It has been eight days now since my mother was found with her massive and multiple strokes. I spent the first six days with her, although I did start going home at nights.
Yesterday, Friday, I just couldn't go. I needed to get back to work, to get the message ready for Sunday, to meet with my staff who have been at a vital seminar all week that I had to miss, and to start facing the challenges here.
I also needed to give the parsonage a swift pick up as my son and daughter-in-law who live in London decided to fly over and see me.
Yes, they came to see me. They came out of love for their grandma, but more out of concern for me and my own agonies with this situation with my mother. What kindness!
So, Keith, my sweet husband, who himself has been battling what seems like a never ending storm of kidney stones, went grocery shopping. I invited my brother, who is here from California, and my sister and her husband to join us for dinner.
Keith put on a royal feast for us. I had been eating hospital food off paper and plastic all week, so decided to get out the good china. As I set the table, I realized I didn't have a centerpiece, so dashed to the very neglected garden and found some lovely celosia and zinnia blooms from plants that had managed to stay alive in the burning heat and packed them together in a crystal bowl.
We feasted on marvelous appetizers, a combination of sushi, sashimi, and shrimp. Keith had purchased a tenderloin, and took orders as to the way we wanted it fixed. Multiple salads preceded the perfectly cooked meat, accompanied by grilled vegetables. A choice of desserts (Crème brûlée or chocolate mouse) followed. We relaxed, satiated. My son and daughter in law, exhausted from their travels (they had been vacationing in Abu Dhabi, so flew from there, dropped their children off in London, and then came here), went to sleep, and my brother, sister and I continued our conversation about our mother.
We're doing all the right things. Actively researching rehab centers, looking into the complexities of medicare reimbursement policies, making contingency plans. We are intentionally doing all we can to delay her release from the hospital to give her more time to regain some strength so she can actually respond to the therapists at the rehab center. Otherwise, we waste precious and limited rehab days because she can't do the work necessary to progress.
When we are in the hospital room with her, we intentionally stand or sit on her left side to force her to start using that side of her body again. We put swabs in her mouth to encourage her to start to swallow. When the therapists come in to work with her we . . . well, we try to keep her awake. And this is the problem: she doesn't want to wake up. The coma-like sleep continues and does not seem to be lessening. Her heart stays in a-fib unless on a constant drip of some regulating medication. From that moment of unusual clarity on Monday, her confusion seems to be growing, not decreasing.
But when the therapists come, they say loudly, "Mrs. Thomas, wake up!" We join in, "Mother, wake up. Work with the therapist!" I was out in the hall a couple of days ago when the speech therapist was there. I heard my sister shout in what sounds like such an angry tone, "WAKE UP, MOMMA." Yes, wake up.
But she doesn't want to. She just wants to sleep. She's tired. She worn out. She's ready to go. She passively submits to whatever is being done in her half wake state and then drifts back to sleep. This is not my mother.
And I know this is not what she wants. We had talked too much about this. This is not what she wants. Catheters, feeding tubes, medication drips, strangers all over her body, trampling the privacy of a private woman.
This morning, I spent a couple of hours in my neglected garden, knowing it was alive at all only because Krum was one of the places that saw some rain this week. I rummaged around and found two full-grown eggplants, dozens of okra pods, most too mature to cook, but still enough for a good pot of heavenly fried okra, and, much to my surprise, two ripe cherry tomatoes, which I immediately picked and gave to my daughter-in-law for a special treat. I found enough sweet peppers for my son to put in the frittata he was fixing for breakfast (how my three sons all turned into such good cooks after growing up in my household will forever remain a mystery--perhaps it was just a survival mechanism), and noted that while the basil has gone to seed, there is still plenty to enjoy. But much needs to be pulled and placed in the compost bins. Time for them to decompose and give life to the next generation of plants.
Death comes. There are times to fight it with every piece of medical genius available. And there is a time to welcome it as a good friend, and start looking for the angels to take us to the next place.
I want to do the right thing. But I know very well how disappointed she'd be in me to know about these decisions. Thousands and thousands of dollars being spent in what are clearly the last weeks or maybe months of her life, imprisoned in her body in an impersonal hospital room, when what she wanted was comfort care and her own home.
Health care is a limited resource. We're she adequately cognizant, the first thing she would say is, "That money should be spent on saving the lives of children, or younger people suffering these debilitating strokes, not prolonging mine when it is time for me to go."
Why can't we cooperate with nature? What are we missing here? The last thing I want is to see the elderly routinely dispatched into hastened deaths. Those elderly are our national treasure. They are the repositories of wisdom. They embody our history. They are our important link with the past so perhaps we might create a more adequate future. They are our beloved parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. They deserve love, care and utmost respect. And they deserve to be treated better than this at the end.