I Struggled With So Many Emotions
12 April 2005
On January 27, 2005, my mother went to work at the home-furnishings company where she worked full time. She was 61. She felt fine that morning, but immediately after returning from lunch she came down with a violent headache. She began to vomit and appeared to have had a stroke. They called for an ambulance and she was taken to a nearby hospital where she was diagnosed with a ruptured brain aneurysm.
I learned that mother was in the hospital after I got home from work, and my boyfriend drove me there. I did not know what was wrong with her but I suspected it was her high blood pressure, which she did not monitor as closely as she should. I expected to find her sitting up in bed, smiling sheepishly at me. Instead, a teenage attendant blithely ushered me into a scene of horror I will never forget. My mother was intubated and still. I could see the whites of her eyes and bits of blood flecked her hair. She had lost her front tooth. The doctor apologised for not preparing me and he explained that she must be moved to another hospital because they did not have a neurologist who could treat her (this is apparently a big problem in South Florida).
An hour later she was transferred to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, FL. There she was operated on immediately. Dr. Houng performed an endovascular coiling which occluded the ruptured aneurysm. As the surgery was successful I assumed she would recover.
Mother remained in ICU for 18 days, and was then moved to another wing in the hospital. During this time I visited her almost every day. After the surgery a nurse told me she was doing well and would be "sipping soup by Friday," a few days later. But mom struggled with high fevers and shingles, and would open her eyes but wasn't following commands any more, such as to stick out her tongue when asked.
This was an intensely anxious period for me because I had so many questions and getting answers was difficult. Why wasn't my mom getting better? I asked doctors and nurses if mother would recover and was often told "I don't know." Or they would tell me about people coming out of long comas, and stess that miracles do happen. Some even told me to pray, which was annoying, because I am not religious. All my information about mother's condition came from this website, but it could not tell me specifically about her condition.
Finally I spoke to the doctor who headed up her medical team, and demanded an answer. I stood at my mother's bedside while the doctor told me, over a cell phone, that my mother would not recover. She explained that the bleeding had been extensive, and had starved the cells of oxygen. She added that there were signs that a bi-lateral infarction had occurred, making recovery even less likely.
I remember looking at mother, who lay there looking frightened and lost. I realized that while she frowned often, she never smiled, and seemed not to know even her daughter. A trach kept her breathing and a tube pumped Ensure into her stomach 23 hours a day. I suddenly realized how hopeless it was, and how unhappy she must be. I explained to the doctor that I knew my mother would not want to live like this. She did not have a living will, but the doctor explained that if I was certain about her wishes, and since I was the highest ranking family member, I could choose to end life-prolonging procedures (the feeding tube). The doctor said the medical staff were in agreement that she would not recover.
Because my mother and I were so intensely close, and because we had talked about what we wanted if faced with this situation, I knew my mother's wishes, and in that regard, it was not a difficult choice to make. But it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I stuggled with so many emotions -- horror at myself, and what I was about to do, even resentment toward Mother, for putting me in this position. But I also felt that, as the one closest to her, it was my obligation to carry out her wish. Thankfully, her family was very supportive and knew also that this is what Mom would have wanted.
We arranged for her to go to Hospice By The Sea, and it would be there that her feeding tube would be removed. I was very frightened that mom would suffer, but was told that she would not be aware of feelings of hunger or thirst, that she would be sedated and she would simply slip into a deeper coma. At the hospice, mother had a private room with windows and french doors that looked out on a courtyard of trees, flowers, and sunshine. The difference between the hospital and this place was astounding, and mom herself seemed much improved.
For the first time since the event, she appeared peaceful. In the hospital she coughed and gagged frequently and when the nurses came to suction out her throat, she would look at them fearfully. In the hospital she frowned but never smiled. Here she rested calmly and breathed evenly. They gave her morphine to sedate her. Once, after the nurses gently turned her toward the window, she opened her eyes and looked at the sunshine for a long time. Although I was never sure how aware she was of me, I finally felt I was able to BE with her in a very real sense.
I brought flowers and read to her letters from her sisters. I bought music and sang to her. I could never have done this in a hospital. One night I felt too tired to go, but my boyfriend encouraged me to go anyway. Mother had become beautiful -- perfect complexion, blue eyes, siver hair -- and an unmistakable radiance about her that I could not explain. I played Paul Simon's songs and changed the words to one, singing to her to close her weary eyes at last, telling her that she could let go and begin her adventure, wherever it would lead.
The next day, on March 8, I arrived around nine to discover that she had passed away a little before. This, then, is my mother's story, and mine. It did not end as I would like, for I was prepared to dedicate my life to her recovery. But I accept this outcome, because I cannot do otherwise. I cannot overstress how instumental Hospice By The Sea was in helping mother and I. They brought my mother comfort, brought us together for the last time, and helped me begin my own healing. Thank you, Hospice.
Discussion, comments, or questions: Carean Kaso-Andrews
© Copyright 2005 Carean