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An Errand for My Mother
By Nancy Jones


(Page 3 of 4)

After the age of 80, her health began to fail dramatically. From 1987 until her death in 2002, she was admitted to the hospital 24 times. Besides writing in my journals, I learned that I must have with me at all times her written medical history. "Coronary Artery Disease" was the top heading. This saved tons of time for me and the medical personnel and probably helped save her fragile life for one more hospital visit. I learned from all these emergencies that the heart is a pretty strong muscle; she had six myocardial infarctions, none of which killed her. Together we coped with hip operations, pulmonary edema, stroke, pneumonia, and what we considered the minor problems: angina, dehydration, cataract and retinal surgery. However, before heading to the nearest hospital on an emergency basis, we always discussed whether it was truly merited. It was a "judgment call" we made on the basis of the problem. And if the crisis came on a weekend, we coped at home unless it was life threatening. I can still see her shaking her head and moaning, “But we can't go to the hospital. No one will be there. It's a weekend and a holiday!”

After she died in June of 2002, I realized my mother and I had been a team, not unlike buddies in combat who help each other when the other is down. Time and time again during unavoidable hospitalizations, we encountered and rose above inept interns, brusque nurses, officious bureaucrats, and even crazy patient roommates. We dreaded these hospital stays. They were exhausting and debilitating for us both. I would make at least two trips a day to the hospital, catering to her daily requests of needed items. When not so engaged, I would stay with her and try to catch assigned specialists, nurses and social workers. However, it was years before I found out that my mother dismissed every social worker who came to her hospital room before discharge, claiming she did not need the home health aide that Medicare would provide because she lived with her daughter who would take care of everything.

In the end, it was a hospital stay which killed her; not her frail heart. Admitted for a lingering cough, it was not long before I was informed by the doctors in charge that she had sepsis, a hospital infection which led to her death on June 2, the date she had been married 72 years earlier. Later, I was to read in one of my medical newsletters that one out of 10 hospital patients acquires an infection and these infections or medical mistakes kill about 100,000 people a year.

She was 94 when she died and I was 65, almost the same age she was when she first came to live with me. "Don't be sad when I'm gone," she would tell me toward the end. “It's getting too hard to live. My aches and pains make it impossible to enjoy life.” This was a mantra I heard from her almost every day of the last year of her life. But dismissing her complaints, I would physically lift her little frame so she could grasp her walker, and together we would make the hard trek to the bathroom or to the breakfast table or wherever she directed me.

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