The Anniversary of the Fall

A Life in Words
Mum enjoying a spot of sun in my courtyard, just 4 days before her fall

I know it was “meant to be”. And I couldn’t’ve prevented it because Mum was stubborn. It had happened before – a few times at home according to my sister – so was bound to happen again.

She wouldn’t ask for help. She wouldn’t wake her darling daughter, disrupt her sleep, just to go to the bathroom. That’s the kind of mother she was. Apart from being stubbornly ‘capable’ of finding her way to the toilet in the dark, under the influence of incredibly powerful painkillers and with numb feet thanks to the chemotherapy, she loved me way too much to break my much-needed slumber. You never wake up your babies (unless you absolutely have to).

It was a decent distance she had to travel between the bathroom and the couch she preferred as a bed. I’d realised as soon as she arrived that she would never make the flight of stairs to the bedrooms on a daily – or nightly – basis and also couldn’t get up from a mattress on the floor, so we made my generous three-seater her ‘station’. I slept on the mattress on the floor not 4 metres from her, for the sole purpose of being there for any help she needed during the night.

So all I heard was an almighty crash and a feeble wail. More like a pained, guttural exclamation. “Oh, oh, ohhhhhh”

“Mum? MUM?”

Panic & adrenaline flooded me in an instant, as I leapt up and I don’t even remember getting to the bathroom but I will never lose the mental image of her laying contorted in the shower recess.

She had almost made it to the toilet but lost her balance at the final moment, reaching out to her left for a wall, where there was none, and fell straight into the shower recess, over the ledge, smashing her head against the shower wall on the way down.

She lay in a contorted position, half foetal, sort of twitching in the struggle to get up and the moaning…. there were no words.

I can’t recall how I got her up, it wasn’t easy. I was trying to remain composed, but my panic momentarily exposed itself in the guise of a few whimpers and split-seconds of inaction driven by feelings of helplessness and overwhelm.

“Mum, oh mum”

She had soiled herself, naturally. She was after all trying to get to the bathroom for a reason.

Somehow, I did what had to be done. I don’t recall how, but I got her onto the toilet although she barely had the strength to sit up. She flopped forward, until I managed to get her to lean back against the toilet cistern. I cannot remember how I got her cleaned up and clothed in fresh garments but she recovered enough to answer my questions.

“Do you feel any pain?”

“No”

“Nowhere? How about your head?” There was an obvious egg by now.

“No”

This is what concerned, confused and later amazed me. She felt NO pain?

Getting her back to the couch wasn’t easy. I virtually had to carry her, although she must have regained an ounce of strength because I certainly didn’t get her there all on my own. Positioning her more upright, I fetched an icepack to put under her head, then set to work cleaning up the bathroom.

There was no return to slumber for me. Her breathing was laboured but I was more concerned about her head. That was, after all, exactly where some of her numerous tumours resided. I lay listening to her strange ‘snoring’ occasionally sitting up to look at her properly, for closer analysis. I was literally biding time until the clock struck a ‘decent’ hour at which I could ring my sister for advice. 6am. Mum was still sleeping while I spoke to Julia.

We decided it would be best to phone the Nurses Hotline.

There was no blood, she didn’t seem concussed (she knew where she was, who she was, who I was and what had happened) and again, amazingly, no pain. With the details of the (advanced) state of her cancer, and the fall, the nurse advised it might be best to try to get her to a hospital Outpatients. “Not a Medical Centre, but a hospital. Just to be on the safe side. The painkiller may be masking something that she’s not feeling so if you’re already at the hospital, they can act immediately.”

“I don’t think I can get her into the car, I barely got her back to the ‘bed’.”

Ambulance. So I dialled 000 and repeated the story, gave the same background information and answered roughly the same series of questions that the nurse had asked.

They arrived quietly. No siren needed. And in true Ambo form, they handled the situation beautifully, with calm, assured, professionalism and the perfect degree of humour. The story was related for the third time, and while they negotiated her into the ambulance, I collected some things I thought she might need, and was ready to follow them as they pulled away.A Life in Words

By the time we reached the Tweed Hospital, an ambo had administered oxygen to mum, making light of it. But this became the bigger issue. The young English doctor who finally examined mum was very nice but she was over waiting. She rolled her eyes at me when she thought he wasn’t looking. She had extra waits for tests to be run – XRays or CT scans I can’t recall which, but in the end, it was mum’s lungs he was concerned about: nothing to do with the actual fall.

We pretty much expected she would be kept in for observation at least one night. As long as she and I could catch our flight back to Cairns on the 22nd, it didn’t matter.

They found she had emboli (blood clots) on her lungs. Apparently this is a common occurrence with chemotherapy. I wasn’t sure what this meant. They were going to administer anticoagulant drugs to break up the emboli so there was still a chance we could get on our flight…after all, we had nine days?

It wasn’t to be. The emboli slowly disintegrated but it was the tumours that were wreaking the havoc ultimately. So when mum entered Tweed Hospital the morning of 13 December 2012, it would be her final place of residence; the locale of her final christmas and grandson’s 13th birthday. She departed just five days later.

 

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