We’ve been on a wild roller coaster this week in the Weisblat household. Fortunately, the ride is over—at least for the moment. My mother is home surrounded by family and friends. She’s a little tired, of course, but then so are the rest of us!
It started, as my previous post indicated, last Tuesday. Taffy had been experiencing ups and downs—including a bout or two of fever—for a couple of days.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until she awoke on Tuesday with a completely new symptom, shaking, that her caregiver Pam and I decided it was time to call the doctor. The doctor referred us to the Emergency Room of the hospital in our county seat of Greenfield, Massachusetts. Off we went.
As she often does in public, Taffy perked up in the ER. (I perked up, too, since the two doctors we saw were extremely attractive and personable young men). She enjoyed chatting with the staff and was pleased when the X-Ray technicians told her she was wearing the “cutest socks ever.”
As the day turned into evening and the evening turned into night, however, she became tired. Around 9:30 pm we were told that her problem had been identified. She had a little hole in her stomach that was leaking all sorts of things out into the rest of her body. To make matters worse, that stomach hole was in her chest, thanks to her hiatal hernia.
The doctors talked me through our options, and I relayed them to my brother in Virginia by phone.
One option was surgery. This would have to be done at the Greenfield facility’s sister hospital in Springfield (just over a half hour farther from home) since the Springfield hospital had better chest surgeons.
If we were going to move her to Springfield, the cute doctors told us, we should do it right away. The faster we addressed the problem, the easier it would be to solve. And of course if she went septic during the night in Greenfield, it would be nearly impossible to get her down to Springfield for surgery.
The other option was leaving the thing alone and waiting to see whether it healed itself. The doctors didn’t present this as a very strong option, but they did present it, particularly since they knew we might not want to pursue surgery on our 92-year-old mother.
Taffy, bless her, didn’t understand what was going on at all but told me that she would do whatever her family wanted.
Frankly, we felt that we needed more information. We agreed to have Taffy moved to Springfield so we could consult with the surgeons there.
Taffy and I arrived in Springfield by ambulance between one and two in the morning, and tests continued throughout the night. At eight in the morning the surgeon who was considering operating asked me for a decision. I asked her what she would do if her own mother were in this situation.
She informed me that although Taffy had a 75-percent chance of living through the surgery, its aftermath would entail months of rehab in a strange facility with tubes in and out of her body. My brother and I quickly decided that our mother’s frailty in general and her dementia in particular rendered that option inconceivable.
The surgeons in Springfield then tried a procedure in which they placed a tube through Taffy’s nose down her esophagus. They said this would increase the chances that her stomach hole might heal. Unfortunately, the procedure terrified her, and she resisted so much that they couldn’t succeed.
A very nice young surgeon told me that it would be possible to try this procedure after sedating Taffy—but added that the sedation could be dangerous at her age and that she would very likely pull out the tube once she woke up. We abandoned this idea.
I asked the doctors to transfer Taffy back to the hospital in Greenfield at this point. It didn’t sound as though her chances of survival were huge, and I wanted to have her closer to home where it would be easier for my brother David’s family and me to go back and forth from home to the hospital (kind neighbors were caring for our pets, but we couldn’t ask them to do this forever)—and where friends could come visit her.
David arrived before the ambulance took Taffy back to Greenfield Wednesday afternoon. His wife Leigh and son Michael arrived in Hawley late that night by car.
And we waited.
The doctor in Greenfield informed us that the nurses would observe Taffy for a couple of additional days, pumping antibiotics and liquids into her system but feeding her nothing. If the hole showed any signs of healing after that, they would continue. If not, they would send her home with hospice.
Thursday was a discouraging day since our little mother was completely exhausted and had no fuel going into her body. I must admit to getting a bit tearful from time to time, although I was careful not to cry outright in front of Taffy.
Thursday afternoon the nurses added a little glucose to the fluids in the I.V.
Taffy perked up slightly and demanded to go home and to eat food. She wanted ice cream in particular.
It was hard to tell her that we couldn’t give it to her for the moment … and harder still to admit to ourselves that she might never be able to enjoy ice cream again.
Friday morning the doctors tested Taffy’s stomach again. They said they wouldn’t know for some time what the results were. So the rest of the family went home and for a swim while our dear caregiver Pam kept Taffy company in the hospital.
When we got home to change into our swimsuits we found a telephone message from Pam. She said that the doctor hadn’t shared the test results with her but added that Taffy had been allowed a liquid snack.
Our minister Cara, who was also there at the time, wrote me an email about this moment. “I was actually there,” she told me, “when the nurse suddenly brought in a tiny cup of apple juice and a tiny cup of strawberry jello (pink!)… I wish you could have seen Jan relish those two things! It was wonderful fun!”
I called the hospital and the doctor informed that our mother was indeed healing on her own. Some people are just hard to kill.
She came home on Sunday with the help of hospice. The hospice nurse on duty over the weekend wasn’t sure that Taffy was actually a candidate for hospice services despite the doctor’s recommendation that hospice become involved.
“I went for a walk down the hall with your mother in her cute little sneakers,” she told me. “She was adorable. I didn’t see a woman in decline. I saw a woman with a strong will to live.”
Nevertheless, the nurse approved Taffy for hospice services—which included a very convenient hospital bed for her to use on her return home—pending a future review. “After all,” the nurse informed me, “there are worse things than being dropped by hospice.”
There are indeed.
Taffy is much weaker after her recent hospital adventures. Nevertheless, she is beginning to eat a bit and regain some strength. She has enjoyed having her whole family around, and she and our dog Truffle had a joyful reunion when she returned from the hospital.
She has begun to venture back outdoors into the sunshine. And she has had lots of chats with people she loves, including our friend Anna from Boston, who brought her new puppy Louis to visit Taffy for a little pet therapy.
As you can see in the photo at the bottom of this post, Taffy is even beginning to help around the house again. In this case she was shaking a little chicken in coating so that it could be fried.
I don’t delude myself that my mother will last forever. The past week has shown us both how frail she is and how much her dementia will affect any health decisions we make about her in the future.
Nevertheless, I am happy to have her with us a little longer. The little girl she has become is sweeter and sweeter each day, and life seems more and more precious to her as she holds people’s hands, gazes at the trees about us, and giggles at silly jokes.
We’ll try to savor each small adventure as the days and months go by. And we’ll celebrate dodging last week’s bullet.