the multitude of end of the school year events (that were actually in person this year.) The kids last day of school was last Friday.
But what made these last few weeks even worse, as the headline of this article states, I was mourning the loss of my mother, who died on May 9 (Mother’s Day for those in the U.S.)
Her death was not expected but also at the same time, not totally a surprise. She had been in and out of the hospital since the beginning of January. Her issues began way before this. As I thought about how to give a brief rundown of her medical issues, I realized it would be hard to be brief.
In 2013, after surgery on her back, the doctors found a golf-ball size tumor (benign) in her head. Removing it led to an infection and a very rough recovery. Since then, she still had problems with pain and feeling in her feet which is what the back surgery had been hoping to fix. They even installed a device in her back to help with the pain. Fast forward to 2020 when more tumors were discovered in her head. Again they were benign, and they decided to treat them with radiation verses doing surgery.
A few weeks after the last radiation treatment, she began developing some coordination problems. On Christmas Eve, she fell in the shower, fracturing her back. Though they said it would heal on its own, her mobility went down from there. She began using a walker and fell several times. She even had some difficulty with her hands. It was concerning how fast she seemed to be going downhill and my father and brother finally convinced her to go the hospital.
There they determined that she had swelling in her brain and fluid on her brain which they think may be from the radiation treatments. They of course kept her, using steroids to control the swelling. The hospital visitor policy was one-visitor at a time so the family was able to go see her. Most of the time she was in good spirits but she couldn’t walk and had lost a lot of dexterity in her hands and arms. She needed help feeding herself. Physical therapy was started but she seemed discouraged that she was so weak.
A week or so later she was doing better and went to a live-in rehabilitation center to continue the physical therapy. Their COVID policy was more strict and only my dad was allowed to visit her. In February she came home. For the first week, she seemed to be doing better. But while mentally she seemed fine, she still was having issues with mobility – as in she was still in a wheelchair. While they had home health workers to do therapy, a lot of the moving and care was left to my father who is 85. In February, she went back in the hospital but by this time the hospital had a new COVID policy and only one visitor was allowed per day. This visitor was my dad so my brother and I were not able to see her.
Again, she improved and they moved her to an in-hospital rehabilitation area to continue her physical therapy. While in the hospital this time, she missed both my brother’s birthday (his first since he had moved to the San Antonio area) and my daughter’s thirteenth birthday. She was released the Saturday before her 78th birthday. We were able to go out to a family steak dinner at a nearby restaurant. Besides being in wheelchair and seeming a little more frail, she was quite with it mentally. But I think her lack of progress with physical therapy discouraged her. It is amazing how far downhill she had come. In December she was walking, holding a pen, feeding herself and doing stuff that we all take for granted. By April, she was wheelchair bound, relying on my dad to move her from the bed or chair to the wheelchair that he pushed. She couldn’t write and struggled with some of those basic tasks such as holding a fork or toothbrush.
And to top it all off, I think the pain in her legs that she had dealt with since way before her 2013 surgery was still there. I do think she could have recovered from all of this but it would be a long hard road. In April, when she was still having problems, she decided to have surgery to remove the tumors and see if that would help. The surgeon had been hesitant to do surgery because of the difficulties from last time but he agreed that this was now their only course of action.
She had surgery on April 20th. It went well and the surgeon removed all the tumors he could find. I visited my mom in the hospital the day after the surgery. She was in pain but generally seemed in good spirits, joking with hospital staff. But she did break down once, crying over the thought of dying and leaving my dad alone. Two days later, she was moved out of the Critical Care Unit. And everything else went downhill from there. We later found out that she was having seizures but at the time all we knew is she had periods of being incoherent. I went and saw her that week and it was such a change from how she was after surgery. I left the hospital in tears. But after an adjustment of medicine, she seemed to be getting better and there was even talk about her coming home to continue doing physical therapy.
Then she developed a little bit of chest congestion. The hospital wanted it cleared up before they released her. We thought she would be home by Mother’s Day. I spoke to my dad on Wednesday and made plans to go see her Friday, even though he thought she might be coming home on Saturday. Then Friday morning, I received a text from him. She wasn’t doing well. The hospital said we need to decide if we wanted to put her on life support or choose hospice.
I was in shock. Just days before we were talking about her being released which I had been dubious about since the last time I saw her she was so out of it I couldn’t imagine her going home in that condition. But my dad had said she was improving. In fact, the day before the whole hospice/life support question, my dad had called my aunt and told her my mom was improving. I don’t know if this was false hope or really that she went downhill quickly.
When I saw her on Friday, her breathing was labored and she kept refusing to wear the oxygen mask. They didn’t think she would improve. She was much like she was on the previous visit but this time she was able to communicate with me though honestly her mind was already going. Her thoughts were of the past, of her mom and other things that often didn’t make sense. But she would answer questions. And she did look me in the eyes and said she loved me.
I didn’t know it at the time but that was my last conversation with her. We decided to bring her home for hospice, but she deteriorated overnight and the hospital didn’t want to transport her. We went with hospice in the hospital. When I saw her on that Saturday, she never acknowledged us. Her heart was beating like crazy and she struggled to breath even with the oxygen mask on. We knew the end would be soon.
She died the next morning. What a way to start Mother’s Day – a day to celebrate our wonderful moms. I still struggle with the fact that the Sunday before we thought she was coming home. We thought she would be home by Mother’s Day. I had already bought her a card and the stuff to make brownies – a dessert we often had on special occasions.
Since her death, I’ve written and published her obituary. She has been cremated and is waiting to be interred at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. They have a long wait so it won’t be until June 10 – my wedding anniversary – before we will have her services. Another crappy way to celebrate a special day.