I still remember my uncle’s early morning call to my office saying, “Gwynn, your mom’s had a major stroke. She’s down here in the Grays Harbor Emergency Hospital.”
“I’m on my way!”
Mom had been recovering from triple by-pass surgery from the week before, so my dad’s sister and her husband were there at mom’s house caring for her, as dad had passed away the year before. Mom awakened early one morning to get up to go to the bathroom only to discover that she was paralyzed. She screamed for help. My aunt jumped out of bed too quickly only to pass out hitting her head on the door frame, so she lay there unconscious and bleeding as my uncle called 911.
Later, after a two-hour drive, I arrived at the Grays Harbor Hospital to find my aunt in a bed on one side of the emergency room, my mom in a bed on the other side of the emergency room, and my uncle trying to finagle for a two for one deal. This was the beginning of the most horrific five years of my life.
Mom, born Shirley Waymire, was an only child. I don’t believe there could have been a more independent, strong-willed, stubborn child on the face of this earth! By the age of nine, my mom‘s best friend was a book so her imagination ran wild. However, mom was also highly creative and played the concertina, a harmonica, a ukulele, and the piano by ear.
Since my mom’s aunt was a Bohemian who lived down in Monterey, California, mom and her parents frequently made the long drive from Seattle on down the coast. Auntie Jaco could be found in the midst of artists, writers, and other eccentrics like her. Mom wanted to be just like Auntie Jaco! On the date of Mom’s ninth birthday her stunned parents were rudely informed that mom no longer would answer to the name of Shirley! Mom would be known as Jaco!
However, mom’s parents did throw a slight wrinkle into mom’s plan as they chose to use the French feminine spelling versus the German masculine spelling of the name. So mom legally became Jacquot, her own unique version of Jaco. Needless to say, mom was always determined to do things her way, so in spite of her stroke her thinking didn’t change.
After I arrived in Grays Harbor and conversed with mom’s doctor, he indicated that he didn’t know whether mom could be rehabilitated from her stroke. The doctor also informed me that mom had asked him to euthanize her. Mom had a Living Will, and did not want emergency precautions used to save her life. However, at that time, Washington State had not yet passed a law allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients, with six months or less left to live, end their lives with dignity rather than endure agony. If the law had been in place, the doctors still could not have helped mom, since with stroke victims there is no clear time line.
Eventually, after several weeks of physical therapy, the doctors determined that mom could neither go home nor drive. I was going to have to sell her beloved home and take away her independence – her car. I had to find assisted living, where she could receive physical therapy to help her walk, talk, swallow, feed herself, and do all the normal functions we take for granted. I lucked out and found Clearbrook, four miles from my house.
At first, mom lost a dangerous amount of weight. So Clearbrook suggested I call in Hospice. I was horrified. Doesn’t this mean mom has six months or less left to live? Mom and I met with a Hospice social worker, but that day, mom’s health miraculously improved. Hospice did not accept her. I think the ordeal scared mom into making an attempt to live.
Mom’s determination was admirable. She always was tough and independent. Mom learned to walk with the help of a walker, but due to the stroke it had damaged her peripheral vision so each time she tried to go through a doorway she would walk into the door frame. It was almost like watching one of those comedy routines where a person would become distracted, turn around, and smash into a wall.
Despite mom’s difficulties she was determined to attempt to walk without her walker. One day I arrived at mom’s room to find her partially collapsed on the floor, next to her bed. Her head and arms were positioned down with her bottom extended high into the air. She looked similar to an ostrich with its’ head in the sand. She was trapped and laughing. Mom had attempted to standup without using her walker for support. Since she did not have the strength to stand on her own, she had collapsed in a pile laughing hysterically as now she couldn’t get up nor ring for help. It’s a good thing I came along when I did!
Over the years, I would take mom out to lunch at various restaurants, but mom’s favorite lunch was a Costco Polish hotdog. Because of mom’s difficulty in chewing and swallowing it usually took mom and hour to eat that simple hotdog. But she loved sitting there and watching the people around her.
Since her room was next to the beauty shop, mom often would stop and chat with the beautician on her way to lunch or an activity. Mom became friends with the beautician. Since my mom’s hair was quite thin and naturally curly, at one point in her life she had purchased a wig, but she rarely wore it. One day on my way to visit mom I had stopped at the reception desk to chat. I was just headed down the hall toward mom’s room as mom rounded the corner with her walker and was headed my way.
“Mom you have your wig on,” I said in a stunned voice.
Mom reached up to her wig and with her index finger and thumb she grabbed a few strands of hair and yanked her wig off. My mouth dropped open, as there stood my 81 year old, NOW completely bald mother.
Mom’s response to me was “is my hair cut ok with you?”
It turns out that the beautician at Clearbrook had cancer and due to her treatments she was losing her hair. My mom had her head shaved in moral support of her friend, the beautician. The word that “Jacquot had shaved her head to support an employee spread like wild fire.” Mom even shaved her head two more times before she let her hair grow back. Even now, years after mom has passed away, if I run into an employee of Clearbrook they will say, “Oh, your mom was the one who cared enough to shave her head for our beautician.”
Mom’s favorite excursion was a trip to the mall, as mom loved a store that sold the stuffed animals and dolls that danced and sang. Over the years we bought mom dancing chickens, singing bears, dolls that did the rhumba, a motion detecting witch with glowing eyes that cackled as it walked toward you, and many other animals. By the time she died, stuffed animals cluttered all of her living room and bedroom furniture, but mom while bed-bound had plenty of entertainment as the aids would come in and play with the animals with mom.
Over five years, mom would suffer stroke after periodic stroke. Plus, she would have nearly daily Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs). Typically a TIA only lasts for a few seconds or minutes, but mom’s lasted for hours. At one point, the head nurse told me that mom had suffered 17 TIAs in 22 days. In fact, for some reason each time the nurses helped mom onto the toilet, mom would have a TIA. Eventually the aids were so afraid to help mom go to the toilet that they would flip a coin to see who was stuck helping.
Dealing with mom’s strokes was like watching the world’s craziest roller coaster. Mom would get well, have another stroke, fall, break limbs, rehabilitate, inch by inch losing more of her capabilities. Mom did things no one thought imaginable AND lived. Mom went from walking with the help of a walker, to using a wheelchair, to ultimately being bed-ridden. She could no longer run errands with me nor eat her Costco hotdog. Observing mom was like being wary of ground water dripping down a cliff, slowly eroding it, until you knew eventually, the cliff would crumble.
I received calls any hour of the night or day informing me that mom had been rushed to the emergency hospital. Would I please go attend her? Eventually Hospice was brought in — twice. Hospice discharged mom the first time after six months. A year later, Hospice was called in the final time. I would prepare myself for mom’s death, and then she would recover – repeatedly.
One weekend after another of mom’s strokes, the Hospice nurse called to prepare me for mom’s death. I was to call the undertaker, and start making arrangements. The weekend came and went. Inexplicably, mom lived. However, by now, she could no longer walk or stand. Mom would attempt to talk to me, and not be able to complete her sentence, even though she knew what she wanted to say. I could see mom’s frustration in her eyes, and then she would burst into tears. She couldn’t feed herself, or even operate the remote for her TV. Mom was an intelligent adult trapped inside the body equivalent of a newborn baby.
My mother suffered pain, embarrassment, the loss of her independence, and the loss of dignity with her strokes. I repeatedly told my friends that my husband and I did not want to die in the same manner as my mother.
Six months nearly to the day after I received the phone call from Hospice about mom’s last stroke, I received a different call “Gwynn, your mom has passed away.” I couldn’t believe that the cliff had finally collapsed.