My mom used to say I was the strong one in the family. I suppose that’s true. But it’s really a burden to carry when you need support as much as the rest of the family.
I think I built that strength after my father died, when I was 12 years old. It was the most devastating event in my life. I went through all the “stages of grief” but in 1964 there was no “support” or therapy offered. Take a week off from school and get on with your life. After all, everyone else did. So I survived – but with great difficulty at first and very gradually. At first, it was a protective wall that I built around my heart. Eventually the wall came down, but with a very different outlook on life than the rest of my family.
I became more existential, I guess. And more accepting of the fact that none of us can get out of this world alive. It doesn’t work that way. I do believe that this world is just a path we walk to another, better existence. I don’t know how I know that – but I do trust it. After all, I can’t believe that life with fibromyalgia is the best that God could manage.
The thing that really gets to me about my mom’s death is that it was probably unnecessary – at least in the short run. She was such a stubborn woman!! And she had all her senses, in fact she was pretty smart. But she always put everyone else before herself.
Five years ago she had open heart surgery to replace a valve and do a double by-pass. Several years ago, she had carotid artery surgery. But for a long time she refused to take cholesterol medication because of the “scare” stories she had heard in the media. She eventually agreed but the damage had been done.
This time, she started having trouble last summer. But, as usual, she down played it. She was okay – “just a little tired.” Her cardiologist suggested a heart catheterization last June apparently. But she delayed. Why? Well, first there was the fall fair they sell items at each fall to prepare for (“We need that money, you know.”) Then there were the holidays to prepare for (“I don’t want to spoil everyone’s holidays.”) She and my step-dad worked in my brother-in-law’s small store and she couldn’t leave him in the lurch (We said we’d help him and I can’t let him down. Besides, it’s good for me to keep busy.”) And so it went until last Tuesday.
I had seen my mother at Christmas and she looked a little thin and tired, but seemed okay otherwise. On Tuesday, I picked up my parents to take my step-dad for his one-day follow-up after cataract surgery. I couldn’t believe the change in my mother in just a couple of weeks!! She was so short winded, I was tempted to drive directly to the ER. But she wouldn’t hear of it. And I’m too small to drag her out of the car and into the ER. But, while my step-dad was in getting checked, I did contact her cardiologist’s office. I spoke with the nurse. The doctor was not in but she would speak with him first thing in the morning and try to move up my mother’s appointment, which wasn’t for another week and a half.
They gave my mother an appointment for Thursday. When I picked her up on Thursday, she was even more short of breath and hadn’t been able to sleep due to a cough. But when we saw the doctor, her oxygen level was good – 97%. I knew somehow – please don’t ask how, I don’t know – that she needed to stay so I pushed the doctor to admit her to the hospital (his office is in the same building) and he agreed. After spending 6 hours in the ER, she was finally given a room.
Her cardiologist called me that evening to tell me that he was glad I had pushed because my mother was a very sick woman. When a doctor uses those words, you know she’s really sick! He said I had probably saved my mother’s life. Not quite, obviously. But she was made more comfortable while they tried to figure out what the problem was.
Yesterday she seemed a bit better – talked non-stop all day. I was, however, disconcerted when they took her blood pressure in the late afternoon and it was 69/47 on one arm and 63/39 on the other. The aide got the nurse to recheck it manually but it was still the same. The nurse settled my mom back into bed and noticed that someone had given her a nitroglycerin patch, which she promptly removed. We have no idea why she had it – she had no chest pain or angina. Besides, they were giving her diuretics for the fluid she was retaining, which lowers your blood pressure. So does the nitro. That seems like a double whammy to me!
After it was removed, she perked up a bit. Crisis averted? No, I guess not. At 4:10 AM, her heart rate dropped. Resuscitation efforts were fruitless and she passed on to what I believe is a truly better place. There is no sound like the phone ringing at 4:30 AM to be what you know is a rude awakening. My step-dad got the first call and my sister says she tried to call several times and even stopped to knock on our door on the way to the hospital. No one heard any of that. But we did wake up for the call from the hospital. Interesting.
In the meantime, the rest of us are left to deal with all the details of wrapping up the last earthly pieces of her life. She put a lot of that off, too. My step-dad doesn’t know much about that stuff – and he’s a rather healthy 83. My sister is pretty torn up. So . . . . yes, I get to be the strong one!
It’s only 7:15 PM, but my fibro body is running on fumes. I can feel the stress starting to build up in my neck and back. Well, my daughter just arrived from NJ and we have to go back to my mom’s house to visit with her, so I’ll have to go. Talk to you later.