Caring for a loved one as they battle dual terminal illnesses can be overwhelming, an experience filled with sadness, so I was thrilled when my aunt said that she was coming to town to visit for the weekend. I imagined the two sisters bonding over old memories and disco music while I slept for 12 consecutive hours before getting out for a much-needed lunch with a childhood friend.
Mom started out having a great week, so I was unprepared when she suddenly became weak and wobbly on her feet late on Friday night. When she developed a continuous cough that progressed into what sounded like choking, my aunt and I couldn’t dial 911 fast enough.
I first called the hospice nurse who told us to give mom a dose of morphine because the medication suppresses coughing. I gave her the treatment, but we panicked when the choking sound seemed to intensify. We called 911 and the paramedics and fire department crew arrived within moments. But I already knew when the 911 operator asked if mom was turning blue (she wasn’t) or breathing (she was) that we had overreacted.
Of course, just mere minutes after half-dozen handsome firemen and paramedics arrived, mom was feeling much better, and there was no need to go to the emergency room. I apologized repeatedly to the crew who were all professional, sweet, and understanding. They told me not to hesitate to call again. They even laughed at my jokes about mom only feeling better due to the amount of testosterone in the room.
Our planned weekend of rest and reminiscing turned into a blunt reminder of the inevitable as her cancer and dementia seem to be progressing at equal rates. The hospice gave us a nebulizer to provide mom with some relief from her severe coughing, but the device is loud and not the best method when mom is agitated.
I was told to expect more episodes where mom may cough up blood as the disease progresses. If things were scary before, they are terrifying now. The thought of bearing witness to mom’s decline for whatever time she has left seems like an impossible feat — but the alternative is more chilling.
I’ve asked her many times how she managed to raise kids while dealing with severe depression, as I also live with a major depressive disorder and can’t imagine coping as well as she did under similar circumstances. Her response is that she simply had to. I am now learning exactly what she means.
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