On Sat. Nov. 5th, we got up at 7 am to go to the local library’s book sale. I was so excited since I’d been looking forward to it since the last one six months ago. I got Mom up and she walked to the bathroom with help from me. She was 95 1/2 years old. She never wanted to use a cane or walker she just held my hands as I walked backwards. I got her on the toilet and she had a nice bowel movement. Then when I tried to get her to stand, she couldn’t. I tried over and over but she wasn’t able to push herself up with her left hand. It just was limp. I finally called Greg who had gone downstairs and eaten breakfast already. He’d made himself eggs and toast. The 2 of us were able to lift her up but she still couldn’t stand. Then Greg was going to try to take her downstairs but she wouldn’t be able to give him any assistance. I told him to bring her back to sit on the toilet and then call 911. He did and put the dogs in the sunroom. When he came back, I got her clothes and we quickly dressed her. Then I went to put some shoes on myself and they were in the sunroom and I did’t want to open the door in case the dogs ran out. So I put a pair of sandals on over my socks and changed my shirt. By this time, the emergency responders had showed up. They not only sent an ambulance, they sent a fire truck and a cop car. There were between 6-8 men eventually in our house tearing it apart. The first guy in would not come upstairs and check on Mom. He said he was going to wait inside the glass door of our entryway so the others would know where to come in!!! I had told him and the next 2 guys that came in, that if they needed anything moved, to let me know and I’d take care of it. They didn’t, instead they just started throwing things. We keep a bunch of globes on the stairs and I didn’t know if they needed to be moved since we can walk up and down them no problem, even carrying a laundry basket or ladder. They just grabbed them and threw them everywhere. Dealing with the paramedics was by far the worst part of the whole ordeal we went through! They had no care or urgency for us, Mom or any of our belongings. If they had thrown things to get to her quicker it would be one thing but it was just that they didn’t give a shit. They didn’t move too fast and roughed her up badly moving her into a chair to move her out of the house. She was black and blue up and down her arms from them handling her. At no point did they take her vitals until they got to the hospital. I kept asking if they wanted the names of the meds she’s on but they didn’t. I put the pill bottles (3) in my purse since I knew my brain would seize up from stress. When Greg phoned 911, he told them that she’d had a stroke. To this day, we still think that’s what it was. The paramedics asked if I wanted to ride in the ambulance and I said yes. I practically ran to the ambulance in front of the house and they all just walked slowly like they were browsing at the mall. When I was at the back of the ambulance, they said I had to ride in the front next to the driver. That I couldn’t ride in back because it gets too crowded with too many people. So I sat in front and Greg ran up with my purse which I’d forgotten. He told me he’d follow and see me at the hospital. It took forever for the guy driving the ambulance to get into the driver’s seat and he didn’t talk at all. I tried talking to him—asking him how long after a stroke could someone be given the anti-stroke drug and he said it was a 3 hour window. We had called 911 about 7:45 am. The ride to the hospital was unfamiliar to me. I’ve been to Resurrection many times and know the shortest and most direct route. The ambulance went a longer way that seemed out of the way. He also drove slower than an average vehicle, not fast like an ambulance should. He would slow down even at green lights. He seemed more worried about not wrecking the vehicle. It didn’t seem like he was in any hurry to get to the hospital. I’ve seen them drive faster on their way to the grocery store.
They got her into a curtained ER room and left. Then I dealt with young residents and interns that were unlucky enough to have low seniority and have to work on Saturdays. Mom is profoundly deaf and even with hearing aids, she doesn’t always hear. She usually doesn’t respond and often didn’t speak. They couldn’t ask her if she was in pain or how she was feeling. She was able to lift both her legs off the bed but her left arm was still limp. She also had a glazed look in her eyes (which to me seemed like terror) and her left eye wouldn’t open. They got all her information from me regarding insurance and meds. Then they took her for a CAT scan of her head and took a ton of blood tests. From the get go her vitals were awesome. Her blood pressure was good as was her pulse. Her pulse oxygen was between 87-92 which seemed to come from a loose fitting clamp on her finger. After all day, they finally put her on oxygen through her nose and the pulse oxygen went up to 98. They had put IVs in both hands and arms. I told them how worried I was that it was a stroke and that I wanted her treated before the window for reversal was up. They came back after a few hours and said that that all the tests pointed to it NOT being a stroke! That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a stroke though… They also said she wasn’t a candidate for TPA. I don’t know if it was her age or her other symptoms like congestive heart failure that she’s had for 15+ years. They said she had a bad urinary tract infection and were going to treat her with Cipro every 12 hours by IV. Finally they decided to keep her in the hospital since she couldn’t swallow aspirin they wanted to give her. They ended up giving the aspirin rectally in a suppository. About 2:30 pm they were going to see about getting a hospital room for her. That took over an hour. Meanwhile, Greg & I are sitting in the curtained room waiting. Because of the close quarters, you can’t help hearing what is said in the next room and other areas of the ER. Next door was a younger guy who came in because he’d been throwing up blood for 3 weeks! Eeek. He was nauseous, had stomach pain, pain when urinating or a bowel movement. He was there for hours as well and after a ton of tests, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. He was throwing up and making gagging noises which was so gross to hear. They gave him anti-nausea meds and painkillers and he finally said he was leaving to go to work!!
About 3:30 pm, they said they had a room for Mom but needed to wait until Transport sent someone down to get her. That took about 45 minutes. She got moved to Room 3127 and we went along and got her settled in. I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before and Greg & I were both exhausted so we decided to go home to eat and then come back that evening. We came back around 8 pm and stayed a few hours. Mom’s eyes were open but she wasn’t seeing. Her eyes weren’t focused and she didn’t seem “there”. She had a tremor in her right hand. We’d always put her on the computer to play video games, specifically slot machines. We set it up so she could just use the space bar to spin the slot machine. I had brought her a small stuffed skunk that I thought might cheer her up but she never regained consciousness. We don’t know if she was sleeping with her eyes open, in a coma or unconscious. But that is how she was from Sat night until Monday night (Nov. 7th) when she passed. She still had a strong grip in her right hand and would hold and squeeze your hand. She’d also pick up the skunk and pet it.
It was so sad and hard to see her in that condition. She had been very gradually declining for years but it was so slow, that seeing the difference between Friday night and Sat. afternoon was drastic. She had been able to walk up & down the stairs alone using the handrail. Thurs. she had gotten in & out of the bathtub by herself. We were torn between wanting to be with her and feeling as if she didn’t know if we were there anyway.
Sunday Nov. 6th we spent several hours at the hospital in the morning and early afternoon. Mom wasn’t doing well. She was unresponsive and she just slept, sometimes with her eyes open. When we were in the ER, they had brought up signing a DNR (do not resuscitate) but it seemed too soon. It seemed like they were giving up on her. Everything we originally decided, after much talking, we changed our mind about. They had a speech therapist come in to see if she could swallow. She failed so they were talking about putting a feeding tube in her stomach. There’s no way I could let them do that. Hospice was brought up but we really didn’t know what it was. They said we could take her home which sounded like the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t want to die at home if given a choice?! They also said there was a hospice floor in the hospital (the brand new hospice wing opened 2 days after she passed). The neurologist came in and agreed that hospice was the right move. I asked him how long people last without food and water. He said she’d probably last a week at most. I asked several others and were given answers of 9-10 days and one 3 days. We were actually thinking if Mom was in hospice, Greg could go to work a couple of days that week. The doctor who was assigned to her came in for a minute (literally) and said hospice was the way to go and it is covered by Medicare. We kept going back and forth trying to figure out if we could handle her care at home. Care consisted of turning her to different positions to sleep and swabbing her mouth with a wet sponge. We didn’t know this until we saw it later but they said the hospice workers wouldn’t do much but stop by several times a day to check her vitals. Finally what decided it for us was how traumatic the ambulance ride back home would be. We were willing to move all our living room furniture to make room for a hospital bed. I would’ve slept downstairs by her. But why put her through all that when she could stay in the same bed and just be wheeled to a different floor? So I signed the DNR and several other documents in a haze. We went home to eat a late lunch and walk the dogs. We got a phone call that she’d been moved to Room 472.
We came back that evening to check on her. She seemed to be having a more restful sleep. They had taken her off of IV fluids and given her something to calm her and the next day gave her morphine. We had been trying to figure out our next move. Greg decided to just take the week off. We didn’t know how long Mom would last so didn’t know when to contact a place about her being cremated. We decided to do it Monday morning. Greg called around to a few in the area and found out for a simple cremation there’s a $2400 difference in price. He was calling early in the morning and most didn’t answer their phones and had to call him back. We decided to go with one that answered the phone personally. It was the Rago Brothers Funeral Home. We told them we’d call when Mom passes, thinking it could be several days yet. Little did we know that we’d be calling that night!!
Monday we made 2 trips to the hospital. We spent 5 hours before lunch and then went back at 4 pm until 7 pm. When we came back in the afternoon, Mom was flushed. She was red in the face and breathing a bit harder. Her whole body was hot. I took the blanket off and just kept the sheet on. I didn’t know if this meant she was going to pass soon or not. They had given us a booklet which we both read on how you can tell if they’re going to pass and most of it was inapplicable. It’s for those who have to be in hospice for months. The one thing that rang true was they get hot and then they get clammy. Her hand got very clammy. We still didn’t know and told the nurse to call us if she took a turn for the worse and we’d come back. Before we left, I leaned over and said right in her good ear that we loved her and that she could go to heaven now. We went home and watched Dancing With The Stars which Mom always loved. We were about a half hour away from going to bed when the phone rang at 10:40 pm. The nurse (Dominic) told Greg that she’d passed. We were both in shock. We’d just been there! We were going back in the morning…and now we didn’t have to. So we got dressed and headed back over to the hospital. When we got to her room, she was laying there like a skeleton. Not breathing but still warm! Her mouth was open but eyes shut. Greg & I both kissed her on the forehead. We stayed with her a few minutes and then called the funeral home and told them. They said they would call us the following day around 10 am and we could come in and make arrangements. We went up to the nurses station and signed some paperwork, thanked them for all they did and gave them a flower that a volunteer had put in Mom’s room. We’d been crying pretty much for 3 days straight. We went home and cried some more.
The next day Greg called my cousin Jayner who lives in Michigan to tell her the news. She was going to pass the news on to her sister and our other male cousin that lives in Minnesota. We went to the funeral home and took care of important matters. We had to order original certified death certificates. They are $20 for the first and $10 for each additional. We had no idea how many to order so got 6. I hope it’s enough. Mom didn’t own anything but a bit of stock which I still need to get transferred to my name.
I don’t know where the rest of the week went. For the next 3 days we cried on and off. After that, we’re pretty much cried out. The Thursday after she died we got the call to pick up her ashes but we were worn out so waited until Friday. Thursday we had gotten out ALL the old photo albums and we looked through them all. It made me feel so much better!! I honestly couldn’t remember how she used to look before she was in her 90’s! I saw that she’d had a great life and had lived it to the fullest. There was no reason to be sad when she really was never sad. I thought Sunday Nov. 13th would be hard because it was the first time I’d eaten lunch (or any meal) alone in over 2 decades! Greg went back to work and I was alone (with the dogs) all day. I thought I would be a basket case but I was fine. I kept myself busy with laundry. I do miss her every day but I’m glad she’s in a better place. She wouldn’t want us moping around. She’d want us to live for her and do things she liked. That’s why we’re leaving this week for our annual Thanksgiving trip to Tunica, MS. This is our 19th year we’ve been there for Thanksgiving and the first without her. We’re going to take her ashes along with us and sprinkle them at the places she loved and where we vacationed at. She loved to travel and was always up for an adventure. She never complained and was such a trooper. I had her for 54 years but it still wasn’t enough. When you love someone so deeply and your soul is tied to them so completely, anything short of eternity together feels like a rip off.