And she’s buying a stairway to heaven (home hospice journey #7)

It is done.  We lost our lovely Dianne 1 week ago on Thursday, 5/16, at 10:15am.  Her passing was peaceful – far more so than we dared to hope for with a COPD patient.  She’d had a rough Tuesday night and difficult Wednesday morning but as her day progressed, she gradually slipped into a semi-comatose state by evening, with that rattling sort of breathing that means we’re nearing the end. We settled her in bed and made her as comfortable as possible and settled in to keep watch.  Around midnight, I headed off to bed with the intention of taking over in the morning and letting my husband get some rest.  Once my daughter was off to school (my son saw the writing on the wall, so to speak, and refused to leave), I got settled into place and sent Mike off to get some rest.  

Mostly I hung out bedside and got a bit of work done on my laptop.  Every so often, I’d get up to ensure she was comfortable. I noticed at one point that she was warm and a bit sweaty so took off her socks and bathed her face a bit.  I kept watch on the color of her lips and fingertips and listened to the rhythm of her breathing – mostly so that if anything noticeably changed, I could go get Mike.  None of that happened.  She was breathing one moment and the next, she wasn’t.  There was no gasping, nothing erratic, no sound.  She simply was and then she wasn’t.  I ran to wake up my husband to let him know his mother was gone.

All of the official hustle and bustle of a passing began: hospice was called, the police came, the cremation service notified.  Forms were signed, i’s dotted, t’s crossed.  Once the legalities were complete, Mike laid back down for a bit and I did some straightening up – stripping the bed, packing away clothing and supplies, that sort of thing.  

Things feel a bit unsettled.  Dianne’s wishes were to forego the whole funeral home and service thing and instead transport her ashes as a family to a park in the Bitterroot mountains of Idaho, to be scattered in a place that she loved dearly.  We’ll make that trip later this summer.  In the meantime, the healing needs to begin.  It’s a long road we’ve been on and we all need a bit of rest.  I’m so glad her passing was peaceful and serene. Hopefully she left a bit of that peace and serenity in her wake. 

Thank you all for the support and just for reading. Your presence is felt and appreciated.

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Who shines white light and wants to show (home hospice experience #4)

For those just tuning in – this is another entry in my ongoing series about our journey through home hospice (our hone) with my mother-in-law, who is dying of emphysema.

Yes, there's an "elephant in the room" implication with this photo choice too

Yes, I’m well aware of the “elephant in the room” meaning of this photo choice…

Things are coasting right now. D seems to be feeling better by the day. Why? Well, lots of reasons, I think. She’s eating good food and eating well at every meal. This is a big change because she’d been feeling so poorly for so long that her eating habits had really deteriorated. When we weren’t coming over with meals, she existed largely on frozen dinners, cookies, tea and the ever-present cigarettes. Nothing fresh, nothing that’s actually “real” food. She’s getting that now and it’s likely making her feel better. She’s hydrated. Yes, she still drinks a lot of tea but she also drinks a lot of water too so not all of her fluid intake is of a natural diuretic! She’s sleeping. 8-9 hours every night, plus naps here and there. And yes, there’s the drugs. The combo of morphine/xanax/fentanyl keeps her relaxed (!) and the frequent and consistent high dose steroid breathing treatments keep her remaining lung capacity, such as it is, operating as best it can. She’s also regaining her strength – she’s up and around quite a bit, wandering the family room, her bedroom and outside to the back porch. This is all wonderful. It is delightful to see her enjoying her days.

What isn’t so wonderful is her strength, her mobility and her delight in feeling so much better means she’s also smoking again with a vengeance. When she first came home to us and asked to have a cigarette, it wasn’t a big deal. She was weak as a newborn kitten and just as dependant. If she wanted a cigarette, she needed my husband to help her into the wheelchair, wrap her in a blanket, wheel her outside, hand her the smoke and light it. She’d draw in a few puffs before she tired of it and asked to go back inside. She only requested it every few days or so. It was largely ceremonial; a “see, I still can”. Now that she can do this under her own power, that’s changed. She’s grabbing her jacket and heading out on her own several times a day – maybe even 8 or more. Is it hard to watch? Heartbreaking? Is it her choice? Yes, yes and yes. Why? I think it’s a lot of things. She’s feeling better right now than I think she has in a year or more. I think that, along with drugs that will naturally imbue a sense of euphoria have maybe given her bit of a “second wind”, if you’ll excuse the expression. A feeling that perhaps it’s all going to be fine and these damned cigarettes aren’t going to kill her after all.

Yep, still flammable.

Yep, still flammable.

On a side note, we did have to have the hospice nurse, during one of her twice weekly visits, give D a stern lecture on the dangers of open flame and oxygen. When we weren’t watching, D would toddle out to the porch, take off her oxygen canula, hang it over the back of her chair – still running full blast – and light one up. How we haven’t all blown up by now, I’ll never know. Even though she’s been on nearly full-time O2 for over a year, D insists no one ever told her this wasn’t the safest of set ups. (Even worse, in her own home, she was indoors and doing this!) Now she has to remove the canula, turn the machine off, go outside, have her cigarette, come back in, turn it back on and start breathing air again. This is tough stuff, especially right after a smoke, so the 15 or so feet from the porch to her bed without her air on takes 6-7 minutes or more. She can’t breathe and has to stop and rest every step or two. Will it slow her down? Probably not. She has the energy and the drive to get out there just fine. She’s not considering the tough trip back in afterwards, just the gratification right now.

We don’t know, of course, what this means for her lifespan. I think it will likely cut this period of relative well-being shorter than it might be. It certainly isn’t doing her lungs any bit of good at all – either the smoking or the time off oxygen smoking requires. Nor is it doing her brain any good either – every moment with diminished O2 to the grey matter makes for another blow to her mental acuity. It’s so painful to watch but it’s her lungs, her choice and her life to spend as she wishes and this is what she wishes. She’ll spend her last days servicing the gods of addiction that are killing her.

I have no idea if these posts mean anything to anyone but myself and a few scattered friends and family. But they do help me to record what’s happening and it’s affects on all of us. (affect or effect? damn, that one gets me every time!) If you have your own stories of this journey, please share. In the meantime, thanks for coming by – even a click of the “like” button tells me someone’s paying attention and cares a bit. Thank you. And I do promise to get back to posting on some less weighty topics soon – this blog, and my own psyche, could use the break!

So, my cat’s ass is “internet famous”

So, my cat Mac’s business end was used in a recent Cat’s Pride (a cat litter brand) Facebook post!  Now the disclaimer: I work for the ad agency that manages and produces much of the content for Cat’s Pride, including their Facebook page. Therefore, it’s not entirely that amazing that this particular kittytush was featured in this way.

My cat Mac's tush as featured on facebook.com/catspride

My cat Mac’s tush as featured on facebook.com/catspride

Mac is, well, different.  I say that with love, of course.  He refuses to drink from the water dish like the other pets.  I mean, how plebeian, right?  The only place he will drink from is the faucet, preferably in the bathroom.  First of all, because the water is not left running at all times for his convenience, he has learned to take advantage whenever he hears someone entering the room with his favorite watering hole. Therefore, day or middle-of-the-night, if one of us ventures into the bathroom, you’ll hear the thundering rumble of a large, not particularly nimble orange cat racing from where ever in the house he happens to be. Because he’s a bit clumsy, it’s not too unusual to hear him careening off furniture, walls and/or bathroom cabinetry along the way.

He has a very particular process as well. We turn the water on very low, and yes, he will sit and look at us with all of the very considerable disdain he can muster if the water force is not to his liking.  If we have acted in an acceptable manner, then he will settle himself on the edge of the sink with his front paws bracing either side of the drain. Then, ever so carefully, he places his head under the stream of water, adjusting position until it’s just right.  The water then hits him mid-forehead, rolls down his face onto the side of the sink where he laps it up.  For whatever reason, it’s not enough to drink from the sink without it rolling off his face.  When he’s had his fill, he then shakes his head (spraying water droplets all over our bathroom mirror) and goes about his business.

That’s my boy.