The Journey I Never Wanted to Take...

I haven't posted lately and the posts I have published have been sponsored ones just because they were ones I had committed to.  It's not that I haven't wanted to write because I have desperately wanted to; writing helps me understand my life by getting things down in print.  It's sort of like how talking to someone about your problems makes you feel better.  Well, today I am going to attempt to let you in on what's been going on in my life these days.  Just hang on because it's not pretty but it's real.

Around the middle of June my elderly (89 years old) mother fell out of her bed while sleeping.  I got a call that morning and immediately rushed out to her house where I found her back in bed where someone had lifted and placed her.  As I stood there listening to her moan I knew the time had come. The time that I always knew was a possibility but that I never wanted to be.  My mother had broken her hip.  I knew this even before the x-rays were done or the first doctor had been consulted.  I just knew.  I called her hospice company and told them it was time to send an ambulance.  Things were not going to get better because she couldn't move or get up to go to the bathroom; this was the beginning of a journey I never wanted to take.

For over a decade my sister and I had been caring for my mother since she was not only aging but also legally blind and no loner able to do many things for herself.  Things like going to the pharmacy, grocery store, taking her to doctor's appointments, etc.  But she was still living alone, next to my sister, and able to do so many things by herself.  She used a walker to get around and we constantly talked about how not doing so might result in an injury such as a broken hip.  Her mind was sharp (sharper than mine, I think) and we were able to visit with her.  People had always told me that a broken hip in the elderly was terrible but I don't think I realized the enormity of the situation and what was really to come.

Whenever the ambulance got my mother to the emergency room it was decided that her hip had to be replaced regardless of her age.  We were told that her age, of course, was a factor because using anesthesia was risky.  We knew this but what choice did we have?  It was daunting following her into the surgery holding room and signing all of the papers that told us the risks associated with it.  Most people just sign but I actually looked at most of the complications and they were all dire.  We just needed to make it through the surgery, I thought.

After surgery she was moved to the hospital rehab floor where we were told she had to put weight on her feet within the first 48 hours or she might never walk again.  My once determined mother decided she couldn't do it no matter how much we begged and pleaded with her to.  We knew that if she didn't walk, she could never go home.  And that led to another very unpleasant thought...continuing rehab in a nursing home skilled nursing unit.  That's what happened after about 14 days of attempting rehab at the hospital.

My mother, a former nurse, had always begged us not to put her in a nursing home.  Although she spent many years working at two different ones, she was adamant about not going to one herself.  So, you see, when we had to transfer her to one it was with great sadness.  Guilt plays a huge part in making decisions for one's parent and it was lying on us like a heap of bricks.  But what could we do?  She could not walk and we could not lift her even if we were able to stay with her 24 hours a day.  I'll be honest with you; it was one of the worst feelings I've ever had.

My mother's stay in that facility was riddled with problems:  She proceeded to throw her injured hip out twice more and had to go to surgery to have it popped back in, went back another time to have a filter put in for a blood clot and then another time to have another stent put in the main artery in her heart.  Each time we were called back to the hospital emergency room it was as though we were all being dragged down a deep, dark hole further and further.  We were never getting out.  Things were never going to be the same.

My mother began to look frail whenever we eventually got her situated back at the nursing home and I decided it was time for me to "step it up" on her care.  I discovered her weight had dipped from 138 lbs. down to 103!  That actually frightened me because she was visibly gaunt.  I spoke to the nurses and got her on something that would increase her appetite and got on the ball about her food.  She loves Popeye's chicken so one of us would try to supplement her other meals with that daily.  Because she had never gotten up to walk, her skin had begun to break down and she now had sores that had to be treated.  Getting up to use the bathroom was long gone as she now had a permanent catheter and wore a diaper.  Her once sharp mind was beginning to fail along with her health.  As time went on, I could see her slipping away.

My sister and I got on an every other day schedule.  One of us would be there every day to see her.  And then I got another call a couple of Sundays ago.  My mother had fallen head first out of her wheelchair in the dining room; they were sending her back to the hospital.  We arrived in the emergency room once again to find her with a huge hematoma on her forehead, bruised arm and swollen hand and worse yet, her hip was out again.  This time, another surgery was required to do something different to the hip so we prepared for that.  By this time, we were becoming tired but never numb to the pain she was in.  Her constant crying for "help" that day tore at us in a way I cannot describe.

After surgery, her hip was placed in a brace that we are told has to be on for 3 months to ensure her hip stays in place.  We transferred her to a different nursing home because we were not comfortable with her previous one (another thing that had to be taken care of before she was released).  As I sat there signing the admission papers (my sister had done the first ones), everything hit me.  This was an absolute nightmare that one could not escape.  Not just a nightmare for us, but more of one for her.  In a matter of 2 1/2 months, she had gone from living independently to having about 6 surgeries and becoming totally dependent on others for her care.

When she got to the new facility she was very agitated and afraid.  The strong woman who had raised me was now screaming from pain and fear 24 hours a day.  When I say screaming, I mean physically screaming and crying.  I would go in and she would be in that state and although I hated to leave her like that, I could not get her calmed down.  I was finally able to get with her new doctor there and he changed some of her medications and thankfully she has calmed down.  I thought on the first day how nice it was to go in and find her calm.  We have to feed her now so on my days I arrived around lunchtime and my sister arrives around dinner on her days.  And, don't get me wrong, it is nice to go in and find her calm but from day to day we never know how coherent she will be.  Friday she talked to us and it was like old times.  Saturday she talked to me as I fed her but nothing she said made much sense.  I told her she must have been dreaming but she said no, it really happened.  I don't argue with her, I just let her talk.  But it's both sad and upsetting to see her like that.  My husband says he thinks that 's the way dementia works; one day very clear and the next day not.  I don't know.

What I do know is that mental, physical and emotional exhaustion has overtaken us.  We always wished that one day we would just find she had closed her eyes and gone to be with the Lord.  On some of her worst days I have prayed to God to be merciful and take her home.  That wasn't His plan.  We don't know why because seeing her suffer so is terrible.  A kind of terrible that I wish no one had to go through.  But we continue on.  To take care of our mother as she took care of us as babies.  Because that is what it reminds me of; caring for a baby.

No one knows what caregivers go through unless they have been one themselves.  It's something that is with you every day, even if it's not your day to physically be there.  It's on your mind.  You find yourself waiting.  Waiting for the telephone to ring with news of a new injury, illness or even death.  You find yourself doing something and suddenly tears spring to your eyes because you think of how your parent used to be.  How they used to live and how they must feel now that they are trapped in a bed all day long.  This is a journey I have never travelled before.  I don't know how to navigate it; where the twists and turns are.  But I do know one thing:  God is and has been with me every step of the way.  If He hadn't been, I could not have made it this far.  He allows me to keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the next.  And whenever I don't think I can do that, He carries me...

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