Sharon H. - End of the Journey
I hate waiting. But yet waiting was what I was doing. The house was still humming with morning activity. The oxygen machine was still on - pumping oxygen even though it was clear it was no longer needed. The television still ran the programming as if the world, my world and Rhiannon’s world, had not shifted on its axis. And Ru, the cat, and Baby, the dog, stared sad-eyed and expectantly at me as if to say, “Fix it.” I sat on the barstool and looked across the bar at mom. I was waiting for Rhiannon to come in thedoor and tell me if what I suspected was true. As I sat and waited for her to walk across the street, I rewound everything that I had said and done since I awoke at 5 AM.
Something startled me awake at 5; I couldn’t tell you whatit was; but something sang along my nerve endings and I jumped: hard. Hard enough to disturb the cat in my lap and make me come awake almost instantaneously. I must have fallen asleep in the recliner after I checked Mom at 3AM and I rushed to get the meds in her that would help bring the fever down. Morphine, Atropine, Ativan, uncoated ibuprofen, swabs, Biotene gel, thermometer. I laid them all out on the counter and prepared each dosage syringe withthe prescribed amount in each one. The hospice nurse had told me earlier in the day to give mom .5 ml each hour toslow her breathing, and calm her system down. The swabs and the gel would help keep her mouth wet and hopefully keepher from getting dehydrated during her most feverish times.
I remember our temporary hospice nurse, Cheryl, saying, “She is in the active stages of dying and we don’t want her to aspirate water or food because if she gets through this rough patch then it could cause pneumonia.This could take hours, days, or weeks. There is no time table for this kind of thing. You have to do what you think is best and we’ll be back out here tomorrow.” That was on Sunday and now it was Monday morning.
I wear continuous wear contact lenses and don’t take them out when I go to sleep, so it was a little dicey preparing the syringes as myvision was still a little fuzzy. It generally takes about fifteen minutes for the lenses to settle on my eyes and my vision to clear. But in the meantime, I took mom’s temperature and prepared the meds. The important thing was to make sure her temperature wasn’t as high asit had been at 1:30 this morning. When I looked at the digital readout, I almost dropped the thermometer in a panic. I had never seen a temperature ashigh as 105.4 on another living person before and didn’t know the first stepsin bringing it down. I was afraid mom would start to seize if I didn’t do something quickly.
I picked up the house phone and called my cousin and neighbor Frank who has a Master’s degree in nursing. “I am so sorry to wake you but mom’s fever is 105.4 and I just don’tknow what to do!”
“It’s okay; I wasn’t asleep. But calm down and talk to me a minute.” Frank was very professional and business like-even at 1:30 inthe morning.
“How long ago did you give her medicine for the fever? “ He asked.
I thought for a moment and said, “Only about an hour and a half ago. It says 'give every four hours' and we aren’t anywhere close to being able to give it again.” He could tell by my rising voice that I was starting to panic again.
“That’s okay. Go ahead and cut a tablet in half and give that to her immediately as a suppository and then put ice packs under one of her arms and then one behind her knees. You don’t want to cool her down too quickly either. Do you have something to make ice packs out of?”
“We have some zip-loc bags and I can use those wrapped in a dish towel. “ I told him.
“After you get those in place, just use a wet cool cloth andbath her forehead and face. Let me know if it doesn’t start to come down.”
I immediately prepared the tablet and ice packs and placed them as he told me to. Then I used a wet washcloth and started bathing her face with it. Her head was so hot that I had to rewet the cloth after each pass because touching it to her skin dried it immediately. I could almost hear the sizzle as if I had dropped a drop of water onto a hot cast iron skillet. But I just kept it up and taking her temp every few minutes.
One-hundred-five, then 104, then 103 and at last, 101 about an hour later. While 101 temperature would panic others, I thought it was a good number compared to the 105.4 that it had been before. I called Frank back and told him that it had worked.
“I got it down to just over 101.” I breathed a sigh of relief as he said the very thought that had formed in my head.
“101 is a lot better than 105. You aren’t going to get it to normal but she’s out of seizure range so that may the best you can hope for right now. Keep a watch on her and I’ll come over and check on her tomorrow.”
I hung up, grateful for a resource so close by and thankful that I didn’t have to call Rhiannon who needed a full night’s rest before coming in the morning and helping me. I checked mom one last time at 3AM and that must have been when I fell asleep in the chair.
When I startled awake at 5, my first instinct was to take mom's temp and see where it was. I lifted her arm and slipped the thermometer into her arm pit and waited for the alert to sound as I worked on her meds. When I touched her, her skin seemed cooler and lifting her arm was much easier because she normally resisted any movement. The thermometer read 102.3 and I felt relieved that even though it wasn’t as low as it was at 2:30 that morning, it had only climbed about a degree.
Her eyes were open which told me that she seemed to be awake. I proceeded to shoot the liquid meds as far back in her mouth as I could so that even if she didn’t automatically swallow,they would have a chance of going down the back of her throat instead of running down her chin. I got the fulldose of the suppository ready, shifted her, and opened her diaper. She had made a bowel movement which was surprising, since she hadn’t really had one for a few days and hadn’t really had nough solid food to form one. So I got a clean diaper out and started cleaning her up before I inserted the meds.
My first real inkling came when I pulled her knees apart to better position the diaper and I was met with no resistance at all. Not that she actively fought us at this late stage, but her wasted limbs were surprisingly powerful when she instinctively protected herself by closing her knees together at changing times. I stopped short and really looked at her. My contacts had settled and I could see more clearly and I realized her eyes were unblinking and her lips were slightly parted with her tongue protruding and resting to the side a little bit. One of the things I remember so clearly is that it was all bunched up and not flat or pointed; just fat and soft looking like a catepillar.
“Momma?” I shook her slightly. “Sweetie, are you in there?” We rarely got a response when we prodded her like this but I really didn’t expect one now. I finished cleaning her and sat back and watched her for a moment. Was that her movement I kept seeing or was it my own? I didn’t even take the oxygen tubing off her face in case I was wrong. I waited – I took a deep breath and held it so that my own movement didn’t confuse me and invalidate what I knew I was seeing.
I picked up my phone which was beside me and punched in Rhiannon’s number. She answered in asleepy voice. “Yeah…”
“Can you come up here and tell me if you see what I think I see? I think she’s gone. But I keep seeing movement but I don’t know if what I’m seeing is really my breathing or hers.” I could tell that she had instantly come awake.
“Okay, let me put some clothes on and I will be up there in a minute.” I clicked the phone off and sat very quietly. I moved from the recliner on the left side of the bed to the bar stool on the right side.
So here I was: waiting. Waiting for confirmation, waiting for release, waiting for the flood of conflicting feelings. Waiting to feel elation and sadness and finally acceptance. I had spent the last seven years taking care of my mom and I knew in my heart that my journey was over - I had done everything I could to make sure she had everything she needed. Of all the conflicting feelings I had that morning, guilt was not one of them.