I just got off the phone to my mum. She’s in hospital. It was an awful conversation. Mum spoke between deep, rasping breaths. She sounds like she’s run a marathon. There’s fear in her voice, and a kind of desperate resignation. I listened to her holding myself in. I felt like crying. I felt so sad for her – it seems so wrong that anyone should endure this, least all someone you love. When I spoke it was in short words and grunts. I couldn’t trust myself to anything more. I hung up and felt distressed.
Listening to mum like that it’s hard to believe that she has anything more than a few days to live. You wonder how people survive this. She doesn’t want to survive this. She’s ready to go. I understand that utterly. I love my mum but I don’t want her to suffer this – it seems so cruel and unnecessary. I love her, but I’d push that button if it meant she had peace. Still, it seems hard to believe.
It’s been a bad week. We saw a doctor a week ago and she gave a moderate prognosis. Since then mum has deteriorated significantly. At times she is disorientated. She has a hacking, ugly cough. She has become so weak that she can barely get out of bed, and can barely do anything unassisted. She is perpetually exhausted, some days talking as if she is heavily drugged, her lips thick, the words slurred.
On Saturday night she called me. It was about 10pm. She was scared she told me. She had been feeling terrible all day, and with the disorientation that bewilders. Her voice was full of anxiety. I tried to calm her. Try and sleep mu, I told her. Rest and we’ll see how you are in the morning. If you can’t call me. We rung off and I didn’t hear from her again. I went to bed feeling vaguely guilty. I almost called to check if she was alright, but realised that was silly. Best to trust that everything is ok.
At 6am my phone rang. It was my sister. Mum had called her, in a panic as Sharon said. She wanted to know what to do. I told her to take her to the hospital, as had been on my mind since the previous night. I rang mum to tell her what was happening. She sounded not terrible. I told her to call me when she was admitted. I asked for her to get the doctor to call me.
I lay in bed, sleepless now. I opened the blind and looked out at the pre-dawn world. I could see outlines in the darkness. It was quiet. I thought it was probably the quietest time of the week, no-one going to work, and everyone home from the night before. I made a coffee, I waited for the sun to rise, for the newspaper to be delivered, for the phone to ring. At about 10 mum rang. She had rested, the doctor had been to see her and said this was the the ‘beginning’ – the begin of the end, I presumed.
Early afternoon I visited mum, dropping by my sister’s first to collect a change of nighty and some toiletries for mum.
Hospitals are quiet Sunday. All a bustle during the week as people come and go visiting specialists and the like, come Sunday a skeleton staff looks after the patients and nothing much more happens. I’m never much good in hospitals. Give me a situation to resolve, an issue to act on and I’m efficiency itself. Sitting though, visiting someone sick in the clinical surrounds of a hospital sets me on edge. It was perhaps worse yesterday as this was my mum near to death. I hardly looked at her. I didn’t want to see her like that. Our conversation was practical and cursory. Mum was tired, the blinds closed. She was well enough, but was happy to lay there doing nothing. I left after about 30 minutes.
I rang mum again first thing this morning. I half expected to find that mum had slept well and was feeling better. That wasn’t the case. She’d had another miserable night. She was so weak, she told me, that a nurse had to help her out of bed and to the bathroom. I called the doctor. It’s a different doctor from usual, this one a young Asian woman, approachable, friendly, and much more candid than our customary doctor. I asked to know the situation.
The doctor admitted that mum had declined significantly just in the last week. She said that if mum had another scan today it would show much more than the scan of just 2 weeks ago did. Mum was in the final stages, a decline we could hope to manage, but could not prevent. Why now? Sometimes it’s like that. It’s like the cancer has kicked up into another gear. What it means is that mum will be in and out of hospital, and a hospice must be considered. I’ve spoken to home palliative care and that will be necessary. Though she didn’t put a date on it the sense I got from the doctor was that 2 months would likely see mum out, though, to be frank I can’t see mum lasting longing than a month. If she doesn’t improve from how she was on the phone before then I can’t see mum living beyond the next few days. And, if she doesn’t improve, I don’t want her to.
It’s a bit unreal. I’ve anticipated a lot of the feelings going through me, so the shock is not there. It hasn’t diminished the depth of feeling, however. It’s a hard time. My mum will be dead soon, and conceptually if nothing else that’s hard to comprehend. I’m thankful that I shared time with her. Just last week even, those are the things I’ll remember. That’s probably the last meal I’ll have shared with mum.
- The positive effects of palliative care on quality of life (kevinmd.com)
- Complexities in caregiving at the end of life (eurekalert.org)