Mom weighed 92 pounds a week ago today, and she has eaten very little since then.
But she looked animated and good Saturday night and Sunday, while Bill was here. She was dressed in her best Lord & Taylor suit, a touch of rouge on her cheeks, string of pearls and earrings.
Yesterday at 2 pm she looked shriveled and unresponsive: a sleepy day after high activity. Normal pattern.
But today when I saw her at 2 pm she looked--well, like death warmed over. Pale, weak, less flesh on her face than the day before.
"She didn't eat anything yesterday or today," JR told me. "I tried three times last night to get her to eat but she refused. She wouldn't drink any milk either." He was apologetic, fearful of being the bearer of bad news. Every day he has to report something to me; yesterday it was that she had refused to let anyone put her false teeth into her mouth.
No food or milk for 48 hrs., I reflected. That would shrink anyone, especially one who is 89 years old and weighs probably 90 or less.
Mom was mentally weaker too; she kept saying, "Don't let me fall!"
"You're just sitting in your chair," I tried to reassure her. "You're not going to fall."
Connie arrived to start her 2 pm to 10 pm shift, and an impromptu meeting began:
JR: "She wouldn't eat or drink anything."
Chhandita, patting her arm gently as if she were on the threshold out of this world, "Poor dear! But she drank a glass of milk for me last night with her meds. Today I used one of these blue sponges on a stick to clean the phlegm out of her mouth--it was sick. I will ask hospice to order more of these and maybe to suction out her mouth."
Connie, also caressing Mom: "Yes, honey, you need to drink some milk. Give her Ensure. She needs that."
The sight of those blue mouth sponges hit me: this is really hospice. When Aunt Grace died, they used these to moisten her mouth because she could no longer drink.
The earlier phone message from the REM director, Laquetta Johnson: "She has phlegm in her throat and could not swallow this morning. No meds, no breakfast or lunch. So I called the hospice RN."
Chhandita: "Hospice faxed an order today to stop all milk and milk products."
Me: "Isn't there milk in Ensure? But she has to have Ensure or something. They can't stop her milk when it's the only thing she will take."
Connie: "I'm going to get the Ensure and see if she'll drink it."
Me: "Yes, ignore the stop milk order. She has to have something. I don't like them to give an order like that without even visiting her to see the phlegm or calling me first to find out it's the only sustenance she's taking. They didn't even order something else like soy milk."
Connie: "Yes, Roze Room. You should go to Vitas. Everyone here is on Vitas; they are very good."
Chhandita: "Right, Vitas is better. Roze Room is not very professional; they don't handle the meds orders well."
Me: "Why didn't you tell me?"
Connie: "Yes, when you said Roze Room was the hospice, I thought 'Oh no!' But I didn't want to say anything because you had chosen it."
Me: "Why didn't you tell me? You both deal with the various hospices, and you both think Roze Room is not good?"
Chhandita: "Yes, Vitas is better."
Connie: "Look, she's drinking it just fine. She likes it. It's Ensure, Evelyn." She shows it to me.
Evelyn: "Don't take it away!"
Me: "Okay, Mom, you can have all you want. Good--strawberry milk. I'm going to call right now and change her hospice."
I made the call but started coughing so badly I had to hang up.
At that point I just left, retreating homeward, not to nap and write a book review but to start three hourse of hospice & health phone calls.
Mom, however, looked better already, greedily sucking the straw in her cup of Ensure.
By 8 pm tonight Connie reported that she had drunk two full bottles of Ensure and looked much better. "I put the video of favorite hymns on her tv, and she was singing with it," she reported.
When you weigh 89-90 pounds, a cup of Ensure is the difference between life and death, fading quickly or sitting comfortably in a recliner singing along with hymns.