25 April 2002
Jan. 24, 1994, at the age of fifty-seven, my motherBetty Cooper, suffered an illness that would forever change notonly her life but my life and all of my family's lives as well.There is no easy explanation for what happened to transform myslightly eccentric, totally independent, nurturing, loving motherinto a confused, tormented woman. She has extreme short term memoryloss and is angry most of the time. Her ability to control her ownbehavior is gone. She was rushed to Southern Regional hospital inJonesboro, Ga. with what she thought was a bad case of the flu.
I had called her on a Sunday morning to see whatshe was doing. We were planning to spend the next day togethershopping and going out to lunch. When I called she told me not tocome, that she had the flu and she didn't want me or my children tocatch it. She also told me something that convinced me somethingelse was wrong, although I didn't know what. She said she had seena flash of light and said now everything looked red or pink. Likeshe was looking thru a sheer red scarf. I tried to talk her intoletting me come and take her to the hospital. she wouldn't hear ofit. So, I told her to tell her husband to take her. She said no,but if she didn't get better soon she would.
As soon as we got off the phone I called mysisters. I told them I knew something was wrong. However, I had noidea how serious it would wind up being. I thought maybe she hadburst a blood vessel in her eye from vomiting of that her bloodpressure was up. My oldest sister said she was going to go see forherself. She had already had a flu shot, so Mom would have noreason to tell her not to come. Our mother is a very headstrong anddetermined person.
After arriving Kandy tried for hours to convinceMom to go to the hospital. Finally, she called an ambulance. WhenKandy called from the hospital and asked if we wanted Mama on lifesupport! Like an idiot I asked, "For the flu?" Then she told mewhat had happened. She spoke the words that changed my life. Mamahad suffered from a ruptured aneurysm in the right frontal lobe ofher brain. At the time I had no idea what that meant, but I soonfound out that an artery had weakened, swelled and ruptured in herbrain.
It hit me hard! I immediately felt the center of mybeing collapse into itself. I squatted down in the middle of thekitchen floor for no apparent reason, bent at the waist. Pain fromsome lost part of my soul surfaced and I think I made some noisesas I cried for my Mama. Like a baby I wanted my Mommy. I needed hernonchalant, "I'll be okay, pull yourself together attitude." Thecornerstone of my world had forever changed and at thirty-three Ifelt too young to deal with this! Wasn't this something thathappened when you were older? I prayed and begged God to give memore time - to heal my Mama and make it all right. My husband andchildren stood by wondering what was wrong. As soon as I could walkand talk again I called a friend to come get my children and myhusband and I rushed to the hospital to see the shell of the personmy mother had been.
I congregated with my sisters, aunts, uncles, andcousins in the small waiting room reserved for families of the"very ill." (The people not expected to live.) We cried, beggedGod, talked back and forth one to another and tried to maintainsome sanity in this insane situation. It became very hard for me to"deal" with people other than my sisters at that moment becauseonly they could really understand how I felt. We all knew ourmother would not want to be on any life support. She had told usmany times in the past. We were told without it she would mostsurely die. We still said no, because we wanted to honor herwishes.
Several days later Dr. Timothy Scarff performedsurgery on my mother. He clipped the giant aneurysm and patientlyanswered our questions. We camped out in the Neuro-Intensive Careunit waiting room. Our lives were on hold until we knew our motherwould be okay. At one point we were asked if we wanted the hospitalto give our mother nourishments (food) or would we prefer that shedie naturally. I understand now the wisdom of that question - butat the time we thought it was so callous and cruel.
We thought the days before the surgery were hard,however, they were easy compared to what followed. Mom was like anunruly 2 year old child. She insisted on doing what she wanted todo. We had to make sure someone was with her all the time. Herbalance was off, yet she insisted on prancing up and down thehalls. She would use the bedside commode in front of anyone andused foul language and words she never used before. She was verydemanding and insisted she was hungry all the time. Even rightafter she ate. We answered the question "where's my car?" and"where's my purse?" at least 100 times in a five hour visit. Andthat is not an exaggeration. My sisters and I took turns, but afterhours of being with her we were drained. Emotionally, we were alldistraught. We took out our frustration on each other. Mom'shusband was almost no help. He was self involved he and onlyworried about when she would be able to come home and take care ofhim the way she always had. In spite of the fact that my mother hasa large family, several brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews -her care was left to us.
Mama went to rehab at Cobb Hospital, but herrehabilitation was stunted because she could not see. The reddishtint to her vision was from blood. Now the blood residue was whiteand she was almost blind from it. So, she had surgery in one eye sothat she could see. When she left rehab we brought her to stay withmy sister Kandy, and I went over to help with her. However, Mom'simpulsive behavior made it impossible for this to work. We took herhome, to her house. We all took turns spending the days with her togive her husband a break, then we went home at night to be with ourfamilies.
In late spring of the same year Mama was doing muchbetter. She was about 70 to 80% back to "normal." Then we were toldshe had to have a shunt placed to drain the excess fluid from herbrain. She was having occasional grand mal seizures, they weremostly under control, but the fluid was building in her brain. Shetold me that she was afraid to go back in the hsopital. She wasafraid that if she had this surgery she would never go home again.We were ecstatic when she came through this surgery with flyingcolors. The day she left she vomited in the parking lot. That nightshe had a series of life threatening grand mal seizures that puther back in the hospital. She was in ICU, stable we thought. Mysisters went home and I stayed for the night. Then, she crashed.The nurses asked what we wanted to do. Through tears I told them nolife support. But, I had wavered for a bit. They put her on arespirator anyway, with me saying no at the foot of the bed. Mamawas in a coma for over a week. Eyes open, looking so scared. Herwords echoed in my head, "I'll never go home again." Over and overI heard them. When she came out of the coma, she was brain damagedfrom oxygen deprivation.
She went to rehab again. When it ended, it was allto apparent that Mama could not go home. She would not be safe with24 hour care. So, next came the struggle to find a suitable nursinghome. The hospital wanted to send her to one in Warm Springs. Noway! We could never let her be so far away from us. We had beenwith her daily for months by this time. Our hearts were breaking atjust the thought of putting her in a nursing home. We had to beable to visit her daily. We found room in a small nursing home inCarrollton, Ga.
In the years that followed so many other thingshave happened. Serious drug allergies, strokes, many lifethreatening seizures, behavior problems, collapsed lung, emergencyhip replacement surgery, surgery to unblock her carotid artery. Shehad to have all of her bottom teeth pulled because of complicationsfrom seizure medications. She is at a different nursing home now,The Bryan Center, in Powder Springs, Ga. So that she could becloser to us. In spite of everything she has been through, shestill knows us. We visit her daily and try to bring some joy to herday. Her latest illness is sepsis and a heart valve infection whichshe is still being treated for.
For over eight years now we have been "dealing"with the consequences of that first night, because Mama didn't die.God answered my prayers - he gave me more time and slowly butsurely I have grown more at ease with the idea of my Mama leavingthis world. I have watched her suffer and lose herself so manytimes over. I live daily knowing she has little quality of life andfinds comfort only in cigarettes and knowing where her purse andtelevision remote are. She is repetitive, confused, angry, at timesmean, and has been this way for years. For the first few years shehad no idea anything serious was wrong with her, but this past yearshe has realized it. We feel so helpless.
What I would give to have her back for one day. Totell her how much I truly love her and appreciate all she did forme and my sisters. I would tell her how sorry I am for all of thetimes I ignored her or made her feel unwanted and how much Ienjoyed all of the little things like laying on the bed with herwatching tv and reading magazines, laughing and enjoying eachother's company. How I loved going to look in the "junk stores"with her and how much we all loved coming to her house for dinner.No one else alive can make green beans and potatoes the way shecould. I would tell her how much I miss calling on the phone totell her about my day and my children and know that she would bejust as proud or worried about them as I was. I would tell her howmuch my children love her and even now, after eight years of herbeing different, they still remember the small things that made herspecial and reminisce about them. They knew that she loved them.When they talk about growing up and having kids of their own theypicture me being the same kind of giving, loving, eccentric Grannythat she was.
I miss you, Mama! It is an emptiness that nevergoes away. Nothing else can fill the void left in my heart when yougot sick. And I have learned an important lesson from your life - Iwill try always to appreciate the people in my life and the smallthings that make up each day. And I will trust God in his wisdom todo what is right, because I don't ever want to watch anyone elsesuffer the way you have.
Update: 23 June 2004
After 9 1/2 years of suffering through so manyhealth problems that began with the ruptured aneurysm, Sundaymorning, July 28th, 2003, my sweet little spitfire of a mamafinally lost her battle - or won it - whichever way you want to seeit.
We had a viewing at the funeral home, where so manypeople came to pay their respects and to be there for us, I wasamazed. The day before my sisters and I had laughed and sang oldcountry songs mama loved while we made a collage with pictures ofher life. We wanted people to see that her life had been so muchmore than the illness we all remembered so well. The next day Kandyand Sis went with her body and watched them put her in thecremation oven. (I just couldnt do that). They said it wasn't bad,though, because they knew it was what Mama would have wanted. Wemet for lunch at Red Lobster-Mama loved Red Lobster. lol. After thefuneral home got Mama's "cremains" back, we went and picked out anurn. Actually, what we picked out seems more like a little lightcolored wooden jewelry box with flowers bordering the sides. It hasher name, dob, and dod engraved on it. It all seems so surreal. Ikeep having this running commentary with Mama in my mind. I wishheaven was like jail-in that they gave you 1 phone call. lol. Ijust wish I knew that she was ok, and happy.
For a while after she died, it wasn't a sad thing.We all shared stories and laughed and admired her, it seemed like acelebration of her life - not a mourning. But slowly it hit me andI realize how much I miss her and until the day I join her inwhatever comes next, I won't see her again. Never again will I walkdown the hall at the nursing home and see her as she first sees me.Her one good arm waving as she says, "come here, baby! I've beenwaiting on you all day, I knew one of you would come." For 9 1/2years she rarely went a day without one of us visiting her. Takingher food, lighting her cigarettes, fixing her coffee, handling hermedical care and doing things we never thought we had the strengthto do.
At times I look back at the aneurysm and get madbecause it took so much away from her and from us. We lost theindependent, slightly eccentric mother we had and was left insteadwith someone who had to be cared for. Our children probably don'tremember the person we knew her to be, instead they remember thedemanding, brain damaged woman who was still kooky and intelligentin her own way.
But even brain damaged, she had so much strength.She touched so many people with the spirit to live she had burninginside of her. And although so much was taken away, so much wasgiven to us, too. I will always cherish the times we sat out frontof the nursing home with her while she smoked, and we laughed andlaughed. Life wasn't a rush and other things could wait when wewere with Mom. And we found out that we, too, have a bit of thestrength inside of us that she had.
© Copyright 2002 Robin Hutcheson
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