RIP Constance C. Bruzek, aka “Chiquita”
You are truly loved and missed.
RIP Constance C. Bruzek, aka “Chiquita”
You are truly loved and missed.
What a difference a month makes.
So, as of my last post, Mom was diagnosed with a blood clot (we found out several weeks later that it was actually TWO clots). She stayed in the hospital for another ten days. During the course of that stay, the doctors let us know that Mom really shouldn’t be there. She should have been at home, on hospice.
So…she got discharged. I was hoping to get her into an assisted living unit by the time she was discharged, but no such luck. She came home to her old apartment for about four days, then she signed up for hospice, fell that afternoon (no injuries), and moved into her assisted living apartment the next day.
It was quite a whirlwind.
I was very thoroughly blessed by my friends that week. I sent out an email on Wednesday explaining that I needed help packing and moving Mom by Friday. Somehow, I got help…just enough, and just at the right times! Two neighbors came over Wednesday evening; one was an RN who helped sort Mom’s meds. Thursday I got help from two more Girl Scout leader friends; they packed Mom’s kitchen. Friday, the day of the move, I got help from friends who I met through Mr. Hoagie’s work.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to God for sending everyone!!
And Mom got into assisted living not a MOMENT too soon. She really needs every bit of extra help. She stays in bed most of the time, except for meals, because she is so swollen (due to the blood clots and possibly because the lung cancer tumor is putting pressure on her blood vessels). She’s also on oxygen.
It’s been pretty smooth sailing ever since. I’m taking my time with all the paperwork and change-of-address stuff. I get over there 3-4 times a week. It’s so good not to have to worry myself sick that she’s on the floor just because she hasn’t answered her phone.
So…an eventful couple of days. Forgive me, but I’m blogging from my iPod in the ER.
On Thursday, my mom’s cardiologist makes local headlines for putting in unnecessary stents.
Mom is offered a spot in assisted living.
She falls twice…within one hour, due to dropping blood sugar (which may be cancer-related).
When I see her that evening, I notice that her face and arms are swollen.
The next morning, Mom decides we should see the doc. When I arrive, she’s so alarmingly swollen that she looks like the blueberry kid from Willie Wonka.
So I take her to the ER. After hours on end, they find a blood clot in her jugular vein. They start heparin, and antibiotics for a UTI.
Continued from yesterday:
I was visiting Mom at the nursing home on a Thursday afternoon. She seemed okay, but a bit fatigued. She told me she’d gotten dizzy at rehab that morning, and she was lying on her bed when I arrived. I gently chided her to get up to receive her esteemed guest, but she was too tired.
We watched TV for a while, but she seemed to have trouble working the remote. She went to adjust the volume, but ended up changing the channel. And left it there. Which is weird for a woman who’s now watching My Wife and Kids on ABCFamily after decades of watching nothing but the Food Network and Fox News. She’s never even heard of Damon Wayans.
After a while, I decided to go downstairs to find her case manager and talk to him about getting Mom released. He wasn’t in his office, so I came back upstairs.
When I walked back in the room, I felt that something was terribly wrong.
“Mom?” Still lying on the bed, she turned toward the sound of my voice. “Mom, are you okay?”
She looked at me, literally googly-eyed. One eye managed to fix on my face, but the other reeled in her eye socket. Her face was flushed.
I rushed to her side, alarmed. “Mom, can you talk?” I hit the nurse call button. I waited for alarms to blare, but…nothing. I pounded it. “I’m calling for the nurse, Mom!”
She only seemed to be moving the limbs on her left side. I was sure it was a stroke.
After what seemed like hours, but must have been only seconds, I darted into the hallway and started for the nurses’ station. There was no medical profession in sight.
“I need a nurse,” I called. Panic seeped in. “Nurse!”
A nurse in Steelers scrubs appeared from a doorway. “It’s my mom…Connie!” She followed me back toward Mom’s room. “I—I think it’s a stroke!”
I choked back a frightened sob as the room filled with people. They surrounded the bed, talking to her, examining her. Someone called, “Check her sugar! It was low this morning.”
Sure enough, her blood sugar was 31. Normal is 80-120.
She was slurring her speech heavily by this time. Someone ran to get her orange juice. A nurse injected something (Glucose? Fructose?) into her belly. By the time the juice arrived, she was even more out-of-it. She drank only an ounce or two.
They checked the sugar again. Still low. Too low.
Less responsive. Approaching a diabetic coma.
Another injection. They switched from juice to a sugary gel. She couldn’t swallow it.
They called the paramedics. If they didn’t get an IV into her….
Now, it sounds easy. Call the paramedics, get an IV.
Except every time she’s needed blood drawn over the last several months, she’s needed a half an hour and three or four people to try it. Her blood vessels are so bad, she’s needed a central line put in at the hospital. They can’t stick her in the crook of her arm and get anything. Even her hand isn’t reliable.
The EMTs arrived. One of them says, regarding his IV skillz: “They tell me I’m good…let’s see if it’s true.”
He nails it. Left hand. First try.
Sugarwater flows into my mama’s body, saving it from shutting down.
Mom begins to come around. “What’s going on?”she slurrs, drunkenly.
“It’s a party!” I told her, looking at the roomful of nurses and EMTs. “We started the Steelers party early!” It was days before their last playoff game.
One of the nurses held up the tube of sugary goo Mom had been working on. “You started with the frosting, Connie!”
So the EMTs took her back to the ER. We held Mom’s room at the nursing home to the tune of $300 per day. It took days for Mom’s sugar to stabilize. They never did pinpoint the reason for the sugar crash, but a leading theory was that the cancer was attacking her adrenal gland, thereby affecting her blood sugar.
That night, she requested a DNR (do not resuscitate) status.
That was tough.
She arrived back at the nursing home on Super Bowl Sunday, just as the game was starting. The four of us went over to watch the first half of the game with her.
She continued her therapy, and finally came home to her independent apartment, six weeks to the day since she had gone to the doctor’s office.
Not long after my last post, Chiquita wound up in the hospital. Her feet had been swollen, so I took her to the doc to get them checked out. Turns out her oral diuretics weren’t enough to control the swelling; she needed IV meds.
The doc sent us right to the ER. Which, to us, means “After you’ve stopped somewhere for a lovely meal.”
This isn’t as irresponsible as it sounds, although I think the nurse who overheard us thought so. First of all, our appointment was at 11 am. We hadn’t eaten lunch yet. And we knew that the hospital wouldn’t allow Mom to eat for several hours once she checked in.
So we stopped at Red Lobster. Mom ordered the lobster roll, because she’d never had one before.
And might not ever again, I thought to myself. This woman is terminally ill. Who knows which meal may be her last?
Which was the biggest reason for taking her out to eat that day.
Mom stayed in the hospital for ten days. They took care of the swelling, but didn’t manage one of her other illnesses well, which made it flare up. I ended up calling the nursing care hotline about that, though I think it was really her hotshot hospitalist who bungled things. Plus, we think she caught the flu as well.
So after over a week of being completely bedridden (she didn’t HAVE to be: she walked in that day; they just didn’t have the staff to get her up and moving regularly), she went to skilled nursing care for rehab. The good news is that they got her into our first choice, which was 100% better than our last nursing home experience.
Just as we were preparing to get Mom moved home to her independent living apartment, the bottom fell out again.
I was browsing teh interwebz this morning and found that my partner in crime posted a review of her favorite travel mug. At which point, I’m all, “WHAT?!? That is SO incorrect. The world needs to know about MY favorite travel mug!”
I love this travel mug made by OXO. The beauty of it, aside from the sheer beauty of it, is that it really is spillproof. The lid clicks open when you drink, and clicks shut when you’re not drinking. They’re carried by both Amazon and Target (I don’t get anything from these links, just love this product!).
When I got this mug a few years ago, the kids would fight over who got to borrow it. So last year, they each got their own for Christmas. They’ve aged out of sippy cups, so these are perfect for car trips and drinking hot chocolate during movie night.
Some of the Amazon reviews mentioned that it doesn’t keep your beverage hot that long, but mine keep my beverages hot enough long enough for me.
Another complaint on Amazon is that they are too hard to clean. The enclosed instructions say to hand-wash only, probably to preserve the rubber seal that keeps the mug spill-proof. I always wash mine in the dishwasher, though, and have never had a problem in over two years. I simply separate the mug from the lid, and set the lid to the open position, bottom facing up, in the top rack of the dishwasher. Hey, if I have a choice between drinking from an unclean mug or a leaky one, I’ll take leaky. But like I said…two years of washing it in the dishwasher, and it still doesn’t leak!
I love these mugs so much that not only does my entire family of four own one, but I give them as gifts, usually stuffed with a beverage option like a coffee shop gift card or, like I did for teacher gifts this year, with Penzey’s hot chocolate mix (the Hint of Mint will change your LIFE!).
My kids have a snow day, so I have a feeling we’ll be using both the mugs AND the hot chocolate mix today!
Boy, it’s been a while. I think it’s time for a catch-up post.
In case you’re new here, let me reintroduce the cast of characters:
Chiquita is my mom. She turned 72 in December. Three years ago, we moved her to the Pittsburgh area from Chicago. Medically speaking, she’s a hot mess. She has heart trouble (a pacemaker, 15 stents, congestive heart failure), diabetes, kidney failure. She was also diagnosed last spring with lung cancer, which has since progressed to Stage IV. It is no longer being treated at this time, since the treatments are worse than the disease itself (she is symptom-free at the moment). She is living in the independent apartments at a nearby senior campus, about 5 minutes away from me. She has refused to consider assisted living at this point, but has help with showers and getting dressed 7 days a week.
Since I last posted, she was hospitalized for a week with pneumonia and congestive heart failure symptoms. She’s recovered from that, but stubbed a toe, and it appeared to be infected. After a week of antibiotics, it didn’t look much better, so her PCP is sending us to see a vascular surgeon today.
Dr. Hoagie is my husband of 14 years. He turned 40 last month. He is an engineer who holds a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering (he hates when I mention that, but I’m so dang PROUD…and it tells a lot about him). The man is an amazing father and an absolute saint who picks up the pieces left behind when I have to drop everything to help Chiquita. ‘Nuff said.
Big Sis is nine and in fourth grade. She’s a Junior Girl Scout and takes piano lessons. She’s a HUGE Star Wars fan, and has just spent the last year doing chores to earn a Tauntaun sleeping bag. She is bright and and an excellent student, though she sometimes takes herself—and life in general—a bit too seriously. We’re working on that. When she grows up she’d like to be an astronaut or an inventor.
Little Sis is six and in first grade. She is a Daisy Girl Scout and plays soccer in the spring and fall. She loves to cook and even to wash the dishes. She is amazingly patient, considering she spent all of her preschool years cheerfully ferrying her grandmother to doctors’ appointments. She also gets good grades, and seems to have a special knack for taking care of people. When she grows up, she plans to have three jobs: a masseuse in the morning, a boss of car makers in the afternoon, and she plans to run her own restaurant (complete with a dance floor and disco ball) in the evenings. She’s offered to custom-design cars for all of us for free, so I’m keeping her close.
Me? I am a work in progress. (Aren’t we all, really?) I’m not exactly where I thought I’d be by now, but I’m not too far off, either.
Last year, 2010, was a rough one for me, dealing with a potential kidney transplant for Mom at the beginning of the year, then with her cancer diagnosis and treatment. Now that she’s declined further cancer treatment, the pace of Mom’s doctors’ appointments have slowed, and I’ve had a chance to breathe a bit. I’ve realized that putting my life on hold to deal with Mom’s health issues isn’t doing anyone any favors.
Mom’s the one dying, not me.
And for the record, if I had a nickel for every time a medical professional told me that Mom was done for, I’d have…well, only a quarter. But still.
Check me out over at my other blog, …So Help Me, God, for updates on my quest to avoid developing the same health issues as my mom.
Here’s to a healthy and happy 2011 for all of you! Happy New Year!
Not much new to report with Mom. We’ve let her lousy prognosis sink in a bit. She’s revisited the idea of seeing some of the cancer docs at UPMC again, but as her oncologist told us at her last appointment, if the UPMC docs can’t help Mom, there’s not much else to be done. On the other hand, though, they haven’t seen her since we learned that her lung cancer has spread and is now stage 4.
Mom and I did tour the assisted living area of her campus, where she decided solidly against it. Too expensive.
When we called my sister afterward to brief her, she and I gave Mom a good talking-to, saying that even though we could try to approximate that level of care by hiring hourly, “a la carte” care, it wouldn’t bring us, her daughters, the same peace of mind that assisted living would. In assisted living, they physically check on her every two hours. At her apartment, my sister and I have to check on her by phone.
For Pete’s sake, the first night in her apartment, she ended up on the floor, where she stayed for the night until we stopped by after church the next morning to check on her.
I tried to communicate to Mom that her not having enough care for her has taken a toll on me (hello, 25 pounds gained in 10 months!), but I’m not sure if she got it. I’ve made an effort over the last three years not to let her see how put out I am, because I didn’t want her to feel guilty (it’s not entirely HER fault she’s so sick), but my tactics may have backfired. I don’t know if Mom sees what dealing with her illnesses has done to ME.
Note to self: I don’t ever want to lay the kind of stress and guilt on my kids that my mom has laid on me.
Last week was a quiet week, the first since…January? The first two days I devoted to walking the dog and catching up on housework. Wednesday I got my workout in and took Mom to lunch. Thursday I walked again, and felt strong enough to tackle our den to get it habitable (I’m writing this in the den today!). By Friday, we were utterly out of groceries, so I shopped at 8:30 am, and by the time I got home and put everything away, I was wiped out and a puddle. (Missed my walk that day: coincidence? I think not.)
Yesterday, Saturday, I missed my walk again, and ended up having a mental health meltdown which took out my whole day and left me a quivering mass of protoplasm.
Another note to self: just keep walking. Especially when you don’t feel like it. It may not make you feel great, but it will keep you from feeling so much WORSE.
Plan for this week: keep putting one foot in front of the other. Literally.
Wednesday morning, we met with a hospice nurse from the home healthcare company.
On Friday, I took Mom to see her friendly neighborhood oncologist.
We had a lot of questions.
What were her treatment options? And what the hell was with this COUGH? What was Mom’s prognosis?
Cancer patients apparently have four treatment options available to them: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and oral medications. Mom is probably too weak to make it through surgery. Radiation didn’t work. Chemotherapy and oral meds would give her side effects worse than the symptoms (right now, NONE) of the actual disease.
Her prognosis? Her oncologist shrugged.
I pressed a bit.
“Are we talking on the order of ten years? Five?”
“Less than a year,” he admitted.
That was tough to hear.
I took Mom out for margaritas. We stopped at Red Robin and ordered HUGE mango margaritas (yum!) and drank to life.
We both (eventually) drained our glasses.
Life is good.
When I was at the bus stop yesterday morning, I was chatting it up with the neighbors. Eventually all but one drifted away to start their days. We chatted for a moment more, then drifted off ourselves.
“You know,” he called as he walked away, “the truth will set you free.”
I nodded, and smiled politely. A statement that I generally accept as true, but it didn’t really have anything to do with what we’d been talking about.
Then he paused and shook his head. “I don’t know why I said that, but it’s been in my head all morning.”
• • •
Flash forward to this morning at the bus stop. I’d been filling folks in on the suckiness of yesterday, and how Mom shouldn’t have had to hear that she has stage 4 lung cancer from her daughter over the phone from 500 miles away.
We finished the conversation, and as we drifted apart, the same neighbor looked at me and said, “Maybe THAT’S why I said that the truth will set you free.”
I looked back at him. I remembered.
I got goosebumps.
• • •
As I was laying awake last night, waiting for sleep to take me, I prayed. I realized that as sucky as my day had been, not once had I paused to give it up to God. I didn’t stop to ask Him for peace, strength, or wisdom; I didn’t praise Him or thank Him once all day.
I had forgotten Him for a while yesterday. But he most definitely had NOT forgotten me.