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Two Decades of Kids and Counting

By Sally Torbey

About this blog: About this blog: I have enjoyed parenting five children in Palo Alto for the past two decades and have opinions about everything to do with parenting kids (and dogs). The goal of my blog is to share the good times and discuss the ...  (More)

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Home sweet home

Uploaded: Feb 7, 2017
Two weeks ago my 88-year-old mother collapsed unconscious on the floor of her apartment. Fortunately, her ever-vigilant caregivers caught her as she fell, so she avoided a broken hip or a concussion. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

My mother has had Alzheimer’s for a long time. We first noticed significant issues with her short-term memory and decision-making capabilities about 15 years ago. But despite this ailment, and because of excellent care, she is remarkably healthy and able to enjoy daily outings with her helpers, sing show tunes, relish a good meal, read her favorite books, and watch nature shows on TV. At each weekly visit she needs a reminder that I’m her daughter, however, and she doesn’t know what year it is, in which state she’s living, or what she just ate for lunch.

If she were able to make decisions for herself, we know that at this point in her life she would never want to be resuscitated, intubated, or hooked up to a machine to breath. We did not intend to subject her to aggressive or intrusive medical treatment, but we were optimistic that after a few days of hospital care she could return to her apartment and have a quality of life close to what she had before this illness.

What we didn’t expect was how detrimental the hospital environment would be to her mental status. In the emergency room, with the help of gentle coaxing and persuading, she cooperated with the blood draws, x-rays, intravenous lines, and scans that were needed to diagnose and treat what was determined to be a life-threatening infection. She received the necessary medical treatment, but over the next few hours she became increasingly disoriented. The combination of her illness, lack of sleep and the constant stream of unfamiliar doctors, nurses and other health care professionals monitoring, assessing and touching her overwhelmed her limited ability to cope. And even though everyone who treated her was unfailingly polite and kind, and painstakingly explained whatever it was they needed to do to help her get better, she became agitated and terrified. Twenty-four hours into the hospitalization she became outright delirious, drifting in and out of consciousness, unable to rest, focus her attention, speak, or respond to touch or voice. She was reaching out with her arms to grab things that only she could see, and her eyes were wide-open with fear and panic.

She was suffering so terribly that we knew we had to get her home, but how to bring her home and assure that she would be comfortable there? After a long, emotional, and gut-wrenching conversation with her long-time primary care physician, we made the most humane and caring, but extraordinarily difficult decision, to enlist hospice in caring for her at home.

With the help of hospice, she came back to her apartment 11 days ago and, while still very compromised, she is recovering. Every day with her is a gift, and we are grateful for this reprieve. Whatever amount of time Mom chooses to stay on, she will spend it in her own home with the people (and dogs) she knows and loves around her.
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Posted by Mother of 4 , a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Feb 8, 2017 at 8:16 am

This is such a poignant, heart wrenching story. Thank you for sharing. It is hard to see our parents no longer being the strong people they once were, but it is something that we all have to be prepared to do the same.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 8, 2017 at 9:01 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Mother of 4, thanks for reading and commenting, and your kind words. I feel tremendous sadness and guilt about what Mom went through while hospitalized, but the desire to "cure the illness" is so strong that we subjected her to more than we should have. Is anyone adequately prepared to help their parents with these late-in-life and end-of-life issues? Is there more we can do to prepare our own children to honor our wishes?

Posted by Susan Paul, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive,
on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:21 am

Susan Paul is a registered user.

Sally - We had a similar experience with my dad in the hospital (unfortunately with a broken hip), we moved him back to familiar surroundings as soon we could and that helped tremendously. It is very hard to move from curing the illness to focusing on the best quality of life, but we found that hospice care was truly a gift in that respect. You are taking great care of your mom, she is blessed to have you.

Posted by Sally Torbey, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Feb 8, 2017 at 10:51 am

Sally Torbey is a registered user.

Dear Susan Paul,
Thank you for reading and for the supportive remarks. Yes, it is very helpful to be guided by professionals who have been down this road before.

Posted by Rod, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Sep 21, 2017 at 10:25 pm

Sally, thank you for sharing. My dad is 81 and battling congestive heart failure and kidney disease, which is a terrible combination due to the conflicting medications. He's always been very independent and free-spirited, so it is so hard for him to just "take it easy" and not do the things that make him happy. It's been an emotional roller coaster ride for him, as he's broken down crying to all his doctors, but all I can do is try to keep him in a positive mental state. I encourage him to spend time with his 3 grandchildren and take them fishing, and focus on the things he CAN do instead of what he can't. I know it's been a while since you posted your original post. I pray that you an the family are well.


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