Posted by: wrmcnutt | January 21, 2010

The End of A Long Road

In tidying up some of my professional files I ran across this, which I started the day my Mom died, and finished a few days later.  It’s something of a flashback, and Mom died more than eight months ago, but when I started it, she was still alive.  When I finished it, she was dead.  It provides a unique perspective.  I can find no evidence that I’ve posted it before, so I thought I would share it with you.

Well – My sister called from Atlanta, and she was in tears.  Since I haven’t hear her cry since 1984, this is something of a statement.

She finally got to meet with my Mom’s ‘Boss Doctor,’ and the news was not good.  I’m assuming that that ‘Boss Doctor’ is the lung guy, since that’s what appears to be broken right now, as opposed to her GP.

Essentially, while Mom is able to breathe on her own, it’s not good, and she’s having constant problems getting her breath.

ANY effort, and by effort, I mean “talking” or “going to the bathroom” sends her into respiratory distress.  The Kid, my sister, kept breaking down on me over the phone.  But the prognosis is not good.  The current plan is to see if she recovers enough to go to a short-term recovery facility, which is basically a short term nursing home.  IF she recovers well enough there, she might could go home.  If she does not, she will get discharged from there to a long term nursing home.

Where, again, she may recover enough to go home.

But S’s impression of what the Doc had to say was that she won’t be going home from anywhere.  He did specifically say that if her breathing does not improve, eventually she’s going to start to lose consciousness, and to survive for any length of time, she will need to go on a respirator. And he recommended that she not do so.

If she goes on a respirator, he does not think that she will ever be able to come off of it, and she could live for a very long time with the machine breathing for her.

(long break)

Well, I’m not sure why I wrote this, but here’s the rest of the story.  I asked S to have the “Boss Doctor” call me so that I could get her symptoms directly from him, rather than filtered through her.  The Doc called me directly, within a half an hour.  A very busy, highly paid specialist with lots of time on his hands dropped what he was doing to talk to me on the phone.  Hmmmm.   We chatted for a little while, and then he asked me if, should she go into respiratory distress, which was more important:  for there to be time for me to get down there (I live in Tennessee) or for her to be comfortable.

I put had my wife, the Nurse, call S.  After the conversation, she called me back and said, “We’re going to Atlanta.”

I took 20 minutes to put my professional life on hold and headed home.  My wife, Leadfoot, had us in Atlanta in just over 3 hours.  Mom was clearly dying.  It was a strange time.  She was very alert and with it, but could barely spare the energy to talk.  She only spoke to ask for ice chips twice, water twice, and to complain that she couldn’t breathe several times.  She complained about the oxygen mask.  It was making her claustrophobic.  But when we took it off, her oxygen saturation level dropped like a rock, and we had to put it back on.

We went through this bizarre cycle over and over again.  Mom would complain that she couldn’t breathe.  They would turn up her morphine.  This doesn’t help your breathing directly, but it knocks back your anxiety and lets you relax.  The lower stress level helps you breathe more easily.  But because your respiration rate is down, your oxygen saturation level drops. When it does that, they have to cut your morphine back.  And her stress level would go up, and she would complain that she couldn’t breathe.

She was gasping for air around 11:30 or so, and I told my sister to take a walk with my wife.  There was a little lounge down the hall from Mom’s room.  S had been sitting with Mom since earlier than 10:00 that morning and needed a break.  I was fortunate in my timing.   Shortly after S departed, Mom starting groaning and gasping for air. I didn’t have to call the nurse.  I was almost immediately hip deep in health care professionals, but there was really nothing for them to do.  When Mom lost conciousness, I texted K to bring S back, and we were all there for the end.

Mom died at around 12:15 AM, after a prolonged struggle with emphysema.  If she’d listened to me and quit smoking when I told her to in 1969, she’d be alive today.  Cigarettes are bad.

So, with apologies to Paul Harvey, “that’s the rest of the story.”

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  1. I’ve heard/read most of this, during the end of your mom’s life, though not on this blog. But it’s good to get stuff like this down on paper. You don’t have to carry it around with you, like a millstone, if you’ve written it and put it away.

    I suspect you will find lots to write about in the days to come, as you go through your dad’s house and such. And we’ll be here to read it.

    • Sorry to drag you back through it again.

  2. *hugs*

    • Thank you.

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