On the morning of the 18th January I went to rouse mum as has been my routine the past few months. Normally I would help her get out of bed onto the commode but the previous night she had elected to sleep on her chair in the living room. She was slumped to one side and no matter how I tried to wake her she, apart from making some incomprehensible sounds, didn't stir. Eventually, after much stroking of her face whilst calling out her name, she opened her eyes. I tried to assist her onto the commode with the use of her Zimmer frame but she simply didn't have the strength. Her knees buckled and she slumped back in her seat. The effort had cost her dearly so I gave her the nebuliser to help with her breathing. Whilst the machine pumped out its fine mist I went to prepare her breakfast.
Mum, British to the core, likes her cup of tea first thing so I put the kettle on. I also popped her regular drugs from the bubble pack into a glass dish for her to take and then made ready the bowl of shredded wheat she has each morning. I took the drinks into her placing them on the trolley that sits beside her chair whilst putting the medication on the arm of her chair. As the nebuliser finished its atomising I put the milk on (she likes hot milk on her Shredded Wheat) then placed the bowl onto a tray which I then gave her. She took not one sip of either her tea or her water and left the hot bowl of cereal sitting in her lap. After half and hour or so, having tried to cajole, encourage and even bully her into eating or drinking something I gave up, gently suggesting we try again in a while.
She started coughing; a wet croak as a clear liquid bubbled from her mouth. I managed to clear up the gummy froth by using handfuls of Kleenex. It took seemingly forever but eventually, after a good fifteen minutes, the coughing fit passed. I left her for about and hour. At 8 o'clock I repeated the whole process minus commode and nebuliser. I made a fresh cup of tea and another hot bowl of milk and shredded wheat. Nothing. She didn't want them. She just sat slumped with the appearance of someone sleeping. As the care workers arrived she started coughing again. The same clear, sticky liquid. We all three looked at each other as mum hadn't been like this the previous visit. I said to them 'I'm phoning the doctor' which I did.
By the way, this is the same doctor, you may recall my saying, who when my mum's friend collapsed in her living room told me 'you could always phone 999.' The doctors gatekeeper answered my call. I told her I had a ninety one year old COPD sufferer who also had heart failure that was presenting with a tacky liquid literally pouring from her mouth. The response I got chilled me to the core. 'Doctor's very busy this morning and can't come out until this afternoon.' I reiterated this was vital but received the same story. I then phoned 111 (a system in the UK, like an advice line, that is there to help when required.) I gave all the relevant information and although I don't usually hold them in any regard on this occasion they were really helpful. They instructed me to phone the Doctor back and insist he come out. This I did. Again I was told he was unavailable and that I should phone 999. Frankly, with hindsight, that should have been my first port of call. Not that I panicked. I was doing what I thought right but In pursuing what I believed to be the correct order I failed to recognise how dire things were.
When the ambulance arrived the medics took mum's vital signs and then hastily laid her on the wheeled stretcher. I climbed in the back and with the blues and two's flashing, siren wailing, we drove to the hospital.
Upon arrival we went straight into the emergency room negating A&E. I was taken to a waiting room whist the doctor on duty, along with a nurse, examined mum. After what seemed an age I was asked to accompany the sister into the room where mum was lying half awake.
Her left lung had filled. It needed draining but mum had refused to have the procedure. The doctor spoke with me then asked mum would she like to be resuscitated should the need arise. She said she wouldn't. They then had her sign a DNR form before putting her onto a morphine mixed with midazolam driver.
For the past week she has been drifting in and out of consciousness. Sometimes alert, most times asleep. She said she wanted to die at home so yesterday, at nine in the evening they brought her home.
Prior to that I had dug out all her old photos. The ones of her and dad, their wedding, the times they had at company dinners. I stuck them up on her bedroom wall with blue tack. The one of dad when he was in the RAF aged eighteen at wars end I hung on a nail. I put up photos of me as a child; photos of my children, my grandchildren, her brothers and sisters. It all became too much. So many relatives now dead. My dad, my aunts and uncles. The only ones left alive of my mums family are her and her younger brother. I moved all the furniture about hovering and dusting just so I was active. Anything rather than dwell on all this death. Of course that isn't true. Many of the pictures are of those still alive, with a future. Notably my children and the two boys, Jacob and Joshua.
Now she lays in her bed drugged to the eyeballs taking shallow breaths and I find myself wanting her death to be soon, to be quick. Not that I want my mum dead. I just want her to be out of pain and at peace.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.