A bit of a rant about cowboy doctors and the things we do for love
“I’ve been through hell this week,” my mother says, tearing up just a little bit as she does so. My mom rarely cries, so I know that it’s not an overstatement. I’ve just gotten into town to be with her and she asks me if I will sleep with her tonight. Although that means that I won’t get much rest, I don’t want to say no to her after what she’s experienced.
Mom went into the hospital 10 days ago with a cracked collar bone and ended up being stuck there for several days, in a cycle of malfeasance that would not have taken place if I lived locally, instead of a thousand miles away. Eventually, she was released to a skilled nursing facility to get back on her feet, but not before nearly being done in with the corporate Western medicine model.
I believe in the good intentions and competence of individual health practitioners, but I do not believe in the medical-industrial complex that dominates our country’s healthcare. If I had to count how many times some fucking cowboy doctor who thought he knew more than god nearly killed my mom with his arrogance, well, it would be a lot of times — at least 4. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in this country and that doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.
The night that Mom went to the ER, the admitting physician decided that she didn’t need surgery but felt that she should stay overnight to manage the pain and help her get stable. The next morning some other doc came in and declared that she did need surgery, even though I know as a non-medical professional that isn’t how you treat clavicles — some bones just have to heal without being messed with too much. Mom objected that at 88, she really wasn’t a great candidate for surgery and besides the other doctor said her injury wasn’t that severe. Sure enough, it turns out that when we went in for the follow-up appointment today, the orthopedist said he wasn’t even sure it was broken in the first place — perhaps just badly bruised.
So, in other words, hot-to-cut just wanted to go in with the biggest guns he had rather than to think about what was actually best for the patient. He ordered mom to have no food and no water, only saline drip, in order to be ready for surgery…. and then promptly forgot about her. She never did have the surgery, but also no-one thought to change her orders, so my mom spent two days get weaker and weaker because she had unnecessarily been deprived of competent health care, to say nothing of the food and water she didn’t have either.
When the hospital physical therapist couldn’t easily get her out of bed in that weakened condition, she decided to take it upon herself to inform my Mom that she needed to go into a nursing home right away, which further stressed and traumatized her. I must admit, I’d like to see my mom in a nice retirement community that has progressive care available, but I’ll be damned if some random stranger is going to railroad her into doing something she isn’t quite sure she wants to do, all because they were the ones who made her more weak and frail then she already is.
Finally, her long-term cardiologist got wind that my mom was in the hospital and went in and intervened. They were keeping her, in part due to some wildly fluctuating blood pressure readings, but as the cardiologist finally made clear, that’s been going on for years and he is already treating her for that. The cardiologist pointing this out was perhaps the only reason that Mom got sprung to go on to the skilled nursing place where she could actually regroup until I arrived in town. What a cluster….
My mom had a friend who was coming to see her daily and trying to run interference, but it’s still not the same as having a real health advocate, or a daughter who no longer has any qualms about being polite to people who are clearly making crappy decisions. I told my mom that she needed to be less compliant in the future, but she is of the age where deference to doctors and institutions is a given. Right now I’m just trying to not think about the next time as I help her get ready for bed and prepare for a night of not much sleep myself.
Old people are always cold, so the temperature in my mom’s bedroom is not conducive to good sleep for me. I have the vents closed in my room and that helps, but if I’m going to sleep with my mother, it’s going to be overly warm. Plus, she wants to snuggle me a bit. I understand the primal desire for loving touch, and how hard it must be to always sleep alone at this stage, particularly after having gone through something so difficult.
I don’t even let my husband snuggle me when I’m trying to actually sleep, but I do like cuddling with him before that, and I like having him there in bed with me. I need some room in order to really relax and rest, but if my 88 year old mom wants to put her toes on my heel and her hand on my hip as she falls asleep, I am going to let her. What the hell, I’ll sleep some other time!
I did eventually doze off a little, at least until the first trip to the bathroom. Like many older people, my mom gets up somewhere between 4 and 7 times a night. She’s tried many things to try to get this situation under better control, but so far, it really isn’t. I know she’s going to be up and down all night and each time I’m going to have to wake up enough to make sure that she is OK getting back and forth.
Mom is a bit unsteady on her feet in the middle of the day, so when it’s late and dark, and she’s been lying down, she’s a bit more of a fall risk. I don’t want to hover or mother-hen her but I do keep an eye peeled for how she’s doing. She really wants to have as much independence as she can, and I completely respect that. It’s a good sign that she’s still got so much will to live that she tries to do everything for herself, so I don’t get up and walk with her to the bathroom — I just keep an eye out to see how she’s doing. Every hour or so, she’s up and headed for the bathroom again, so in between the heat, and the touching, which is sweet, but also keeps me from really resting, I’m sleeping like a new mother with a baby, and I’m not getting too much rest.
Around 4 am I finally succumb to the complete exhaustion that I’m feeling and really crash. At 4:45, she wonders aloud what time it is, worried that we will oversleep and not make her early morning appointment with the orthopedist. I check my cell phone, tell her the time and we both go back to sleep. At 6:30, she wakes in a tizzy, sure that it’s 7:30, and since we need to leave the house at 8, we have to get up and get going.
I promise her that it’s only 6:30, but she doesn’t believe me. I’m so groggy that at first, I’m not sure myself what time it really is, and by the time I’m able to get her to concede that we still have another hour, we are both completely awake and it doesn’t make sense to try to go back to bed.
It’s been a very long night, and I’ve had about one and a half hours of deep sleep, but I also helped my mother to reintegrate back into her home and her own bedroom after being in revolving institutional care with people who wanted to be of help but mostly weren’t. I don’t know how many years or months that she and I have left together, so I’m going to make the most of it while I pray that some cowboy doctor doesn’t cut that time unnecessarily short.