Sick and weakened, Mom paused on her way back to bed from the commode. She looked at me closely, Do you think other people get to be this old, and this sick, and die in this way? Yes, they do, I replied, as simply and honestly as I could. Several times this week, she mentioned death. Mostly she made short statements, indicating that being sick AND 98, she knew this might be it for her. In the hospital she said, I really like the nurse, Kelli. I want to be friends with her forever, but that won’t be very long because I’m going to die soon. Then she said, So you be friends with her, Ok?
Mom with her most favorite nurse, Kelli.
I inhaled sharply, shuddered, agreed, and noticed how she is always trying to hook everyone up with each other, whether platonically or romantically. A few days later, she hatched a plan for me to go on a cruise to Alaska with this sixty-something year old son of old family friends. He’d called her to wish her Happy Birthday, and happened to mention an Alaskan cruise he is taking solo.
You can have your own room, Mom told me, trying to sway my less-than-receptive-to-the-idea self. You’ll know someone on the cruise. That’d be good. You can say hi when you see each other. Um-hmmm, I said. This woman (my mother) never gives up.
She still likes life a lot, so she isn’t really ready to contemplate her own dying, but the issue forced itself on her with a urinary tract infection, a right lower lobe pneumonia, and then what I read on her discharge papers: severe sepsis.
Personally, I don’t think she had severe sepsis, because, generally speaking, 98 year old people don’t do well with it. Well, to be clear, no one does. Pneumonia itself is usually enough to take you out at 98. She did feel awful, but since she’s not one to complain much (except about small things like how I wear my hair), I got that she was sick as hell, but still, not exactly septic.
This wasn’t the only thing I questioned in the hospital. I questioned a lot. I was a total pain in their butt. They put her on TWO blood pressure medications for a measly reading of 160-something over 70. Jesus!!!! She suffered side effects; it wasn’t pretty. Her blood pressure has been low all her life, until she was about 97, when her top number starting climbing a bit. But not much. Seriously, blood pressure medication was the last thing she needed! In addition to aspirin, they also wanted to give her daily injections in her abdomen to “prevent clots”. Jesus! She’d had a brain hemorrhage at age 59! And, you know, why give one blood pressure medicine or one blood thinner, when you can give TWO of each?? to a 98 year old!!
Still, the hospitalization wasn’t all bad. I felt heartened when she received good care. I just couldn’t count on it.
I watched like a hawk.
When nurses narrowed their eyes at me with disdain or dis-pleasure when I refused a drug on Mom’s behalf, it gave me pleasure to let them know I had the knowledge of a seasoned nurse and the power of attorney over Mom’s health decisions. It gave me pleasure to use that power for the good of my Mom, though it was exhausting, and I hated that I had to, hated they weren’t willing to be reasonable, collaborative, and kind just because it was the right thing to be.
We bowed in gratitude to the nurses who manifested both good technique and kindness. We grumbled about the ones who manifested neither. The hospitalist doctor was also a piece of work… a pretty boy, smooth talker, who forgot to change orders when he said he would, who was neglectful of a variety of things, who always seemed to be in a hurry to get someplace else, (I thought probably Club Med, or its equivalent). He was a bullshitter; I called BS.
Every night I went home to sleep because I had spent the first 44 of 48 hours awake with Mom before we got her to the hospital. I was wiped. I wanted to be a super-daughter on her behalf, but I was in fact an extremely tired 70 year old who’d just gotten over six months of illness herself. At the hospital I spent from 8am to 9pm each day doing my hawk thing, making sure no one killed her by mistake. I know we have to die of something at some point, but it shouldn’t be by medical error, at least not on my watch. I hate that so many people die this way.
This experience taught me to care less what people think of me. Since this (pleasing others) has always been an issue for me, this was not an insignificant teaching. I’ll just say I always envy people who don’t need this teaching, but that said, we are who we are.
Since my Mom is 98, I know she’s likely to die at some point in the not-too-distant future. She’s much more ready now than she was 5 or 6 years ago. We couldn’t talk about it at all back then. Now she just tosses the word death or dying into the conversation at any old time. I just hope she gets to enjoy life while she’s still here. That people are kind. That she doesn’t suffer too much.
I was raised to have good manners, so I have them. I totally see the value in good manners. I love when Michelle Obama says, When they go low, we go high.
But not necessarily if people are in danger and your good manners keep you from speaking up or taking action. Lots of people were up in arms after Michelle Wolf’s searingly to-the-point roast and take-down of Trump and his administration, especially of Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Sanders lies and intimidates relentlessly on behalf of a boss who destroys the lives of immigrants, destroys the environment, destroys our educational system, is in bed with the NRA, and… the list is endless. Wolfe was right to take Sanders down. But she was criticized heavily for it, not just by the Right. Of course they would. But, also by the Left, by liberals. It seems people want perfect manners at all times from the Left, but the Right can rape, lie, and pillage??? Really?
In a conversation with my sister yesterday, she mentioned that, in regard to elections, Patagonia (the company she works for) has always used the tagline Vote the Environment! However, recently, Yvon Chouinard, the founder and head of Patagonia, seems to feel that, due to current circumstances, a change might be in order, for instance, Vote the Assholes Out!
Sometimes I think we need to gently lay aside our perfect manners for a few minutes when lives are threatened. When there is severe danger, you watch like a hawk. You try your best to be reasonable, and, at the same time you do what you need to to protect people and the planet; you call out who needs calling out.
When I was in nursing school (a million years ago) we were actually taught that if you were sitting down at the nurse’s station doing your charting and a doctor walked into the station, you immediately got up to make sure that there was a chair for him. (It was always a him). We were also taught that if the doctor said something wrong, you had to correct him in a way that made him think he’d figured it out himself. Really???
Some learned manners need to be overcome.
Now, I think if a doctor is wrong, you tell him or her. So, at the hospital this last week, I did!
I also think it’s ok to call a liar a liar. It’s ok to call an asshole an asshole. It’s ok to call BS! No, really… it’s more than ok.
Brava Michelle Wolf! Bravo Yvon Chouinard! And brava to me! I fought for my Mom to have good medical care; I spoke up and I made myself a barrier when nursing staff didn’t know how to be kind. Good manners are good, and sometimes — for the safety of people or the planet — you just need to call BS.