25 September 2017

A turn for the worse.

My mother has got worse. A week ago, I went in - as I do every day - to prepare her lunch and found her floppy, confused, shaking like a leaf and not at all like my mum. I dialed 999 and an ambulance crew arrived in ten minutes. She was whisked off to A&E where we spent ten hours!  Yep, you read right - TEN HOURS. In the first few hours, she was undressed, put in a gown, bloods taken, a catheter put in and then we more or less sat in a cubicle for a few more hours waiting and waiting and waiting. I studied the scratches and gouges on the walls and got  to know them intimately. Mum writhed on the trolley in agony.  We then saw an A&E doctor at about the  3-hour stage. The blood results finally  came back, showing a severe infection - but where? More waiting. Then after about nine hours one of the ward doctors came down to assess whether she was ill enough to be admitted. She was. But first a chest x-ray, which thankfully was all-clear. Finally after ten hours (and not a drop or morsel past our lips) she was taken up to a ward, where she has been for the last week.

The infection is coming from the nasty leg ulcer she has had since May. Back in May it was the size of a grape, then grew to a kiwi, then a peach. It had been more or less peach-sized for weeks, but now with the infection it is the size of a postcard! It is not healing as her leg artery is blocked meaning blood cannot get down to heal the ulcer. It is virtually eating away her lower leg and is quite an horrendous sight.  District nurses have been dressing it three times a week but now the hospital has left it exposed for it to dry out and thus stop the moist warm conditions that bacteria thrive on. The infection would explain my mother's quite dramatic decline over the last few weeks when even making a cup of tea was too much effort for her and she has been eating less and less of the meals I have prepared for her. Thankfully over the last week the infection is losing and the IV antibiotics are winning. However the excruciating pain she has been in since November (which we recently found out is caused by the arterial blockage) is still driving her crazy and she cannot get any rest. The hospital are experimenting with new drugs to try to lower the pain, but so far nothing has worked, even morphine. Even amputation has been considered by the doctors but, we are told,  is really too risky for a 94-year-old. We wait and wait with bated breath.

18 September 2017

Bone weary

I am tired. The sort of tired that, when you open your eyes first thing in the morning, you would happily close them again for a few more hours' sleep. I force myself out of bed and into the onslaught of the waking day. I am pushing the boundaries of sleep in both directions. I often do not get to bed until 2am and am up again at 7am. No wonder I am tired. I am caring for an aged parent on the one hand and an adult child on the other, both having time clocks on the opposite end of the spectrum.

As I heralded in my last post, Kay has moved back home with me for six months to save money for a big trip of a lifetime to Asia and South America next year. It is lovely having her home again and (so far) we have not torn one another's hair out or thrown a vase at the wall. We have not had this much lovely girlie time together in years. However she is working as a locum doctor, often on late night shifts in a different part of London, so by the time she gets home it is near midnight or, as in the case of last night, 2am. Silly as it may sound, I cannot rest until I know she is home safely. When she was in Yorkshire or Maidstone, I had no idea what time she came home, so I slept peacefully in ignorance. But now she is home with me again, I cannot rest until I hear her car pull up and the click of the front door. Then I can sleep.

On the other end of the spectrum, my 94-year-old mother is getting frailer. She now weighs only 7 stone, but her legs are enormous, swollen with fluid like tree trunks. A huge ulcer, which is the size of a plump peach, on her right leg is not healing. It will never heal, we are told, as the blood supply to it is very poor. She has stenosis, or in other words narrowings of the arteries in her pelvis and leg. It's just an old-age thing. Furring up of the arteries. One day the narrowings will close completely and the blood flow to her leg will stop altogether. Presumably that means gangrene. We have already been told amputation is the only real option to help her leg pain, but how is a 94-year-old, who can barely move, supposed to cope with an amputation or a prosthesis? The outlook is bleak. My mother has visibly deteriorated in the last six months. Back in April, she was coming with me to the local hypermarket to do a big shop and pushing a trolley up and down the aisles all by herself. Today she can barely lift herself out of her armchair and walk across the room to get to the bathroom. She sleeps all night in her armchair because she cannot get any rest from the relentless pain in her leg if she sleeps with them flat out in bed. She only gets relief if her feet are down on the floor. The armchair has become her home - day in, day out, night in, night out. The less she gets about, the less she is able to.   A vicious circle.

She needs to be woken up early, as she has daily appointments in the mornings that require her to be up and dressed....regular visits from the district nurses who dress her leg ulcer, appointments at hospitals, surgeries, you name it. Because of her medication for the pain, she sleeps quite deeply and so needs me to telephone her early at 7am and at regular intervals thereafter to make sure she is awake.  For the last ten weeks, I have visited every day at about 11am to make her lunch and prepare a supper to put in the fridge. Sometimes I get there to discover she is still undressed, having dozed off again after my last telephone call. Sometimes I find her eating her breakfast at 11.30am just as I arrive to cook her lunch. I feel as if I am in the middle of a nightmare world where strange things happen. As an only child and a widow, I have nobody else to call on to help. It's me or complete strangers and she's dismissed the idea of the latter. Living with me is not an option. My house is on 6 storeys with too many stairs. She would be incarcerated in one room - my bedroom, as it is the only room with a bathroom on the same level.

I'm so run-down, I've even had a gum infection (the first one in my life ever)  with a swollen cheek that made me look like a lop-sided hamster and pain I didn't know was possible. Occasionally, I am so battered by the relentless early starts and late nights, that I nod off after my lunch. I try not to, as I don't want to waste the precious hours when I could be doing something for me.  I guess I'm just going to have to find some bigger matchsticks.....

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05 September 2017

Happy chaos

Bags bursting with contents lie strewn across my hallway. A full-length mirror is propped precariously up against the hall wall. A pile of four pillows and duvet are unceremoniously dumped in a corner. A crate of kitchen utensils are balanced on my dining chair.  In the lounge a bag containing two (now defunct) laptops lies on the floor. There are jauntily stacked piles of DVDs and CDs here and there on the floor. The kitchen cupboards are bulging with two of everything - gravy granules, flour, jam, herbs sauces, rice, pasta, teabags, coffee.  Absolute chaos reigns. The interior of my house looks like a cyclone has hit it.  The reason?  Kay has moved back home and brought with her eight years' worth of gathered essentials (and non-essentials) of independent living to merge back into my house. 

It is hard to believe that it has been eight years since my one and only child, Kay, left home to go to university up in Yorkshire. Ever  since that tear-stained day, she has lived away from home - predominantly six years at uni in Yorkshire, for one year working in Maidstone and for the last year in another part of London close to the hospital where she works.  Six months after she left home, Greg, my husband died, and I have been rattling around this big house for over seven years on my own. Until now. She has come home and I must adapt to sharing my home once more.

A few weeks ago, Kay finished her two years - first in Maidstone and then in London -  as a foundation doctor or houseman, as it used to be called. That is the period between graduating from medical school as a young doctor and starting to specialise, gaining experience in different disciplines. She now has to start three years of core training in an area she wants to specialise in.  As yet, she is still not 100% certain what that will be, but does not have to commit at this stage, as she will have more placements in various fields to narrow her choice down further.

However, she is young compared to her peers.  First she is the baby of her year, as her birthday comes at the end of the academic year (July) here in the UK. Also she got into medical school straight from school, whereas many applicants for medicine fail to get in first time and go off to do another degree first before trying to get into medical school again. Kay is currently 26, whereas many of her peers are in their late 20s or even 30s. Therefore she has decided she can afford to take a belated gap year to see a bit more of the world, while she still can, before she gets sucked into the career ladder.

Her aim is to work as a locum doctor for the next six months to squirrel away enough money to fund the ensuing six months of travel. She and her boyfriend aim to visit various parts of Asia and then go on to cover  large parts of South America. By living at home, she can save the £800 per month she has been paying for one room in a flat-share in central London for the past year. As a locum, she is not tied to one particular hospital as she was before, so can travel in any direction from my house to a variety of hospitals on an ad hoc basis.

It is lovely for me to have some company at home and it is great for her not to have to worry about shopping or cooking or the laundry. Don't get me wrong, she has offered to do all three, but she is busy with her work (and has a big exam to do in the next few days as part of her membership to the Royal College of Physicians) and I am quite happy to have someone to look after, so it suits us both. Someone jokingly said they wondered who would crack first. It won't be me, I am certain.

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