This past week ended up to be an eventful one for our family. My mother who is ninety-two years old had not been feeling well for the past couple of weeks. We noticed that she was gaining weight in her abdominal area and she was napping a lot more than usual. I took her to see her primary care physician, and after looking at her chest X-rays, the diagnosis was possible pneumonia. He prescribed antibiotics and ordered some additional tests to be done (to check her abdomen and her heart since she has a history of congestive heart failure).
Last weekend when I was out-of-town at the children’s grief camp I volunteer at, my son called and said “Grandma has hives and is itching.” We believed she was showing an allergic reaction to the antibiotics so we stopped the medicine. By the time I got home after being gone only two days, my poor momma was covered with hives, her eyes were circled in red from rubbing them, and her belly was blown up like a balloon. Since we had the tests for her stomach and heart already scheduled, we got them done and the results were not the best news. It appeared that she had diverticulitis, with an abscess, and her heart is not in good shape.
Her physician and I agreed that we would get her quickly on antibiotics for the abscess in her belly, and have her see a cardiologist to evaluate if anything could be done for her heart issues. It was at that time that her doctor mentioned “hospice care” as a possibility for her, if we were interested in pursuing it.
I have learned this week that just using a term such as Hospice Care, can lead to a wide range of beliefs, emotions, and deeper meaning for those involved in the discussion.
I ended up taking my mom into the emergency room due to her deteriorating health condition. She had put on eight pounds within two weeks (which is huge for a tiny 4′ 10″, frail, little lady), she was also short of breath, and overall feeling quite crummy. We definitely needed medical attention to get her into a more comfortable state of being.
It was in the hospital when the term “hospice care”, came up once again. As the cardiologist was explaining the options to treat her heart failure, hospice care was one of the options he brought up to us (my mom, my brothers, and I).
As a nurse who is fifty-eight years old, I view hospice care in possibly a different light than some who have not had much experience with the death & dying process. In my mind, hospice is a great way to keep someone comfortable in their home setting when dealing with end of life issues. It is an awesome way for someone of sound mind, to take control of how they want to proceed with their medical care and options for treatment. I do not view it as a “death sentence”, but rather as a “life decision”, allowing someone to decide what quality and comfort is for them, for whatever remaining time they have before death (which could be days, months, or even years).
I also view the end of life as another phase of life.
A beloved friend of mine, who is not much older than I, died this week. My friend Karrie, chose to be on hospice care a few months ago. She had been treating for end stage emphysema for several years when she decided that it was time to stop aggressive treatment. She and I had some good conversations about what hospice meant for her, and how she was making the decision to cease the aggressive therapy because she was ready… ready to make the transition into the next phase of her life. The phase of life that she and I believe comes after the physical body dies. She told me after she had made her decision, “I have a lot of people who I want to see on the other side”, and I know that she was greeted by all of those loved ones, family and friends alike, when she took her final breath the other morning.
She found the deeper meaning of life with one final breath…
My mom and I also had the opportunity to really talk these past few days, about her end of life. She told me that she was tired and would be “fine” when the time came for her to die. She feels that her quality of life at this phase is not the best for her. All of her friends and most of her relatives have died. Her body is worn out, and the things that used to interest her, no longer do so anymore. She doesn’t feel like she is really living, but is merely existing day-to-day. We explored the deeper meaning of what hospice and comfort care would mean for her at this phase in her life.
Tomorrow, we will go to her follow-up appointment with her doctor, and discuss what hospice/palliative care might look like for her, someone who could still have many more months or potentially years yet to live.
We will continue to search for the deeper meaning of what quality is, so that she may live comfortably and with ease, as she moves towards the next phase of her life.
“End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.” ~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King