Sunday, April 17, 2011

Moving Great-Grandma

My mom, your great grandmother, got sick in February, 2011. She had a clot on her right lung. She has been frail for the last two years. She entered the rehab unit at a nice local nursing home. Unfortunately, she has to stay there full time now, as my sister, your great aunt, and I can no longer trust that she will be okay living alone.

It has been very difficult for the two of us to watch my mom get weaker and weaker over the last ten years. She was fiercely independent once she learned to drive in 1962. After she and my dad, your great grandfather, were divorced in 1966, she drove all over the northeast with one of her jobs selling recipe books to small town organizations. She enjoyed her freedom and loved to drive. Mom was a good driver and never had an accident that I remember. She would pick up little things for her grandkids on her travels (including lots of candy) and she seemed to enjoy herself immensely.

In 1977 she moved back to this area and went to work for a large local grocery store chain in their corporate offices. I think she enjoyed the DSD department (direct store delivery) more than she would let on, as she got to meet many of the vendors. She came home with Coke glasses, ice cream, Pepsi trays, and Keebler cookie jars. She retired in 1986, but went on to do price checking for them on a part time basis until the early 90's, when she could no longer manage the walking due to her arthritis.

Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1995. This was a particularly bad year for our family, as mom was sick and your grandpa's mother had a stroke that landed her in a nursing facility. Mom's health, while never robust, started to slowly get worse. In 2000, her landlord sold her duplex and I scrambled to find her somewhere to live that was affordable. The Lakewoods had just opened in the old Maumee Valley Hospital building. It had been completely renovated after standing empty for 20 years. The rent was a bit steep but we figured out how to help her out financially and she moved in the first week in October, 2000.

The stress of the move put her in the hospital with a serious urinary tract infection and she started her first rehab stay over Christmas that year. After about three weeks she came home to her apartment.

She was walking with a cane for awhile, then a walker. She was able to shop for groceries until about five years ago or so, when she just couldn't make it through the store. She ended up seeing doctors more often. Her glucose levels were pretty stable, but the disease was starting to take its toll.

In 2008 one of her best friends died. I think that had a devastating effect on her health. She broke out in shingles, and then, a month or so later, ended up in the hospital (again) with an attack of ischemic bowel. The prep for the diagnosis wiped her out, and she went home exhausted that May. I was staying overnight with her the first night, when she got up out of her chair, lost her balance, and fell backwards and hit her head on the wall. She seemed all right at the time (nothing broken).

In late July, she started saying some odd things and became disoriented. I called her doctor and they advised taking her to the ER for CT scanning. She had had a slow brain bleed, to the point that she ended up with a 6 mm midline shift. After a 5 day stay in ICU to wean her off of aspirin therapy she underwent surgery to relieve the pressure in her brain. She got through the surgery pretty well and went to the rehab unit. Less than a week after she got to rehab, she became unable to speak or write so that anyone could understand her. She ended up with another surgery to remove another clot. I was never so happy to hear anyone talk again - it was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life.

Since the surgeries in 2008, she has gone through more anguish. A malignant growth was removed from her larynx in October, 2009. It was "only" outpatient surgery; however, the anesthesia caused her to get sick and dehydrated, which caused another urinary tract infection, another hospital stay, and a month in rehab. Remarkably, she was able to go home after that stay right before Thanksgiving of 2009. At Christmas of that year she fell again. While nothing got broken, the fall did something to her leg that made it painful for her to walk very far.

She has had home health aides help her for two hours every day since July of 2008. I truly believe that enabled her to stay at home for as long as she did. Unfortunately, the program (run by the state) is in the line of sight to be cut from the state budget. This will be a sad thing for all of the people who are able to stay in their homes only because of its existence.

While 2010 was uneventful health-wise, mom became very immobile. We noticed that her walking was shakier and we fielded a handful of calls from her on Lifeline. We were both having a lot of doubts as to her ability to stay by herself, but she was adamant that she was okay. Unfortunately, it became wishful thinking.

Right now she is doing pretty well. There has been no recurrence of the malignancy, she is eating three meals a day, getting dressed every day, and tooling around with her feet while sitting in a wheel chair. We took some of her photos, greeting cards, and things out to her to go through and she has started delving into things that have been put away for years.

I am very thankful that my mom is able to be in a nice facility and have people take care of her. I was scared to death she would fall at home when she was alone. It has been hard on her to leave her apartment but, surprisingly, not as hard as when she was in rehab the last time. She absolutely did NOT want to stay there permanently last time, even though they offered to let her remain. She seems more accepting of the fact that she needs more help. She will be 90 in October. I still do not think of my mother as being this old.

Barb and I spent about ten days sorting through all of her things - organizing and reorganizing to keep the things she really wanted to keep. Her furniture has gone to family members, so I am pleased about that.

One of the social workers at the nursing home emphasized a point that had never occurred to me, the medical "handler" for the prescriptions, the crises, the doctor's visit: if she stayed at the home permanently, her daughters could then become her daughters again. I had looked at my mother as a problem to be solved. A lot of those feelings are now going away, and I am anxious to be a daughter again.

Being old is not for the faint of heart. I can only hope that I have as much courage and stamina as my mother. When you boys get old enough to read this and understand it I will probably be in my 70's. I hope I will still be here and in good health. This has been a life changing experience for all of us.


Blogger Vicki said...

This is really a very lovely tribute to your mom, Judy. :)

Vicki Woitzel (Jones)

8:44 AM  

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