Out of the darkness at last…
It’s been a busy few weeks round here. You can probably tell that by the traditional absence of anything new here on the blog. Slowly and surely, the gaps between posts get a bit longer and a bit longer, until I’m back to my old ways of posting some long rambling missive about once every three or four months.
This time, it’s only been about six weeks though and I’m back because I’m afraid I have some sad news to share.
A week ago, the carers who help to look after my mother arrived at her house in the morning to find her very unwell and very short of breath. They immediately contacted the local urgent care service, who arranged for an ambulance to pick Mum up and deliver her to the Accident and Emergency Department at Darlington Memorial Hospital. They also called me to let me know what was happening and I found myself back on the old merry-go-round of mad dashes and daily visits to and from the hospital – but this time to see Mum, rather than Dad.
Over the weekend, she was in a bad way and the doctors were very worried. On the positive side, they knew what was wrong – Mum was obviously suffering from an infection and had come down with aspiration pneumonia. This kind of thing is a well-known area of concern for patients who are suffering from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), since the condition usually leads to problems with the muscles in the throat and, therefore, difficulties with swallowing correctly or with clearing the airways as and when something does go the wrong way. For someone like my Mum, who has lived with this nasty, debilitating disease for something like 15 or 16 years since her first diagnosis (thus making her one of the longest known surviving PSP patients) swallowing problems become a big deal. In fact, it’s pretty remarkable that, but for occasional relatively minor choking incidents, she hasn’t actually had any major pneumonia problems (or similar infections) before. So, as I said, it was pretty easy for the doctors to work out what was going on when she was taken in.
On the negative side, the things that made it all the more worrying were that the infection didn’t seem to be responding to antibiotics and, even if it did, my Mum’s throat and chest weren’t strong enough to allow her to clear the fluids that were building up in and around her lungs. Lots of rather serious discussions had to be had about treatment plans and options over the weekend and I found myself once again living through the same kind of thing that happened with my father several times during the course of the last couple of years. I’ll say one thing, it may get easier to understand and appreciate the importance of those conversations when you’ve been through them a few times already, but it doesn’t make the whole process any less difficult or painful.
Still, the doctors came up with a treatment plan that made complete sense and which I agreed with fully and we waited to see what the passing days would bring. She remained very unwell until Monday, but by Tuesday things had picked up slightly and she was more settled. When Glenda and I called in to see her last night, the infection markers in her blood had more or less returned to normal (give or take one test result that was still on the high side) and, although she was still suffering from breathlessness due to the fluid build-up in her chest, she appeared to be rather more comfortable than she had been since being admitted last Thursday. We all knew that we weren’t out of the woods yet by any means, but all of us (including the nursing and medical teams) felt that things were looking more positive than they had thus far and that she might be able to recover after all.
Which made the phone call at around twenty to one this morning a bit more surprising than it might otherwise have been. A very nice staff nurse spoke to me and told me that my Mum had passed away in her sleep just a short time before. They had checked on her a little earlier and she was sleeping fairly comfortably and showing no signs of distress. About half an hour or so later, while passing the room and quickly checking on her again, they noticed that she had simply slipped away from this world. No stress, no drama, no suffering, just a quiet and peaceful passing.
They gave me the option of going straight down there and seeing her on the ward, rather than waiting until today to see her in the hospital’s chapel of rest, so Glenda and I got ready and headed down there straight away. We got there at around 1:30 a.m. and found my mother laid peacefully on the bed, with a lot of the lines of pain and stress already disappearing from her face. The PSP can’t make things any worse for her now, she has finally escaped from it in the only way that PSP patients ever can escape. Out of the darkness at last…