More than a dozen years ago, a woman was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. She was about seventy at the time.
In spite of all that, she continued to bowl, shoot hoops with her grandson, cook, clean, play miniature golf, and relish life. She would watch sports on TV and get so caught up in the action that she would stand and clap through more than half the game. Play the James Brown song called “I feel good,” she would stand and dance. And most of all, she relished food more than any other person perhaps anywhere.
Her son would bring her food or dessert from a restaurant. She would moan in appreciation as she ate. Afterward, she would state, “That is the best thing I have ever eaten. This was one of her most charming qualities. She was definitely a ‘glass half full’ type personality in spite of her circumstances.
Then in January of 2008, she came down with a urinary tract infection. Her husband, who suffered from a bit of dementia and absent-mindedness, only gave her the first dose of her medication and forgot/neglected to give her any further pills. She walked into the doctor’s office one Friday and was close to death the following. When her son managed to get there, he found her at the foot of her bed lying in her own urine and feces, totally unable to move due to Parkinson’s locking her limbs and the UTI rendering her barely conscious. Insisting on calling an ambulance, she got to the hospital in the nick of time. The doctor declared she would have been dead within a couple more hours.
This began a downward health spiral that ended with her permanently having to move into a nursing home in mid-August of 2008. The doctor stated that she would have to go on a feeding tube or risk getting pneumonia and dying since the food she ate had started going into her lungs rather than her stomach. She refused the feeding tube. Thankfully, the speech therapists were able to train her to swallow properly. Within a few weeks, she went from having her food pureed to softened to being able to eat anything she wanted for the next four years.
Once again, her son, who visited her daily, would bring her wonderful things to eat since nursing homes do not always have very good food. This woman’s roommate would often state, when asked by this son what the entrée was for lunch or dinner, “It was some kind of meat.”
The woman was widowed in December of 2008. Her son continued to make daily visits. Eventually, he would supply the roommate a burger or sandwich or French fries or a peanut butter shake as well. Her daughter-in-law would bring them pie or cake now and again. The woman especially enjoyed eating popcorn and potato chips almost in spite of that original doctor who threatened her with the necessity of a feeding tube. She refused to be brought down by her Parkinson’s diagnosis.
She could not feed herself or take care of any of her personal needs. She was wheelchair-bound. Nevertheless, she found ways to enjoy her life. Either the nurses would feed her or her son would on his daily visits.
There were several times through the years when she came close to dying. But her daughter-in-law declared that she must be the ‘bounce-back queen’ for she beat death again and again.
At the same time, her son had to come to accept that though she bounced back from death’s door, she was not the same strong woman that he knew growing up. As Oprah would often state, her son and daughter-in-law had to embrace the ‘new normal’.
The nurses adored her as she always had a sweet smile for everybody. She loved to laugh. She was so very kind to everyone she met. They pampered her and treated her like a queen. She blossomed with all the hugs and kisses and compliments she received. She continued to relish her life.
Finally, in September of 2012, she did have to give in to having a feeding tube. The Parkinson’s had largely closed up her throat to the extent that she could no longer eat or drink. It was a heartbreaking time.
Once again, this strong-spirited woman rallied. The family came to accept the next ‘new normal’. She was able to live through the rest of that year and well into 2013.
One of the negative side effects of having a feeding tube, at least in this woman’s case, was the mucous would gather in her mouth, on her tongue, on the roof of her mouth, and in her throat. She would have to be suctioned to keep from aspirating. On her son’s daily visits, he would use swabs, etc. to clean the mucous out of her mouth. This process usually took about half an hour. It was a service he was glad to render to increase the quality of his mother’s life.
Sadly, on the 19th of September of 2013, her doctor called the son and stated that she was suffering way too much and was begging to be allowed to die. Her life had finally become too much of a burden to her. The son agreed to have the feeding tube removed. He was told that she might very well linger for another week or two. She would be given morphine and be made as comfortable as possible. Hospice was called in. This was a Thursday.
The following Sunday, the nursing home called at 6:45 a.m. and said, “You better get down here.” The son and daughter-in-law threw on clothes and jumped into the car. Her brother was called as well. They made it in time. They spoke words of love. They said all the words that their hearts wished to say. The music minister from her former church came as well.
Unbelievably, she made it through that day and the next day as well. Today, September 24th, is the third day. Her morphine doses that were given hourly have been increased in dosage and now given every 45 minutes. She cannot talk; however, they say her hearing is the last to go. Her son has barely left her side. They temporarily relocated her roommate so that the family could have some privacy. He is sleeping on the roommate’s bed.
The music minister shared his favorite Cherokee proverb that really appears to apply to this situation. It goes like this:
“When you are born, you cry, and the world rejoices.
Live in such a way that when you die
The world will cry and you rejoice.”
--A Cherokee proverb
This gave the son and daughter-in-law a great deal of comfort. This woman, the author’s mother-in-law, has indeed lived her life in such a way that so many people will miss her dearly. She is such a sweet, sweet spirit.
We do not know how much longer she can carry on. She has been fighting to live so long and so well that she perhaps does not know how to turn off that fighting spirit.
This is part one of a two-part story. Thank you for sharing in this true tale of a Parkinson’s patient’s last days and a son’s deep devotion.
- Hospice tale part 1: A Parkinson’s patient’s last days and a son’s deep devotion
- Hospice tale part 2: A Parkinson’s patient’s last days and a son’s deep devotion
- Hospice tale part 3: A son’s touching tribute to his mother
- Hospice tale part 4: A tribute to my valiant mother-in-law
- Hospice tale part 5: A son’s precious memories
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