Baby Boomer Caregiver Part III – Hospice

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March 28th, 2011

The word “hospice” a few years ago was like a death knell. You knew that time was very short for whomever was in hospice. That’s not true any longer. There is no requirement that the patient have less than a year to live.  Their goal is to make life easier and more comfortable for both the patient and their family. As Mom began sleeping more and eating less
, she didn’t want to go to the doctor appointments. She had been dependent upon a walker for several months and although we still used it in the house, she needed a wheel chair for any excurions outside.  She hated that wheel chair so we gave it a name,  “Susie.”  I would say “Susie is here to take you to the doctor” and she would say “Susie better be nice to me or I’m leaving her out of my will.”  She was always threatening to leave someone out of her will.  Sometimes it would be Anita or Charlie or George Washington. As Mom became more frail even humor didn’t work.  On our next visit to the cardiologist as mom sat in Susie watching two young children playing in the reception area, the doctor and I talked.  The cardiologist felt that the pacemaker was keeping Mom’s heart in rhythm and that overall her condition was pretty good.  Yes, she had lost weight (she would love to know that she was a size 4 after years of being a 10 or 12).  Yes, she was weaker than she had been the month before.  Yes, the dementia was gettng worse (for some strange reason she could always remember her birthday when asked).  Yes, she needed oxygen more frequently even when she was at rest. So I asked the question I had been avoiding.  Can we put her in home hospice?  The nurses would come to her once a week for examinations.  With the weather turning cold it wouldn’t be necessary to bundle her up, get her in the car and out again and worry about public bathrooms.  The doctor agreed that it might be for the best.  Mom didn’t need to know and probably wouldn’t have understood that she was in hospice’s care.  When we arrived home, I explained that because these trips were so tireing for her we had arranged for the nurses to come to the house.  “Oh, good” she said.

It was February.  Mom was sleeping most of the day.  She lost interest in television.  I think the noise bothered her because she couldn’t distinguish between the person on TV and the person in the room.  She started to ask about her Mom.  She wanted to know  if her brother was still alive (he had passed way 15 years earlier).  In the mornings she would tell us how she had seen so and so and had talked with this one or that one, all of whom were deceased.  She heard her baby crying in the attic.  She was mad at  Dad for not coming home for dinner.  We tried to explain that he was dead but gave up when it made her more agitated.  It was difficult to watch her fold into herself.  It was more difficult to watch my husband see her like this.

March came and on the 27th Mom died.  For two nights I sat next to her all night listening to her moan.  Every now and then she would hold onto my hand.  On her last night, I talked to her for hours about her parents and her children and grandchildren and her great grandchildren. I told her that Charlie would always remember her especially when he took a one dollars bill out of his pocket.  I told her that Dad was waiting for her, that she had done a good job here and now she could rest.  The next morning as my daughter and I were changing her gown  she closed her eyes, took a final breath and left us.

I have written this article with the hope that it will help others in this situation to have patience and a sense of humor with our elderly.  We need to treat each other with dignity and compassion.  There are resources out there like hospice that can be of great help. A caregiver must also be a caretaker. You cannot do everything on your own.  I owe special thanks to my husband, Anita, my five children and their spouses, my 22 grandchildren, my niece who came and cut  Mom’s hair every month, the doctors, nurses and technicians who were so patient, hospice and especially Charlie who always made her smile.

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