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May 11th, 2023 – Post #80
Two days ago, the nurse instructed us on a technique to help my mom receive liquids without as much risk of choking. We were to give a few drops at a time, in the side of her cheek, with a syringe, and then stroke her neck just under her chin to encourage her swallowing reflex to kick in.
At the time, that worked.
Today, it really doesn’t.
Yesterday, my dad and I began to notice a large, hard mass in the front of her neck. It has grown considerably.
The nurse said it may be a goiter, signaling that my mom’s thyroid is shutting down; or that the cancer may have metastasized.
My mom has been mostly unresponsive since yesterday. She does sometimes squeeze a hand, in response to a question; and can still manage a tight hold to my fingers, despite her bodily weakness.
I noticed her beginning to get warmer yesterday; but when I tried to take her temperature, she bit down on the thermometer, and couldn’t let go.
*The same thing had been happening with straws for a while – when instructed to close her lips around something, she’d get confused and clench her teeth instead.
I kept coaxing her to let go; but she couldn’t seem to remember how (it wasn’t like she was being belligerent, or anything like that). I was worried she might swallow the tip, so I had my dad get a no-touch thermometer last night at CVS, knowing she would probably be facing a fever soon. I was grateful for how easy that thermometer was to operate, because it’s stressful enough to know she’s sick and can’t communicate without running the risk of having her choke on part of the thermometer.
A few days ago, her core temperature was around eighty-six degrees. This morning it was 100.7. With some medication, her temp did start to drop; but she still felt very hot, so the nurse had us fill rubber gloves with crushed ice and set them under her arms, etc… She seems to be cooling off, which I’m glad for. I hate that she’s sick; but it does look a little funny, like somebody’s hands are sticking out of her armpits right now.
Her skin is showing more signs of breaking down, and she is having more extended periods of apnea, when she stops breathing all-together. Sometimes she chokes on the secretions in her throat that her body can no longer keep clear.
At this point, we aren’t moving her much; but if she does have to be turned, it’s pretty stressful, because she tends to choke more on the secretions in her throat. I’ve held off using the medications for this, because I didn’t want to make her already dry mouth feel like a total desert; but this morning she seemed to really be struggling. I also tried the suction machine some, with a little helpful instruction from YouTube; but most of the secretions were out of reach, in her throat.
Her secretions will probably begin to get worse soon, and both the medicine and the machine will likely only be temporary fixes before they build back up. I know the sound of a dying person’s rattled breathing can be very upsetting, and that the medicine and suction machine are often used more for the family’s comfort than anything else, because the patient is often unaware. For my mom, she seemed in obvious distress in the instances that I chose to utilize those options, so I chose to use them; but when her labored breathing begins, if she doesn’t seem bothered by it, I will probably not interfere with the natural process.
At this point, my mom seems to be asleep and comfortably settled most of the time. I’m so thankful she’s not getting sick to her stomach at this point.
Last week she was pointing out the window, barely able to communicate; but trying to tell me that her plants needed to be thinned and tended to. I was a little uneasy about how to undertake that project. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the desert, and plants are definitely a lot different there. Weeds are, too. And sometimes here in St. Louis, I don’t know what’s supposed to be pulled up and what’s supposed to stay put.
As a kid, I loved dandelions (still do); but my mom had explained to me that they are a weed. I was surprised one day to realize she’d let a whole flowerbed of weeds get high, so I pulled out a whole crop of yellow flowers, thinking I was being a big help. Little did I know, they were Black-Eyed-Susan’s.
Let’s just say, my mom wasn’t super grateful for my assistance that day.
Ever since, I’ve been hesitant to weed anything without very specific directions. Thankfully, my mom’s friend came yesterday and gave me some helpful hints (thanks, Barb). So, this morning, I set to work to thin out some hostas.
*Apparently, I don’t even know how to spell that word; but it makes me feel better that my spellcheck doesn’t either.
I don’t know if I did it right; but I set a bunch of extra hostas by the street, if anybody would like to come by and grab some for their own gardens, as a way to remember my mom.
It seemed strange, and a little senseless, to be pulling out perfectly good plants; but I know that is what makes room for the new ones to flourish – or at least I keep telling myself that. Looking at the blank spots around the oak tree this morning, I didn’t like the results of my work; but I know eventually those areas will fill in and flourish, and one day need to be thinned out again.
I guess that’s a picture of life, too. Loved ones are pulled away from us, and we don’t understand why; but the process causes us to spread, and grow, and give in ways we never would, if left squished together for all time.
I know that very soon, when we take my mom back to her hometown to be buried, I will be looking at blank and broken soil again. This morning, I’m thinking back to the brokenness I felt, seeing the mound of mud marking her brother’s grave three and a half years ago.
I can see the growth that grief has caused – in my life, and in my connections to that place, where I feared I’d be cut off, when it came time to let him go. Somehow, looking back to that time that felt like everything dear to me was being torn away, gives me more peace about the process of losing my mom.
There is grass there now, on Danny’s grave, where there was once just thick clods of crumbling dirt. A picture of so many things that have sprung from that difficult time. I need to keep that in mind.
My mom has missed her brother so much.
It’s precious to me that she will be laid there beside him, on the same road where they were raised, above the fields, and bluffs, and bottomlands leading to the Wabash River.
This morning I’ve been listening to Josh Turner’s, “I Serve A Savior” and am reminded that when so much seems torn away, remaining rooted in the love of God is the most important thing. I hope this song, “Without Him,” blesses you with that thought.
Thank you for all of your love and support – and please, come get some plants! 🙂 It’s a “Hosta Takeover” around here.