We weren't planning on any big deal for New Year's Eve this year. We spent the day piddling around place, insulating the well house, repairing a flat tire on one of the mowers, and that type of thing. It was just a slow, relaxing day, a little sad, because my dog, Killian, appears to be approaching her end of life. She is, after all, 16 years old, but, well, you know...sad to see the once "forever a puppy" suddenly shutting down. Still, the weather was beautiful, especially for this time of year, and we spent our day enjoying the warmth, before the predicted deep freeze heads our way.
After we ate supper, I called my Mom -- my step father is at home, in hospice, and I wanted to see how she was holding up. Mom is taking this as well as can be expected, I suppose. John is 89 years old and, up until about six weeks ago, was doing pretty well for a man of that age. But after taking a couple of falls in the house, he ended up in the hospital and then rehab, where, after falling again, he was subjected to more testing. The testing revealed that his cancer has metastasized. And so, some ten days before Christmas, the house was made ready to accommodate his hospital bed, and the home hospice care began.
Tonight, when I spoke with Mom, she reported that he'd entered a new phase, different from when we'd visited on December 20th. Then, John had been able to engage in meaningful dialog, though only for a very short period of time. Now, Mom told me, he really was sleeping almost 100% of the time. We chatted for a while, and she told me that he is now having critical care at home, but that, due to the holiday weekend, there were some gaps in coverage.
I've never experienced hospice before. I am learning through Mom's experience, but, being three hours away, it is hard to know how I can help. It seems that one of the major "issues" is that John has to be turned twice daily (at a minimum) to ensure he does not suffer bed sores. This turning is apparently quite painful to him, and so he has been prescribed morphine, to be administered in the mouth, just before they turn him. The problem is that the morphine must be administered by either an RN or a family member. The caregivers that spend 24 X 7 here, when the critical care RN is not here, are not allowed to administer it.
Mom is expected to do the administration of the morphine whenever the RN is not here. While John was still alert, she was able to have him help her hold the syringe in his mouth and help her administer the dosage. But now that he is unable to help, she is on her own. Mom has issues with falling herself, and cannot easily bend over John for the amount of time required to administer the meds....she is scared she will fall on him, or fall backward and end up in the hospital herself.
So, I offered to drive up to MD and "cover" the shift that is being left uncovered by an RN, due to the holidays. The decision was made at 8:00 PM and by 8:45 PM I was on my way.
I'm not a fan of driving at night, and I am most assuredly not a fan of driving on New Year's Eve...nevertheless, it was something I felt strongly I wanted to do to help Mom and John. Thankfully, the drive was pretty easy, and I arrived here just after midnight.
Mom and I sat up and talked about anything and everything she wanted to talk about, until she was tired enough to head to bed...at 3 AM. I think she needed the company as much as anything. Now that she is in bed, I am sitting here in the living room, listening to the mechanical sounds of the oxygen delivery and the CPAP machine, and something that sounds like running water...not sure what that is. John, as far as I know, is unaware I am even here. Sitting right next to his bed is Andrew, the night caregiver - quiet and attentive.
Happy New Year? I don't know. I'm glad Mom is able to grant John's wish to spend his final days at home. I'm glad the "long term care" for which they paid premiums for so long has made it possible for her to grant him this wish. On the other hand, the complete upheaval of the house and their routine, added to the stress of knowing the end is near, is taking its toll on Mom. Still, she remains as upbeat as possible, given the circumstances.
And so, I am spending New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, experiencing something different from any of my previous 53 such New Year's. I'm guessing it will not be remembered as, "my favorite New Year's ever," but, as they say, it is what it is.
I hope everyone has a healthy and happy 2012.