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Monday, March 22, 2010

Death is just a breath away-


My Mother came very close to death last week. I received the news that I have long anticipated and dreaded. I live about 400 miles away from my parents, who are both in their late 70's. As parents age, even though they are in generally good health, "the phone call" is just an anticipated part of life.

My sister Donni called. Mom was in the hospital, in Intensive Care. The insideous cold of this season, the Winter of 2009, had brought her close to death, and she was struggling for life at that very moment. Cold, as in a usually minor viral infection. Sneazing, sniffling, and coughing. Runny noses and lots of tissues.

The cold challenged a system already compromised by emphazema, and a body in a generally weakened state due to factors of which we would only learn later. Emphazema, pneumonia, and a handful of seamingly minor things brought my Mother near to death.

My daughter Beth was instrumental in mobilizing an emergency family visit. She and her husband Dave soon had their four children and the vehicle ready. Time off from work was quickly arranged, lots of little details pulled together quickly.

Though this phone call was long anticipated, I was still in shock. My Mother. Mom's can't die. That is just not possible. Logic plays no part. Mom can't die. I prayed, and finally began to pack a few things.

We drove through the night, arriving in Medford, Oregon in the early morning. Waking my Dad, we huddled and learned the details. Mom had been sick. She hadn't arisen as usual and remained in bed for many hours. My sister Donni came over with some soup to feed her, but she wouldn't respond.

They called 911, and help began ariving in minutes. First responders crowded the bedroom, where Dad stood anxiously watching. She was quickly prepared for transport and moved to the ambulance. Dad and Donni followed.

Mom was hooked up to a breathing system to pump in oxygen and draw out expended gasses. Intrvenous fluids and medications were many. Tubes and a multitude of devices were attached. Mom was the most compromised individual in the ICU. She existed on the cusp of death.

In small groups we visited her in the ICU. She was conscious when I visited, and frustrated by the breathing apparatus strapped to her face. She couldn't talk through the heavy plastic device. It was very hard to see her there, but encouraging in that moment by moment she was getting better.

Hour by hour, and then day by day she was getting better. My third visit found Mom without that blessed and dreaded mask. She could talk! Mom was coming back to us!

To keep busy and provide a clean environment at home for continued recovery the family launched into a massive cleaning campaign. My Dad and my two sisters were cleaning fanatics, and I joined in to provide some support and another pair of hands.

Family was together for meals and hospital visits. Great grand parents and great grand children, and everyone in between and even remotely family. Drawn together to rally and support and just be with each other. There was a warmth and richness and depth of sharing that offset the dread of the shadow of death.

I missed my wife, Linda. She had remained behind to be available to her own ageing Mother. Alta, her Mother, remains in reasonably good health, but later life is it's own danger. Travel would have been hard on her, and so they remained behind.

My brother in law, Paul, used some of his travel points to provide a very nice hotel suite for Beth, Dave and the kids. Though my children and grand children are troopers and would have camped on floors with delight, this provision was ever so much better. Dad could enjoy the grand children and great grand children, and still have a little peace in the late evening after a busy day.

Today my Mother is scheduled for release from the hospital. Nine days of ordeal behind her, and more time of recovery at home. That, and some lifestyle changes. She will be supported in the process of change, but still faces considerable challenge.

We learned a few things. Rest is good when someone is ill, but excessive tiredness and too much sleeping may indicate a serious condition. A compromised breathing system can cause a decline in the desire for food, and a downward spiral initiated as malnutrition sets in and compromises even more systems.

Most important of all, we learned again the value of family. Being there, being together even with all of our combined inadequacies, is important. Why it is important may or may not be quantifiable, but it is important. Building bonds of tolerance and mutual support in the family may well be our most important work in life.

So, enough blogging. It is time to make the final preparations. My Mother is coming home.

3 comments:

John Clover said...

Mike,

I am so grateful the your Mom is doing so much better, but as you say ther is still a long road ahead.

My work kept me far too busy to be able to have an opportunity to see you....but all of you were and are in my thoughts and prayers.

I do under the "lifestyle change" you refer to....through an accident at work about 16 years ago I was hooked on nicotine through bordom and needing something to fill a physical void of addiction I couldn't fill in my ususl manner. I will be making the stride to kick that habit soon....I am not looking forward to the withdrawl process.

I hit my bottom when it came to alcohol, and thanks fto the grace of God and help from my support groups I have been sober for over 10 years......so, for me, I have the "tools" I learned from AA to help me break that nasty, deadly habit.

"one phone call" away...I can identify.....I know it will happen one day....and I will l never be prepared for it.

Family, family, family......you, I, and all of us old "neighborhood kids" are so blessed that we are of the generation that--as a rule--we grew up with a Mom at home, a loving 'nuclear' family and to paraphrase a new adage "we had a village to raise a child"....we had more than one mom.....your mom, Jan rodenmeyer, Mary Kinney, Lenell Gwin, Aloha Hays....and other families' mothers who came through our neighborhood.

Through all that you have been experiencing with your mom, what has cut to my soul is that she is my Mom too.......

You have stirred my fingers to type my thoughts.....I hardly ever do this...I am toying with the idea of doing more. That is enough for now...the immediate challenge for me right now is not rereading this comment and then deciding not to hit the 'send' button.....ha.

Please pass along my love to your Mom and Dad....they are very important to me....and your sisters too.....and CONGRATS AGAIN GRANDPA!!!!!!!!

Your friend,

John

p.s I'm not rereading or editing anything....you get all the typos....lool.

Jerry said...

What a soul wrenching ordeal...it brings so many things in focus....and throws so many things out of focus.

Family. Pulling together. That is clearly In Focus and is a warm, needed blanket.

The thread of life. Those things are out of focus because we dare not contemplate too much. It hurts and it scares.

I am thankful that your Mom is coming home and that the warm blanket is pulled tight.

Warmest regards,

Jerry

willow said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you and yours. xx