Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Failure to Thrive? Not So Fast

This is a story I never thought I'd write: My mother is expected to be released from hospice care soon.

Since hospice began caring for her in early March, Ruth Martin has gained 10 pounds. Though she used to mostly stay in her room at Heritage Greens Arboretum, a memory-care facility in Greensboro, nowadays she is often found in the main 'recreation' room, participating in a game of ball bouncing or checking out the other residents.

Later this week, the oxygen tanks that have cluttered Ruth's room are to be taken away, as her oxygen levels have returned to normal.

Ruth's unexpected revival has astonished and delighted us all—certainly my sisters and I, but also her caregivers. Rarely have they seen someone her age (93), and in her prior condition, bounce back so dramatically.

This turn of events seemed unimaginable. In early 2013, a bad stomach virus, which my mother caught, had circulated through the Arboretum. Management had strongly advised family and other outsiders not to visit, fearful of spreading the virus even further. And so, for several weeks, my sisters (three of whom live nearby) were not able to visit Ruth.

By late February, my mother had grown extremely weak. She began refusing to eat and take her medications. She slept most of the time and when awake, spoke mostly gibberish. The memory-care facility administrator suggested it was time to bring in hospice care, which to me meant that my mother's clock was now ticking—loudly. Her official diagnosis? "Failure to thrive."

And so, on a Monday morning in late February, I decided to make a hasty trip to Greensboro. With Nick's help, I booked a flight at 11 a.m., cancelled my business appointments for the week, showered, packed, and made it onto the plane for its 1:30 p.m departure.

While in Greensboro, I was determined to get my mother to eat. I bought her favorite junk food: McDonald's french fries, doughnuts, Baby Ruth candy bars. She treated them all as if they were something vile. I bought baby food--anything I could think of she might be able to swallow. During my nearly week-long stay, she ate almost nothing, limiting her intake to cranberry juice and some Ensure drinks.
My mother, late February 2013
During the last hour of that visit with Ruth, I knew I had to somehow say goodbye. She dozed off and on as I paced around her small room, wondering what I could say that would have any meaning for her as well as for me. I decided to keep it simple.

"Thank you," I said, and kissed her on the forehead.

She woke up, looked me in the eye, smiled weakly. "Thank you," she replied.

With that, I walked out of my mother's room, convinced I'd just spent my last few minutes with her.
But in the weeks to come, an alternate scenario slowly unfolded. My sisters took turns visiting Ruth every day, reading to her, painting her fingernails, being by her side. The hospice staff visited several times a week. The Arboretum staff gave her extra care. Her doctor took her off several medications and gave her a drug whose side effect is known to increase appetite.

By mid May, the news was so encouraging, I returned to Greensboro. This time, my mother was alert, her blue eyes looking directly into mine in a way I hadn't seen in a while. She smiled and laughed. She let me feed her, but more importantly, she was now feeding herself.

She is still talking in gibberish, still confusing past with present. But she seems happy and content, and she has moments of clarity. The other day, when an unfamiliar Arboretum resident walked past, my mother said to my sister: "Who is that old lady?"

I attribute much of my mother's rebound to my sisters, and of course to Ruth herself—a tough country girl from North Carolina, through and through, whose mother lived to 100 and whose grandmother passed away peacefully at 95. One lesson to take away: Never, under any circumstances, underestimate a Southern woman.

On July 22, Ruth Martin will be 94 years old. I don't know how much time we have left with her. But since late February, every visit, every phone conversation with her has been what they call in New Orleans a lagniappe—a sweet, unexpected gift.

My mother, early July 2013. (Note the Piggly Wiggly T-shirt under her sweatshirt.)








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35 comments:

  1. Loved this post. Thanks for sharing. It reminded me of a number of strong southern women I'm honored to know. God bless your mama!

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  2. Thanks for sharing these bits of your life, Jim. I love reading them.

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    1. Thanks for reading them! I appreciate it.

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  3. Thanks for sharing these bits of your life, Jim. I love reading them!

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  4. I'm glad I clicked over...thank you for writing about your experience with your mom and sisters. It was so touching to read.

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  5. Your Mom is a strong woman, and you and your sisters are wonderful to spend so much time with her. The extra time is a gift for all of you.

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    1. Thank you, Meryl! It is a gift indeed.

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  6. Lordy, lordy, Moop (her nickname to family) is a strong willed, stubborn, sometimes cranky, highly opinionated, curmudgeon that I have loved and feared for over 25+ years. She is also delightful, sweet and adorable. I am astonished at her recovery. It is truly a miracle, although I am not sure God would admit to it given how she feels about religion. I spent many happy times climbing over junk heaps searching for collectables with her. Her idea of a collectable was a rusty tractor seat and a used Aunt Jemima bottle. I adore you Moop. Love, Nick

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    1. And you've been by my side, supporting me, through all the years of taking care of Moop. You're a good husband and a fabulous playmate! xoxox Jim

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  7. So glad she's doing better! This is a beautiful tribute!

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  8. So glad she is doing better! This is a beautiful tribute!

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  9. Jim
    You certainly have a way bringing these moments to this forum to share with us.
    That magnolia is a lucky woman to have children like you and your siblings, but a wise man would understand that she planned it that way!
    You are such a sweet guy...thanks
    tim

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  10. Hospice can be a wonderful gift this way; I have had several clients who have also picked up in similar fashions while in hospice. I am glad you and your family are getting this special time with your mother.

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    1. Hi Neora, It's nice to know that hospice isn't always the end of the line. Thanks for your comment. Jim

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  11. Sweet post, Jim. Makes me think of my mom. Of course that happens most of the time when you write about yours.

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  12. Thank you Jim. Like you I suffer the barrier of being on the opposite coast from my mother. And, like you, I have a wonderful sister (though it's only one for me) who makes a point of being with her often.

    Thank you Jim. The joy of reading about your mother gives me pause to reflect and think of mine.

    The priceless fortune of the love of our mothers can be scary easy to take for granted. Thank you Jim - for the reminder of not doing so!

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    1. Thanks Steve. We are both lucky in the mom department!

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  13. Thank you Jim. Like you I suffer the barrier of being on the opposite coast from my mother. And, like you, I have a wonderful sister (though it's only one for me) who makes a point of being with her often.

    Thank you Jim. The joy of reading about your mother gives me pause to reflect and think of mine.

    The priceless fortune of the love of our mothers can be scary easy to take for granted. Thank you Jim - for the reminder of not doing so!

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  14. Well, you go Ruth! She look fantastic!
    It is so amazing to me how the human spirit can make such wonderful things happen. I am so pleased to hear about how well she is doing. She is THRIVING!

    She obviously isn't done living yet, and has some more awesome things to accomplish. Although, I'm kind of thinking her biggest feat was creating such wonderful children.

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    1. Thanks so much, Judi! You're a sweetheart. Jim

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  15. This is such a wonderful post, Jim. I know something about southern women, having a mother and two daughters. They are tenacious, loving, charming, witty, enigmatic and above all else, unpredictable in the most wonderful kind of way. I'm so happy for you.

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    1. Thanks Bill! You captured them perfectly.

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  17. Very, very cool! So happy you get the lagniappe!

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    1. Thank you Rushmore. I appreciate it! Jim

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  18. Your mom is beautiful! Glorious smile!

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  19. Made me cry. Beautiful. Blessings to her, you, and your sisters.

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  20. what a precious woman! long live ruth ♥

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