Is that a smile I see?

I think Mom smiled when I said hello to her today. The nurse seemed to think so, too. I sat with her for about four hours. Her eyes were open at first, and I gently stroked her forehead and rubbed some oil into her hands. She has some involuntary muscle movement now, so it was hard to tell if any of this was soothing. A maintenance man came in, saying he had been instructed to look at her bed. She is on an air mattress because of the open wounds on her feet – to avoid any more of those skin problems. I hadn’t realized it, but the bed was completely deflated. The maintenance man jiggled the plug and the bed inflated immediately. Sometimes that’s all it is, he said. And within minutes, Mom was fast asleep. Poor thing was probably really uncomfortable not because of her disease, but because she was lying on a deflated mattress over a metal frame.

She then slept while I did a crossword puzzle and read a book. The Alz center nurse who has led her care for the past several weeks gave her meds – regular doses of morphine and drops to help clear secretions in her upper airway. Later, the hospice team arrived. An aide swabbed Mom’s mouth, which really needed a good cleaning. And the nurse checked her vitals, turned up the oxygen and decided, mutually with the staff nurse, not to change the dressing on Mom’s foot sores anymore. Changing the dressing just hurts her, and there is no point now in trying to heal those wounds. I was in favor of this decision, too. Mom cried out when the hospice aide repositioned her on the bed. There is pain there even with the morphine. By the time they left, though, she was resting comfortably again.

Her pulse is very fast, 143 beats per minute, and she is showing some signs of labored breathing. No gasps, no pauses. But a heart can take only so much racing, and the lungs can circulate oxygen under compromised conditions for only so long. She ate a full meal Sunday and refused food yesterday. There was no attempt to feed her today. I talked to her, told her a few times that Laura and Jeff are on their way. I am not keeping a 24-hour vigil at this point, and am not sure what we’ll do when we’re all together. A friend who had both parents in hospice at the same time (an unbelievable thing to happen to an only child) said she was advised to have a visitation schedule and not to stay 24 hours. That way, the parents could time their death when she was there or when she was not, depending on their preference. I have heard a lot about a dying person’s preferences in the past few days. There seems to be a strong belief among those who work with the dying that we have some control over this last act. I am not going to try to guess what Mom will choose.

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3 comments so far

  1. 2011days on

    Cannot believe we are facing the same end-of-life issue at the same time. our Hospice Team has told us the same thing about being able to choose their own time.. i know that you have been through so much more than we have with your Moms disease and we have been dealing with congestive heart failure – But I know we are going on the same emotional roller coaster. Know you are in my thoughts.

  2. Becky Honeywell on

    My mother had alzheimers -officially diagnosed in 2012. She died last year unexpectedly – it was a heart attack. Sometimes we feel blessed it happened so quickly.
    I have followed your blog religiously since 2012 and want you to know that you’re in my thoughts and prayers. So difficult – take good care of yourself.

  3. Barb Vogel on

    I believe that people do choose. Very sad and thinking of you.


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