Four months ago, my life was like pretty much every other baby boomer's. I worked, spent time with my husband and married children, travelled occasionally and had my mother to dinner twice a week. And four months ago, my mother broke her leg, ending her independent living in a senior's complex in the heart of London.
Mom is 86 years old. She has severe arthritis, high blood pressure and diabetes. In a flash, our lives were filled with hospitals, doctors and new routines. Both of our lives were turned upside down. Weaving through the medical maze, my mother finally was able to settle in to a nice retirement room where she consistently used her walker, and she enjoyed meals with other seniors and was even beginning to participate in community programs.
Disaster struck as her arthritis symptoms flew out of control. Was this just a temporary flare-up? I watched as my mother cried in pain every day. At times the symptoms were managed but she was on drugs causing other extreme symptoms and the temporary relief she felt would quickly fade as new drug regimes were tried. Sadly, the only drugs that seemed to give relief were drugs she could not remain on for long.
The retirement home my mother sits in is wonderful, the staff friendly and helpful and the responses timely. But retirement homes are not staffed for care with feeding and dressing and daily care. Long-term care facilities are. Our community care access people were very concerned, responsive and helpful with offering different professionals and suggestions. The news was grim. Mom needed a long-term care facility and the wait was going to be months.
For the last six weeks, we have introduced private care people who take care of my mother a number of times daily. Arthritis is intrusive, pain is very hard to manage, and I watched helplessly as my mother was able to do very little for herself. We both worried if she was becoming too much of a nuisance to the retirement staff. The pain continued, along with the crying with each movement. Believe me the body makes a lot of movements in an hour, let alone a day.
This week, I was reduced to calling my mother's personal care physician to beg him for pain relief. Pleading for help becomes a way of life when one watches a mother in a lot of pain. This is not the first time I have made such pleading phone calls on my mother's behalf. She clearly has deteriorated well past what a retirement home can offer her, and what extra paid professionals can offer her too. Mom needs a long-term care facility and unfortunately needs it now.
Yet, if we go the route of sending Mom to the hospital to attempt to get the pain under control, we risk introducing her to infections in the hospital setting and we could end up on a crisis list for a home. Some of you are probably reading this and thinking this is a good thing, to be considered a crisis. What it does mean is that we are at the mercy of her potentially being placed in a home out of the city, and away from family.
There is no good answer here. The waiting continues and so does the chronic pain of the arthritis, often unabated and out of control. Pain management seems simple enough but managing multiple medications requires careful scrutiny and choices. Strong pain medications also come with choices and often destroy the needed muscle mass for comfortable living. The doctor does what he can, the retirement home tries to offer any extras they can, and compassionate care people are kind and willing. The community care access team is working hard to meet the needs of a long waiting list.
Every day, my mother lives in pain. The kind of pain that makes you cry out. The kind of pain that you would not allow your pet to endure, let alone a family member. We have a lot to learn about helping the ill elderly. I visit my mother every day after my work day is done. I watch her struggle. Our once enjoyable conversations are gone. It is all about getting through another day. My husband and adult children help and support, and we all feel helpless to make a difference. Extended family offer support and encouragement too. We know she needs long-term care.
I am my mother's daughter. I have arthritis too. My own doctor says there is nothing I can do about it to slow down the progression. Am I looking in the mirror at my own demise? In the meantime, it is not about me. My mother watches the clock all the time now. I wonder what she is hoping for.
Barb Dorrington is a London resident.