I guess it runs in the family?

10 October 2021

Judy and I slept at mom's bedside in the hospital last night on recliners that the nursing staff was kind enough to bring in. Mom's fever spiked to 103 degrees Fahrenheit in the span of about four hours, she was febrile, and her breathing was agonal. In an attempt to make her comfortable, the nurses gave her a couple of doses of IV zofran and reglan, with a side of haloperidol for anxiety and fear. Later in the evening they gave her a dose of IV benadryl because my mom was scratching at her arms and chest, and was making noises of discomfort. I've read that random skin irritation isn't uncommon when someone is dying. Maybe it's the sensory nerve endings freaking out, I don't know. A couple of doses of IV morphine were also administered because mom was complaining of pain in her abdomen, which only makes sense. She was starting to go cyanotic, her cheeks were sunken (not just because her lower dentures had been removed) an her skin was waxy. Once again, one of her eyes was partially open.

(I wonder what the NSA makes of my web search history tonight.)

Judy and I did the best we could to keep her comfortable by reminding her that she was not alone. Then something truely bizarre happened.

Mom reached up over her head, tilted her head back, and started making noises that I can only describe as joyous. Rapturous, maybe. Amazed. She was reaching toward the heavens.

All Judy and I could do was touch her arms, keep her from accidentally knocking anything over, and dodge the occasional fingernail (sorry, mom). It was, to be honest, the strangest and most eerie thing I've ever witnessed. So, of course, I looked it up.

There is something called the Lazarus phenomenon or the Lazarus sign. In short, what mom did in the wee hours of the morning, though she hadn't coded.

After that, mom was largely peaceful for the rest of the night (modulo her labored breathing). She kept trying to roll onto her side, which the night nurses had to help her accomplish. Judy stayed awake for the rest of the night. I grabbed a couple of hours of sleep in the recliner (for which Judy has an amusing story).

Around 0430 UTC-5, mom seemed to wake up and was fairly lucid, albeit with difficulty speaking because her mouth was bone dry. A little water applied with a swab and returning her lower dentures helped. Judy left to get breakfast in the hospital cafeteria (of which we're in agreement: Bluh.) and I stayed there and hugged mom. I left to get breakfast after Judy came back, and when I returned my mother had sat up in bed, was speaking clearly, and was aware of her surroundings. She was chatting with Judy and Sister Lois (who'd arrived while I was out) and was even sipping orange juice through a straw.

As I said to a visiting social worker later that day, from "Holy shit" to "...what the shit?"

She didn't remember anything of yesterday. Not Anarchangel calling her on the phone to say goodbye. Not 'lex Pendragon visiting for an hour or so to pay his respects. Certainly nothing of her high fever, her fever breaking, or her waving in the angels during the dark hours of the morning. As far as she's concerned, she lost the entire day (her words).

If you've been following my blog for a while, you might recall my writing about my grandfather during the final years of his life. To summarize, he'd take a turn for the profoundly worse at home, be rushed to the hospital, be diagnosed with one infection or another that had gone septic, get bombarded with IV antibiotics, and then return from Death's door with a rain check. He did this four or five times, though each time he never quite bounced back to where he was before.

Mom just did this for the first time. She was diagnosed with (among other things) MDR sepsis and then rallied. She's still very weak, and I think she will be henceforth.

I don't know if my bloodline has a weird resistance to sepsis that other folks don't, if the jokes about my being half human on my mother's side have some poetic merit, or if this is a thing that happens. Folks rallying when they're close to death is certainly known and documented in the medical literature. In truth, I was wondering if something like this might happen, but I wasn't expecting to actually witness it firsthand.

With the exception of taking a break for lunch and running home to take a shower, change my clothes, and run a quick errand, I spent the rest of the day with mom, talking and sharing time together. Judy returned after a couple of hours of sleep after Sister Lois had left. Lyssa flew in from the Bay Area and cousin Suzi cabbed in from the airport. Needless to say, they were flabbergasted by the situation. We did the only thing we really could do: We spent time with her, reminiscing and telling silly stories. We love her, she loves us, and that's the finest way to show it I think.

As for the logistical and legal aspects, here's the thing: Mom is no longer sick enough to qualify for hospice care. The palliative care team is figuring out what to do. Mom's insistent on coming home to die. Unfortunately, she has to be transferred to a step-down facility to assess her physical state and figure out what support and palliative measures will be required at home.

Too sick to go home but too well to die? That's a new one by me.

As the day wore on and all of us began to flag, mom started winding down as well. While holding her hand, I noticed that the bluish tinge was returning to her nail beds and her skin was getting cold. Not quite waxy but certainly within sight. She was sitting quietly, sometimes staring at the television, sometimes staring off into space. I called her name a few times but she didn't respond for a while. She said that I hadn't called her; the rest of the room confirmed that I had.

I don't think anybody can predict how long a rally will last, or what the cycle of good days/bad days will look like. The death process, like people's lives, are highly individual things, and it seems you can't really generalize how things go.

I'm kind of worried that when I get to her hospital room tomorrow (today, as you read this), she will have gone downhill again.

I memorized as much of last night and today as I possibly could, because I want to keep those memories in my hearts. I don't know how much longer my mom has.