Smiles of Love

Ten months ago, my spouse and I drove to his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with the intent of picking up his mother to bring her to our house for her usual summer visit with us.

When we arrived, we were shocked to find…

… my mother-in-law in really bad physical shape. The house was a wreck, the fridge was filled with moldy food, the toilet was backed up and overflowing.

My mother-in-law was in bed, emaciated and looking awful. She had been complaining about a pain in her back, but we are caught by surprise how badly her health had degraded.

We tried to get her doctor to come see her, but he refused. “I don’t do house calls. If she is not well enough to walk, call an ambulance and send her to the hospital.” He could care less about his patient. My spouse and I were furious.

We arranged for a home visiting nurse to come and evaluate her condition and take a blood draw. The next day, my mother-in-law’s doctor called to ask if we could come see him for the results. We rushed right over.

He told us that the results of the blood test indicated end-stage renal failure and that she had about two weeks to live. He suggested that we make her comfortable and say our good-byes.

My spouse lost it, but I wasn’t convinced this doctor was right. There was much more to a diagnosis of the problem besides one blood test, especially when you observed my mother-in-law’s physical condition and home environment.

Long story short, my mother-in-law had broken a vertebra in her back, probably from a fall that she either did not remember or did not want to tell us about for fear of being made to go to the hospital. In MIL’s mind, going to the hospital means a death sentence. All of her elderly friends who went to a hospital never returned home.

Because of the pain from the broken vertebra, MIL was not eating much, because that meant having to go down a long flight of stairs from her second-floor bedroom to the kitchen on the first floor. She also was not drinking anything because drinking fluids meant having to pee, and having to pee meant having to get up from bed and endure shocking pain along her sciatic nerve.

We figured that this had been going on for about one week, and if we didn’t come visit when we did, she probably would have died because her organs were already shutting down.

I advised the spouse to ignore that doctor and find another doctor, while I worked on getting MIL better hydrated and made her meals that she liked to eat — but in very small amounts fed to her every few hours round-the-clock. We got her a bedside commode that reduced the pain of having to walk to the bathroom.

We arranged to have visits by nurses and a physical therapist to help MIL manage the pain, check vitals, and take more blood samples. We did find another doctor who worked with us, and paid house calls, too.

I had to get back to work, but left my spouse with his Mom for the month of August. I visited weekends and called every day, sometimes two or three times a day. This period was very hard on my spouse, but he was a trooper. He endured the yelling, all-night screaming, temper tantrums, refusals, and messy, messy cleanups of bed linens and the bathroom where she missed (a lot.)

But with perseverance, appropriate medical interventions, nutrition, hydration, careful physical therapy, and having in-home caregivers visit regularly (to prepare meals, help with bathing, and housecleaning), M-I-L has bounced back. My spouse has been able to return to our home and resume a more regular routine, though he spent one week per month of September, October, and November with her to ensure she was stable.

The smile on M-I-L’s face in the photo below, taken after my spouse and I trimmed the hedges and did a lot of yardwork this past weekend, tells it all:MILMay292016Life is short: show those you love how you love them.