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Back Home on Garfield Street

I knew it was different this time. My mother-in-law has been in and out of the hospital more than half a dozen times this year alone. Her more recent visits were prompted by her slipping out of bed or slumping down to the floor when being assisted by her care partners at the nursing home, after which she’d be unresponsive. Each time this happened, an ambulance was called, as were we. Scott would always be the one to go to the ER since only one of us would be allowed into her room. He’d generally find her mostly unresponsive, squirming restlessly, and incoherently mumbling, but after an hour or so she would start behaving normally again – at least as normal as her dementia permits. Typically, her ER trips were followed by admission to the hospital for observation, often with a secondary diagnosis of urinary tract infection requiring IV antibiotics. But this time it was different.

I knew it was different just like I knew three years ago that my mom’s emergency room visit was more than just routine. It wasn’t the first time my mom had been to the emergency room, although her frequency to the hospital had not been to the extent of Vivian’s. Still, those other times I was calm leaving to meet her in the ER , and her other visits had minor and easily fixable outcomes. Somehow though, deep in my gut, I knew it was more serious that time. When I tried to collect myself and explain to my coworkers why I had to leave, I lost all control. I sobbed with quick, short breaths as the words fell out of my mouth, “My mom has been taken to the hospital. I have to go.” I grabbed my purse and coat, trying to convince myself that it was no big deal and that I was overreacting. Doctors found a blockage in her heart and they had to put in a stent to help prevent a heart attack.

This past Monday afternoon the nursing home called us to let us know that Vivian had collapsed in the shower and was unresponsive once again. Her heart rate was fine, and her oxygen level was stable, but she couldn’t acknowledge or respond to commands offered by the nursing home staff. Scott called to let me know he’d be heading over to the emergency room after taking a quick shower. I finished my errands and arrived home to find Scott’s car still in the driveway. When I went to check on him, I heard sobs coming from the shower. Then I knew, unmistakably, that this hospital visit would not be the same.

I drove Scott to the Rusholme and Bridge Street entrance of Genesis East, knowing I would have to sit out in the car and wait. Forty-five minutes later he texted me to tell me his mom was experiencing kidney failure, her sodium levels were high, and her INR levels continued to climb – despite not having had coumadin in several days. She was still incoherent, restless and unresponsive. Due to the more terminal prognosis, I was permitted to join them in the ER while they waited for a room to be ready for her. After four days in the hospital, we decided to schedule Compassus Hospice and Visiting Angels to help us care for her at home. Vivian is back home on Garfield Street where she lived for more than 45 years. The same home where she raised her two children, created lesson plans for her students, made Jell-O with fruit and cool whip every Thanksgiving, and ensured that every Christmas was magical. We don’t know how long she’ll be with us, but we are thankful to be able to spend these remaining weeks or months together.

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