The Life and Times of a Busy Woman

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

98 Years Young

On August 6th, my Great Grandmother passed away peacefully at a nursing home.  I have mixed emotions about this WHOLE situation. 

First, the last time I saw my Great Grandmother, dementia had set in and she did not recognize me.  I look a lot like my mother, so she tried ... but it was heartbreaking.  I had never been in the shoes of a person who has a relative with dementia/early Alzheimer's.  That day, I understood.

Second, she's been declining for a while.  She had been living in another state in an assisted apartment close to one of her grand daughters.  Unbeknownst to me, she went to the hospital months ago and was discharged to a long term care facility due to her lack of ability to care for herself.  Hmm, I would have liked to been told that.

Third, a text message that said, "The nursing home gave [Grammie] morphine tonight," while I was at work (and not having known the rest) was a shock to the system.  I immediately dialed my mother, hung up, called back when I got voicemail, and she called me at the same time to explain.  That's when I was filled in on recent events.

Fourth, apparently the long term care doctor initiated palliative care orders without discussing anything with the local family (any family, actually).  I'm grateful for the palliative care orders ... but I honestly didn't think initiating them that way was standard practice.

Fifth, again I'm grateful the nursing staff followed the orders and made Grammie comfortable.  Some nurses are afraid to give narcotic medications in end of life care.  Narcotics cause respiratory depression (slowed breathing) which some nurses feel is what essentially "kills" the patient instead of letting them go naturally.  In this situation, though, the nursing staff dosed her THEN called family saying she won't make it through the night.  Hmm, calling prior to would have given at least a little more time for family to wrap their minds around the concept and get there

Sixth, not even an hour later, my text message said, "She passed away."  Just like that.  Granted, text messages are convenient for when I'm working ... but I just sat there and stared at my phone.  I had felt it vibrate in my pocket and I walked away from my desk to look at it. 

I deal with death and dying practically every day.  Heck, just on Sunday 20 minutes prior to the end of my shift, we were coding (CPR, IV drugs, etc) a person.  Fifteen minutes after it had begun, his family was wracked with sobs in the hallway when time of death was declared.  On the evening Grammie passed away, a couple hours after that last text message, we were emergently treating and transferring a patient with a STEMI (heart attack) to a heart center hospital in our same town.  The transfer and treatment they received at that facility could stop the damage to the person's heart and possibly "save" them from dying.  I have completed post mortem care on numerable patients throughout my career as a CNA, all with dignity and respect.  There is a level of detachment that makes it possible to complete such tasks.  Yet, on August 6th, I sat there and stared at my phone.  I hadn't seen her prior to dementia for at least 3 years.  Yet, I sat there and stared at my phone. 

I was kind of glad for work after that.  It gave me a distraction.  One of my best friends was working, though, and he automatically asked me what was wrong.  I was "not being myself."  I made him choke when I said, "I was fine until my great grandmother just died."  His face just contorted and he stared at me for a moment.  He ended up staying an extra hour and a half, off the clock, kind of lingering - finding reasons to continue to chat with myself or others near me.  I suspected his delay in leaving was because of me, but I wasn't sure until he confirmed it later on.  He said simply, "I was worried about you."  He was supposed to work tonight, but his schedule was changed last minute.  It would have been nice to have him to talk with. 

After it all, I know that Grammie is in a better place.  She is now comfortable and no longer in pain.  It's just the overwhelming feeling of loss that no previously ingrained ability to detach myself will help heal.  I can only look back on the memories of many lunches spent at The Chicken Coop restaurant, her love of Reuben sandwiches, and her "best" china on display in my china cabinet.  Someday, I'll actually have to host a dinner with that china.  She always wanted it to be used, but she never had the occasion (always used her "everyday" china) and I haven't yet.  Maybe it's time to remedy that. 

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