The significant difference between how life begins and how life ends might be that a baby has no idea what it can’t do on its own and an elderly person knows exactly what independence they are losing with each passing day.
For the past 2 weeks, I’ve been caring for my 94 year-old Mom who suffered a stress fracture of her lower right leg. Before she could be treated for the broken bone, she had to endure a flu outbreak at the hospital she was admitted to. The ordeal tested Mom’s will to carry on and challenged my tolerance of the health care system that is trapped under the weight of its own dysfunction.
It was 14 days of near torture for Mom in isolation with three other patients; drawn curtains, no escape outside the room, and a reluctant flow of over-worked nurses and care-aids trying to do their best to stave off escalating trouble from a serious crisis. I contracted the GI bug myself, having spent the first two days at Mom’s bedside. That meant Mom had no visitors at all for part of her stay. As each patient in the 4-person room was isolated from the others by dreary curtains, there wasn’t even a conversation to be had and only complete bewilderment to live through during the painfully long days. Anyone entering the room had to gown up, glove up, and wear a facemask with eye shield. Imagine the fear this instills in the patient.
48 hours after my symptoms ceased, I was allowed back in to take up the slack in the care of my Mom. I spent three hours at a time, a few times a day, giving her hope that she’d get over this ordeal. When I wasn’t at her side, I was hovering around the nurse’s station trying to get information and answers and lobbying for an escape of any kind to get my Mom out of that room and off the revolving virus merry-go-round that was anything but merry.
She had entered the hospital to get help with the broken bone and receive some physio-therapy and qualified care during the healing time. Instead, she nearly died from a run-of-the-mill Norwalk Virus that just happened to besiege the very floor she was assigned to.
With 94 years of life on earth, Mom has experienced many trying times and endured much hardship. But she’s also had a full and rewarding nine decades with triumphs and blessings. She told the ambulance crew who took her to the hospital on February 10, that the last time she broke her leg, it was in a toboggan accident on New Year’s Day, in 1942. She worked for the USO in Newfoundland and was enjoying a winter sport on a sunny hill outside of Corner Brook with several World War II guys on leave. She broke her leg in three places, suffered excruciating pain for 10 hours on the floor of a cold cabin, as a horse drawn ambulance was summoned to whisk her down the mountainside to the small hospital in the paper mill town. She spent 10 months in that hospital; three of them with her leg suspended by 30-pound weights and steel rods holding her bones in place. She had to learn to walk again at the age of 19. That was 75 years ago.
Mom is here with me in my home now, convalescing in a much brighter setting, knitting a blanket for me while she sits in a wheelchair looking out at the ocean. My sister and I are caring for her in every way as we wait for the appointment with an Orthopedic Surgeon on Monday. I believe this visit back to the hospital is to determine the plan going forward in regards to her leg. She’s hoping to learn to walk again – again!
Caring for my Mom in her final chapter of life, feels a bit like taking care of a helpless little bird with a broken wing. We have such high hopes for a full recovery back to her regular life at her retirement residence where even at the best of times, her independence hangs in the balance.
“I can’t believe it’s come to this.” Mom says, as I blow-dry her hair. “Don’t get old, Charlotte.”