The meaning of no or words that have no meaning

It’s getting harder and harder to understand what Ma’s trying to tell me.  Since being placed on morphine her words have been getting more and more garbled.  I know that she thinks she is talking English but to me it’s a foreign language or as my sister calls it, Elvish.  I kind of like that description.  It conjours up thoughts of another world or an alternate reality.  Because that’s where my Ma seems to mainly exist now; in an alternate reality.

Ma’s weight has dropped dramatically and she doesn’t eat any more than a couple of bites of food if that.  The morphine has played havoc with her appetite making her nauseous. Tonight she got Baked Beans and toast for dinner.  After telling her what it was, she told me she didn’t want it but she wanted Baked Beans. I showed the plate to her and told her it was Baked Beans but she didn’t want it… she wanted Baked Beans.  I was able to feed her a couple of mouth fulls before she again informed me that she didn’t want any more of that, she wanted Baked Beans.  I’ve learnt to keep placing small amounts of food in her mouth telling her what it is so that she’ll (hopefully) eat it.

I got her a cup of coffee and she sipped some through a straw before informing me that she wasn’t allowed coffee any more.  On trying to find out why not and who’d told her she wasn’t allowed to drink it, she told me stories told in words I just couldn’t understand.  English words that had no meaning to me. I’m never sure how to react.  I usually end up either apologising and telling her, “I’m sorry, but I don’ understand” or trying to distract her or pretending I understand what she is trying to tell me.

She interacts with the television like it’s real.  She talks to the moving pictures and sometimes interacts more with them than me.  I suppose it’s something to be grateful for, at least she’s getting some enjoyment. She’ll ask them to do something than ask me to find out what’s going on.  Tonight she wanted me to look for a dog.

Ma likes spitting out anything she doesn’t like.  Texture and smell seems to play a big part in what she’ll eat.  Foods she used to love like scrambled eggs, she will no longer try.  Cake is too crumbly in texture and hard foods are too difficult for her to chew.  She’ll usually make little or no attempt to feed herself and chewing a small morsel of food seems to take an eternity.  I’m running out of ideas on what I can coax her diminishing appetite with. Every mealtime is a challenge.  The kitchen staff bend over backwards trying to get her to eat. I always try to be there for at least one meal a day so I can make sure she’s get a little bit of something, excluding Leo, her snow leopard, in her stomach… more about this later.

Last night was challenging.  Her dinner was delivered, little quiches cut up and hot which looked and smelt delicious.  She didn’t want them.  I then asked her if she wanted raisin toast, she did.  I cooked it and she informed me she didn’t want it… I then offered jelly and she had a couple of mouthfuls before saying, “no”.  I tried yogurt next, then watermelon… halfway through all of this, I discovered she had no bottom teeth and found them in a container in the bathroom. Added to this, she informed me that she wanted to eat Leo.  Leo is her stuffed toy Snow Leopard that I sponsored for her at Christmas.  She picked him up and started gnawing on his tail.  I told her that she wouldn’t have Leo any more if she ate him but she told me that she didn’t care, she was going to eat him and started getting quite angry at me. Luckily she became distracted and Leo lives to fight another day.  She loves him and her stuffed cat she named, Fonzie.  We returned to the watermelon, which is much easier to eat with a set of teeth!  Panna Cotta was spat out.  Corn Relish Dip was acceptable for a couple of biscuits before also being spat out.

I’ve learnt that ‘no’ can actually mean ‘yes’ and patience is required by the bucket load.  I wish I understood what Ma was trying to tell me.  I know she gets angry and frustrated at my lack of comprehension.  Sometimes I can guess what she is trying to tell me but more often than not, I don’t. It’s becoming increasing difficult to share her reality.

Every day I tell her I love her and sometimes she tells me she loves me back.  Other words may have lost their meaning but we can still communicate with love.

 

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Quality of life?

Dear Ma,

What kind of life is it to lie in a bed day after day with only the television for company and the occasional visitor?  Your daily highlights consist of dressing changes; personal care and meal delivery and me.  They wanted to place you in a ‘comfort chair’ so you could be wheeled around and get you some social contact but they deemed it unsafe when you tried to get out of bed because you thought you could stand and walk.

What life is it to have no real awareness of what’s going on around you?  Sometimes I understand what you’re trying to tell me but more and more often I can’t translate.  You sometimes see things on the television you think are real and can no longer read your beloved books.  Leo, the snow leopard, your cat blanket, and blue ‘blankey’ are now your biggest comforts.

What kind of life is it when you are given pain every time you are moved and you yell and scream?  The pressure sores on your bottom have nearly healed but they no longer want you to sit in a chair for fear of a reoccurrence.  They also don’t think you can ‘cope’ in a chair.  Your left leg has suffered from another infection but is slowly improving but still looks nasty.  Your right ulcer is holding its own.

What kind of life is it when every pleasure you once enjoyed is taken away from you?  I sit with you and sometimes you cry and I stroke your face telling you everything is alright. But it’s not.  My heart is breaking and I wish you’d find peace.  Sometimes you tell me you want to go.  You tell me you’re tired and I wish you sleep.

Today I broke down with staff after trying to fight battles that have already been lost.  I’ve become close to these people and I know they try their best for you.  I know that you will no longer be able to go out with me.  I know that you probably won’t feel the sun and breeze on your face any more.  I hate that every thing that once gave you pleasure has been taken away from you.  When they started the morphine it was to give you quality of life.  A life without pain.

I will continue to do my best for you and will hold you close to me until your time comes.

Your loving daughter,

Jennifer

A different kind of Christmas

This Christmas was my first by myself, with Ma in care.

Since Dad died, Ma and I have planned the menu and prepared it together.  We would go ham and pork shopping.  Turkey was off the list and chicken was in… only because I pleaded.  The Christmas cake would be made and wrapped in foil until the right moment came to ‘open’ it.  The massive Christmas pudding was no longer an option and we resorted to a recipe that made individual microwave puddings that we froze and ate during the year. We’d cook and prepare way to much food but it never went to waste.

Christmas Eve would find us sitting around the kitchen table preparing the different foods and listening to Christmas music.  Christmas Day would find us doing the finishing touches, with more Christmas music, while having coffee and Kahlua. We then unwrapped presents together while sipping on sparkling wine and nibbling on chocolate coated peanuts and smoked almonds.  Last year Ma attended Christmas Day services with me and my sister which was special… even though she dozed off during the sermon.

Last year I had to show her how to cut things up and how to construct the Trifle.  For years, Ma’s Trifle has been the piece de resistance. Christmas was held at our house and my siblings with their families would all descend for lunch.  After my Dad passed, everyone went their separate ways but the family didn’t miss out on their Trifle fix.  Ma would construct individual Trifles for all the men in the family. For some reason men love Trifle.  This fact belongs with, men don’t know how to hang washing.

This Christmas, everything changed.  I woke to an empty house, except for hungry kitties.  It all felt wrong.  I decided to get out and go to the gym and then took myself to Maccas to pick up some breakfast.  I felt I had to change everything.  I came home, showered and went to church where I cried on the way in; during the service; and when I came out. Everything felt wrong and I felt very ‘off-quilter’.  My sister and her family visited Ma and I arrived around 12 to go to the dining room for lunch with her.

Unfortunately they were still dressing the bad pressure sores on her bottom and I walked in to her crying and struggling, as she’s always convinced she’ll fall off the bed.  Staff then couldn’t work out how to get her out of the bed into her wheelchair.  Asking me whether they should use the lifter or whether she could stand.  The more they discussed, the more agitated Ma became until I told the staff to leave her and I would sit with Ma in her room. They organised a tray for her which was beautifully decorated, unfortunately I didn’t get anything.  She only ate a few bites and gave up.

My sister had left four 200ml bottles of pink ‘champagne’ and Ma sat up like the queen enjoying her treat, with morphine attached, sipping her sparkling while watching David Attenborough DVDs. My man arrived around 4pm and after visiting with Ma we tried to leave.  Ma started to cry and couldn’t understand why I was going.  She wanted to come with us.  We sat some more and I kept saying how hungry I was… She settled down some and we left her watching Carols by Candlelight.

My last Christmas with Ma? I don’t know.  I treasure the times we had and found this Christmas to be very difficult, the time spent with her was bittersweet.  I’m glad I changed the way I do things.  I’m glad I got up and left the house.  If you can’t have what’s familiar, do something different. I know that got me through.

Another way to break your heart

Ma was delivered back to the nursing home last Thursday afternoon with no pain medication prescribed and a bandage around her arm from an ‘accident’ that occurred on the bed railings at the hospital.  Her bottom was worse with her pressure sores as they didn’t put her on an air mattress.

Every time she is in hospital I inform them of her triggers.  I also let them know that she will panic if she’s turned on her side or if her head is put flat.  She screams and gets very distressed.  Their track record for listening isn’t great.

Her doctor prescribed a morphine pump to deal with her severe pain.  A couple of days later and she is ‘off with the fairies’.  Very happy and docile unless you try to turn her or put her flat.  The nursing home have moved a new air bed into her room and we make sure to positively enforce how comfortable it is.  She lasts in it for a couple of days until she is back insisting on the now very uncomfortable chair.  Her bottom has now badly deteriorated thanks to the ‘care’ she’s received in hospital.  Staff now spend time dressing her bottom, arm and both her legs.  At home we only had to worry about her right leg ulcer.  If only….

Today I turned up to take her to the Ulcer Clinic.  This was a special appointment that was made because of the drastic deterioration of her legs.  She was in morphine land, and she couldn’t understand how to put her bottom onto the car seat once I had her up.  I rang for assistance and the physio aide tried to assist with a belt but we had to give up.  There was no way we could get Ma into the car.Ma kept apologising to me but I could tell she wasn’t really ‘there’.

I get her back inside and we commenced dressing her ‘wounds’.  We can’t get her to stand so we try and succeed in finally getting her on the bed.  We then have to get her onto her side to get to her bottom.  She screams and thrashes but we hold her in place while the nurse works as fast as she can and we try and distract her.  Towards the end of the dressing the aide collapses and I catch her before she hits the deck while Ma asks for a drink of water…

We move onto her arm, which is a large pus sore, and dress that before moving onto her legs.  I try and distract Ma to the best of my ability but she still jumps and shrieks and calls out.  So much so that she pulls the morphine pump out and it has to be reinserted on her other side.  By some miracle her legs are actually looking better.  The nurses started trialling a new dressing on her leg on Friday and it seems to be working.

We finally get all of her dressings finished and she lies there drained.  She doesn’t want her lunch so I feed her corn relish dip and biscuits, a nectarine and some mango from the fridge stash I keep.  She has been very clingy of late and wants to know when I’ll be back.

She rambles a lot and says a lot of things I can’t understand or decode.  People I’ve never heard of; places I’ve never been to; her car; her cottage; her boyfriend; as well as my boyfriend… who isn’t my boyfriend.  Words that are slurred; laughter at I don’t know what.  I should be glad she’s happy.  Again she asks to be released.

She had her hair done yesterday with purple streaks put in.  Staff have now informed me that she struggled getting to the basin and got very distressed and that they don’t think she’ll be able to have her hair done any more.  Another pleasure gone, if I don’t find a way.

I now realise that our going out days are probably over.  Just another thing that gave her pleasure that has now been taken away.  Going out for coffee and lunch was one of her very favourite things.  I will explore wheelchair taxis but I feel defeated.

I need to accept that my Ma of old is gone and adapt to the ‘morphine happy’ Ma that she’s now become.  She doesn’t suffer much pain but she is now lost to me more than ever.  I’m very happy that she isn’t suffering but I miss those glimpses of Ma and the conversations that we captured when pain etc. allowed us.

We always said we’d chose quality over quantity when it came to her life.  I’m now second guessing as to whether a morphine haze offers the quality we so longed for.

The day I got my mother back

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what Ma used to be like.  The mother of a few years ago asked about what was happening in your life; wanted to know how your day had been; had opinions about world events; worried about you when you were unwell; and handed out valuable culinary advice.  Fast forward to a few months ago and I had to tell her how to cut up a carrot.  Heartbreaking.

I moved Ma into a nursing home 4 July this year.  The hardest thing I’ve ever done and I’ve regretted it many times over.  It doesn’t matter that I was barely coping and that I’d just about reached the end of my rope.  The guilt will stay with me until my dying day.

On Wednesday last week I was gifted with a visit from my Ma of the old days.  It was a day to treasure and hold close to my heart.  We went shopping.  She wanted to go to a jewellery shop more than anything.  We laughed and joked like the old days.  Talking nonsense.  I took her to a jewellery shop where she was determined to buy me a Christmas present.

Ma hasn’t taken an active interest in Christmas or my birthday for a few years now so this gave me quite a glow inside.  She looked at the earrings and kept pointing them out saying, “do you like this?”  I tried to steer her away but she was determined!!  The lady in the shop must have had an inkling and gave Ma a catalogue and I managed to get Ma to leave.  We’d only gone a couple of metres when after some discussion, we turned back and re-entered the store.  I purchased a pair of earrings we’d both decided on.  Angel wings with little hearts.  Ones to treasure.

We continued on our way and Ma chose two dresses, a skirt and top to buy.  Some of it from me for Christmas.  By the time we left the shopping centre she was glowing.  We stopped at her favourite cafe for lunch and she ate the best I’d seen her eat in weeks.  It was one exhausted old lady I took back.  She kept thanking me for what I did for her which never happens anymore.  I kind of didn’t want to leave as I wanted to savour and cherish my time with my Ma of old.

Next morning I arrived to find her sleeping in her bed!  This hasn’t happened for weeks, which is why she now has bad pressure sores on her bottom.  She was sleeping like an angel and when she woke up she smiled at me.  I gave her an early Christmas present of a rug I’d had printed with pictures of the kitties.  A member of staff walked in and stopped to stare at Ma in her bed and told her she could have breakfast in bed like ‘the queen’.

That was the last I saw of my old Ma.  By that afternoon she had regressed back to the Ma of today.  I knew it was coming but couldn’t help but mourn that my Ma was gone once more.  Today she didn’t care whether I was there or not.  As I left, I told her I loved her, as I usually do and she said, “thank you”.

I do miss her.

 

 

 

Basic care or rocket science?

When did we as a society stop caring about our aged?  Why do people work in aged care when they really don’t care about the wants and needs of the people they are caring for?

Since placing Ma in care back on the 4th of July, I have been fighting to get Ma’s medical and hygienic needs met. What I think of as basic human needs.  Somebody to care about whether her incontinence pad is changed or her teeth are clean; that she takes her medications and that her wounds are dressed appropriately; that she is clean and comfortable.  Sounds like something we would all like? Basic care you think?  Unfortunately not.

I get so tired of fighting about whether Ma’s daily needs are met that sometimes I let things slide. Every day I walk into the nursing home not knowing what I will find.  Some days I feel like not going, as just walking through the door fills me with trepidation.  Will she be crying, in pain, staring into space or just the mother I remember?  My love for my mother and the situation I have placed her in weighs heavily on my conscience.  I go every day because I can’t trust the nursing home.  I’ve learnt from experience that I need to be there every day.

A conference with the nursing unit manager and the manager of the facility give me reassurance for 5 minutes until I visit with Ma and watch Ma’s leg being dressed by a nurse who clearly doesn’t know what they are doing.  We talk her through the dressing change and the words of the nursing unit manager ring in my head.  “I will walk all staff through the dressing of your mother’s leg to make sure they’re competent.  I will sign them off.”

Unfortunately the nurse who regularly does her dressings is on holidays.  Two more emails later and I’m still fighting for her dressing to be done correctly.  I’ve even offered to do it myself.  It’s not rocket science, even I can do it!  I dressed Ma’s leg for many years before she went into care.  The nursing unit manager is very good at telling me what I want to hear, but nothing changes and there’s no follow through.

Ma is a high falls risk and has a chair and bed alarm.  I would say that 8 times out of 10, this isn’t switched on.  One day I came in to find not only her chair alarm wasn’t plugged in but her hand buzzer wasn’t either.  Again and again, I report this.

Over half a dozen times now, I have walked in to find some of Ma’s medications on the floor because staff haven’t made sure she has swallowed them.  Three times this was Ma’s Targin, a slow release pain killer.  Ma hates taking her medications.  She can’t swallow very well any more and staff’s attitude sometimes makes her disinclined to obey their commands.  Staff have even given me her medications to give to her.  I’ve had staff complain about how difficult and time consuming Ma is.  Ma thinks she is being poisoned as she doesn’t know what she is being given.  I tell her what the medication is and what it’s for and use her favourite yoghurt to get her to take them.  More rocket science?

One of the things that makes me angry is finding that she still has a stinky disgusting incontinence pad on from the night before, but is dressed and ready for the day.  Thank goodness this has only happened twice.  But in my view, that’s two times too many.

How do you feel when your teeth haven’t been cleaned?  I’ve been told by the nursing unit manager that residents’ teeth are cleaned twice a day and soaked once a week.  Today, as on other occasions, she asked me to clean her teeth.  They were disgusting.  I soaked them first before scrubbing them.  Ma told me that may be she could now taste something.  I took photos and sent it through to the manager and nursing unit manager.   This makes me want to cry.

Ma now has pressure sores on her bottom because she sits in her chair nearly 24 hours a day.  She has only slept in the bed on a couple of occasions. When she sleeps in the bed she has a panic attack when staff don’t answer her calls and goes back to her chair.  I contacted her doctor to check her bottom and he ordered it to be dressed daily.  I am shown the dressing chart by the nursing unit manager but again, nursing staff don’t follow through.  Today her chair pressure pad wasn’t on her chair but leaning against the wall.  Ma was complaining of pain and felt instant release once I’d placed the pressure pad on her chair.

Why is this happening?  Why am I constantly fighting for Ma’s basic needs to be met.? I feel sick every time I think of what she’s going through.  She cries and tells me she wants to leave.  I feel like I’ve let her down.

What do people do without an advocate?  If Ma’s chair alarm isn’t put on; her wounds dressed correctly; her teeth cleaned etc what happens to the others?  How sad that we have forgotten to care for our aged.  How I regret placing her in care.  I feel like I’ve let her down on so many levels and yet I’m so angry that her basic needs aren’t met by the people that are supposed to care for her.

The long goodbye…

Since Ma was placed in care on 4 July until now, I’ve watched her slowly deteriorate.

Today I visited to find her with her head in her hands confused and unhappy.  She was so happy to see me and told me of ‘people’ in her bed; ‘people’ taking her things and waking up in a place different from where she went to sleep.  She started to cry and told me how she was so unhappy and felt so bad but couldn’t tell me in what way.

The nurse who was giving out her nightly medications gave them to me as she didn’t want to distress Ma further.  I talked to Ma about them and she agreed to take them.  I gave her a hug and we went outside to side in the sun and feel the breeze on our faces.  We sat and talked.  She couldn’t remember me being there yesterday or that she’d slept in the bed the night before.  She was distressed because she couldn’t remember and she felt insecure. She told me I was the only one she trusted.  She broke my heart.

On Wednesday last week she was very confused and weak and she ended up going to hospital to get checked out.  They did scans and x-rays and bloods.  The bloods came back with infection and showing that her kidneys were failing.  The doctors were wonderful and we talked about the need for comfort rather than invasive procedures and opted not to do a urine test.  Sounds easy?  Just wee in a jar.  Not with Ma.  Her legs weren’t working and last time they had to try and get her on a pan on the bed and she screamed.  They were going to put in a catheter but decided against it.  Too much!

In the end they gave her IV antibiotics and arranged transport back to the nursing home.  I arrived to find her tucked up in bed… Ma hasn’t slept in a bed since she entered the nursing home back in July.  She has slept in her chair every night which is why she now has pressure sores on her bottom.  I stayed the night with her and she never settled all night.  She’d drift off to sleep and her legs and arms would twitch and wake her up.  She would call out and talk about things that weren’t there.  She cried and told me she had had enough and wanted to go.  She broke my heart.  I wanted her to be able to go.

Around 5am I told her I would go and she started crying.  I said I’d stay.  My sister relieved me around 9 and I went home and bawled my eyes out.

Saturday morning arrives and my man turns up with flowers for me and for Ma. We went to see Ma and she was sitting there asking to be taken out!  I will never get used to the roller coaster ride.  I’m barely dragging myself around and she’s raring to go.  We pushed her along the path on the common and my man demonstrated his prowess on the exercise equipment and she laughed and laughed and made jokes.  I could hear her joy.  She said how she loved having the sun and breeze on her face.

She doesn’t eat much now and is down to just over 70kg from around 90kg.  She has difficulty swallowing.

Tomorrow we are supposed to go to the Ulcer Clinic.  Do we go or do we not bother any more?  Her legs are now stable.  The doctor has cut back on her medications because she has very low blood pressure now.

When do you say enough is enough?  They talk to me about ‘comfort care’ just managing the symptoms.  I wish I knew how much longer we had.  I want to spend as much time with her as possible but I’m not sure how much time that is.  I know that I’m now ready for her to go.  Seeing her suffer mentally and physically breaks my heart.  In the past, I’ve been selfish in wanting her to stay.  Now I just want her to be free from pain, confusion and suffering.

She breaks my heart. My wish for her is to know that her family loves her.  I hope she gets that wish.