Because I can buy and sell stocks and bonds for my clients on my desktop computer I’m required to have a very strong password and I’m required to change it every ninety days. My memory being what it is requires a mnemonic system for choosing passwords. So three different characters in the beginning, four different numbers at the end and a variable word in the middle. For the first 21 months I used the seven dwarfs. !@#Dopey1234 is considered a very strong password and one that I can remember. When I ran out of the Dwarfs I switched to planets starting with Mercury and moving outward.
The other day I sat down and stared at my computer. I had to ask myself the somewhat cosmic question; What planet am I on?
The past 16 days have been surreal. My Mother uncharacteristically called my sister complaining of the worst headache ever. At 87 she was living independently, driving and involved in social activities in the neighborhood. Her usual response to hardship of any kind is stubborn stoicism. The CAT scan revealed three brain aneurysms.
She was moved to the larger hospital in Flint. We were informed that she was a candidate for the non-invasive surgery known as Neurointerventionalist/neurosurgery.
Depending on the aneurysm’s size, location and shape, it may be treatable from inside the blood vessel. This minimally invasive procedure is similar to the cerebral angiogram. However, in addition to taking pictures, a catheter is directed through the blood vessels into the aneurysm itself. Then, using X-ray guidance, the endovascular surgeon carefully places soft platinum micro-coils into the aneurysm and detaches them. The coils stay within the aneurysm and act as a mechanical barrier to blood flow, thus sealing it off.
The surgeon was able to treat two of the three aneurysms. The untreated one had not ruptured.
We never were able to have a complete or coherent conversation with Mom thereafter. She breathed with assistance from a respirator through a tube in her throat. She answered yes and no questions with nods. She specifically asked for my Sister in law, Peggy who is a nurse anesthetist. Peggy leaned in and explained in detail where she was, what had happened and how she was being treated.
Consultations with the doctors over the next few days were wildly inconsistent. She would make a complete recovery, she wasn’t “out of the woods” yet, we have to wait and see. We watched her condition deteriorate over the next nine days and knew that the third untreated aneurysm was likely a ticking time bomb.
We came to a unanimous conclusion; time to stop all active treatment.
On June 29 the respirator was removed. When we came into the room Peggy went to the ICU monitor and started pressing buttons. “Are you allow to touch that?” I asked. “I’m turning off the alarms. We don’t need to hear this thing beeping when any of her vitals go above or below normal.” We held Mom’s hand, we stroked her forehead and said encouraging, grateful and loving words. After about ninety minutes she took her last breath.
- Pick the right Siblings and In-laws. Mom had six children. We stayed in constant touch with each other and never disagreed. I know many stories where this was not the case. This experience has brought us much closer.
- Have an advance directive in which you designate a Patient Advocate. You’ve heard me say this before.
- Talk to your loved ones about your end of life preferences. When I gave the news to my son I was able to say, “This is exactly what Grandma wanted and, listen closely, this is exactly what I want when the time comes”.
- Consult with the Doctors but really listen to the Nurses. The Doctors see their patients for 10 minutes. The Nurses are with them day and night.
We respected Mom’s instructions not to plan a funeral or memorial service. On Monday I went back to work. I shared the news on Social Media from which there came an out- pouring of consolation, support and love. Five days later I celebrated a birthday and my Facebook page blew up with thoughtful expressions of kindness.
My mother’s legacy includes 10 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren. She loved large and was loved in return.