It’s true…and not in some sort of existential “we’re all dying a little more each day” kind of way. As I type this out my mother is in hospice.
You see, a couple of weeks ago my mother suffered a heart attack and a “series of strokes” (no less than six according to the neurologist) and in the 20 minute process of resuscitating her, they cracked “a number of ribs” (apparently not enough to qualify for a series) and she developed pneumonia.
After two weeks in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) she was moved to the less intensive, CCU (Critical Care Unit). It was there that the doctors began using marginally stronger phrases such as “very little to no improvement“. One of her doctors actually told my father that he honestly didn’t see her improving at all (don’t gasp, at least he had the balls to be somewhat definitive).
Here are some of the things I learned about the doctors and nurses at the Flagler Hospital during the week I spent visiting my mother in the ICU.
- They’re good people. I don’t much care for doctors as a rule and nurses are fine, but I found the people treating my mother to be both knowledgeable AND sensitive. Sure, I thought they did some things without discussing it with my dad beforehand, but it was never out of anything other than concern for my mom…I’m OK with that.
- They were exceptionally transparent with what they did and were going to do and sharing the results…not always in a timely manner, but still very transparent.
- They’re not very interested in offering speculations. Often the tests they did couldn’t provide them with “enough information” in order to make an informed guess…no such test exists where a doctor can say anything conclusively, but Christ, they spent A LONG time in school for no opinion. I don’t necessarily fault them for this. One, medicine is not an exact science and two, we live in an incredibly litigious society where a wrong diagnosis or opinion can lead to law suits.
- Much of what doctors may want to share with you, but are unwilling to actually say (see previous point) can be found by asking questions and listening to what they are not saying. Doctors love to talk about shit they know so if you are actively engaged and listening between the lines, you can find out more information.
- No matter the circumstances, they will almost always try to paint a positive picture. While I think that is healthy as a rule, I find it frustrating. Of course my mother’s situation could have gotten better…had she not been 78, had a serious heart attack, a “series of strokes” (no less than six), had 20 minutes of defibrillation, lost an undetermined amount of her cognition, lost mobility on her left side, having crippling arthritis in her neck, a shitty back and hadn’t developed pneumonia. Independent of all those things, I think she would have made a speedy recovery. Doctors may try to stay too positive when the science is saying something else, so pay attention. Yes, miracles happen…but not nearly as often as science.
That said, I felt the hospital did a really good job. For someone with an almost pathological disdain for the medical profession to say that is a about as close as I can come to a compliment.
All that information, and non-information, went into the mental blender for my dad to process. Even attempting to understand the emotional landscape my father had to traverse in order to process all of that and reach a decision is way beyond me.
But reach one he did.
Late last week he phoned me and we had a discussion about placing my mom in hospice. I must admit when he first mentioned it I wasn’t prepared so I went silent. The silence was so long my dad said “Not everyone that goes into hospice dies.” Perhaps true, it took a great deal of strength to not snarkily reply “Well, I can’t think of one person who has walked out.”
Maturity has its benefits, not always being an asshole is one of them.
I presume my dad spoke to my brother and my mother’s other two children. I’m also guessing I might have been the only one strongly in favor of hospice. For me, it made the most sense because while I was in Florida, I saw my mom and I knew I had lost my mother. The person who created 50% of my physical being was gone and wasn’t coming back. I felt anything we could do to honor what she wanted and to make her rest in as much comfort as possible, without pain, was the only way to go. The goal being to help make my mother’s transition a little easier.
I don’t think it will be very easy for us.
So we wait.
7.14.15 approx 8am, the wait is over.