The phone rang late Thursday. “The doctor called from the emergency room,” my sister said. “Mum has huge clots on her legs and no pulse in her lower body. He said to come soon.” Our mother is 90, and while her spirit is irrepressible, her physical health has long been failing.
At the hospital the dire news was reiterated: her legs were virtually dead, she had a barely discernible pulse, and gangrene seemed imminent. While diagnosis was based on palpable visual evidence, it had not been vetted through her personal doctor, who is affiliated with a different hospital. His note explaining Mum’s history had inexplicably disappeared on its way to the ER, which was too bad because she has endured her startling symptoms for many years.
The doctors were good. The diagnosis was wrong. The system, which is corporate- rather than patient-centered, made understanding our mother’s unique situation almost impossible, and we, who have no medical expertise, had to translate between medical systems that did not communicate with each other.
Still, Mum’s health is failing, and we tried to prepare for what was to come. By 3 p.m. yesterday we had arranged for her return to her apartment with 24-hour care and hospice. She had eaten nothing in four days and slept a lot. “Let her know food is available,” the doctor said, “but don’t force her. She’ll know what she wants.”
“Mum’s had a good run,” I added portentously. “I think she’s trying to tell us something.”
At 3:15, she woke up and asked for a pizza.