One lesson I have very definitely learned is that we should always expect the unexpected. Somebody up there obviously thinks I need reminding, to ensure I never take anything for granted again.
The month began well, with plans for the BIG birthday party and all the family arriving: my daughter and son-in-law first on Thursday 5 May, and the granddaughters plus great-grandchildren on Saturday. Friday 7 May looked all set to be the start of a lovely celebration but in the evening disaster struck when my mother lost her balance and hit her shin against the sharp edge of the doorstep.
A huge haematoma that burst, and a ride in an ambulance to the hospital, marked the start of what she described as “not how I thought I’d spend my birthday.”
Friday evening is not a good time to be in A&E. We waited a long, long time. The dawn chorus had started by the time we left.
There was half an hour where we sat numb, thinking she had died, only to find her sitting up under an oxygen mask mumbling that her teeth were upside down and she had woken up a different person. Then followed three weeks of so many ups and downs, it was like a game of snakes and ladders, far too many to enumerate here.
In all her hundred years, my mother has never been an in-patient in a hospital, so everything was strange and confusing: the idea of pressing a buzzer to summon aid, using a bedpan, being on a drip, having a blood transfusion, not being allowed to get out of bed, so many unfamiliar faces that changed at every shift.
“They keep asking me if I want a painkiller,” she told me, “It’s as if they want me to be in pain!” Thank goodness, she wasn’t hurting, but she had needed two operations and the nurses weren’t sure whether she was refusing painkillers on principle, or if she was being stoical.
Her birthday on Monday 9 May came and went. My daughter and son-in-law spent most of the day from morning till late afternoon at Mom’s bedside, though sadly later she had no recollection of them. We held the big party as planned, allowing her old friends and family to meet up, in some cases reunions of people who hadn’t seen one another for decades, and it all went well. This was in large measure thanks to her eldest great-granddaughter, who held the fort and played hostess to about 60 people, most of whom she didn’t know, whilst I took Mom’s sister and cousin to visit her in the hospital. Mom had over 80 birthday cards, plus get-well cards, and we raised almost £550 for Marie Curie Cancer Care on the day from donations in lieu of birthday presents. And the Queen sent her a card.
On Thursday morning, after all the family had left, Mom sat up in bed, weak but fully lucid for the first time, and discovered she had missed her birthday. Her chief regret was that all her descendants had been to see her, but she had no memory of any of them and we hadn’t been able to take the five-generation photo.
A week or so before, we had jokingly suggested she should wear a tiara on her birthday, so belatedly she wore her crown and was able to look at the book we had had made full of photos from her long life, and some of her birthday cards, including the one from the Queen.
It became clear that she wouldn’t be able to go home as she wished. Legal requirements oblige me to return to Switzerland, and there is nobody available as a live-in carer. My first thought was to place her in the care home where she was in respite twice, as this is a familiar environment, but they said they had no room. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it forced me to reconsider my criteria for finding a suitable nursing home, so after looking at several my cousin and I finally landed in one that ticked all the boxes and had a room available for her. It is much nicer than the one I had originally thought of, and more like a country house hotel.
My mother was discharged from the acute surgical ward to a rehab hospital last Monday, and finally arrived in her new residence on Thursday evening, three weeks after her “little bump”. She received a very warm welcome and found herself something of a celebrity, her story having been featured in the local newspaper. Her exquisite birthday cake – made by an old school friend of mine who has known my mother most of her life – has been transferred to the larder of the Home and we shall be holding a belated birthday party with family, friends and neighbours on Tuesday, when she can finally cut her cake and we can all sample it.
For most of these three weeks, I have been on automatic pilot, running on adrenaline and with scrambled egg for a brain. Family and friends have been awesome in providing all kinds of support and advice. I have to thank God for answering many prayers over all this period, for guiding me and for giving me the strength and stamina I needed, as well as for healing my mother.
Hopefully, she will continue to make good progress in the nursing home, and will soon be back on her feet. It has been a very traumatic time for her, physically, mentally and emotionally. It is very hard to be torn out of the home she has made for herself and lived in for the last 78 years, without a proper leave-taking, but I hope that in a few weeks she will be fit enough to visit and go all through her house and garden in order to say goodbye.