By now, Mike was engaged, and his wedding was about a month after our beach vacation. His fiancée, Tanya, was going to join us for the weekend at the beach, and then we would have Mike with us for the rest of the week. We realized what a turning point we were in our lives, and were really looking forward to this vacation. Two weeks before our trip, I found out Clara’s one daughter and husband at the last minute were able to book a trip to Italy. It amazed me how their vacation time again coincided with ours. The other daughter was going to be in town and she was going to care for her mother while we were gone. Since Tanya could only join us for the weekend, she came up to our house Friday night after work so we could get a very early start on Saturday to the beach. I explained to Clara that I would be coming over earlier than usual and that her daughter was going to come later in the morning to pick her up for the week. When I went over in the morning to care for Clara before leaving, I said my usual, “Good morning.” She turned her head to look out the window. I thought maybe she didn’t hear me so I repeated myself and she turned her head again. I could not believe what a baby she was being, not speaking to me because we were going away and leaving her. As I stood there in the kitchen in my disbelief at her behavior, looking at her in her Lazy Girl chair I realized she kept turning her head straight then to the left. Then I realized something was very wrong, it was as if her head was involuntarily turning back and forth. When I stood in front of her I knew, she had had a stroke. The first time when she went into a diabetic coma I incorrectly thought she had a stroke, but this time I was absolutely certain. She had a blank stare in her eye, and drool was coming out her mouth, her head kept turning back and forth and she made mild grunting noises. At that moment I thought all of my care, all of my hard work came down to this, Clara was now a vegetable. I remembered reading articles on stroke victims that they can hear you even if they cannot respond. I calmly told Clara it would be okay and that I would get her help although I was shaking on the inside. I used a tissue to wipe her drool away, and my heart just broke seeing this shell of a woman. This situation was pathetic. I told her I had to call for help, but I would be right back. I didn’t want her to hear me calling 911 on her phone and hearing me describe her status, I thought it would be better to use my phone. When I walked through the door to my side of the house, Mike and Tanya were getting ready to head out to the beach. I explained what was going on and asked them to go and watch Grandmom while I called for help. I didn’t know if she could fall out of her chair or not, and instructed them to talk gently and calmly to her. After calling for help, I informed my husband who was upstairs finishing packing his clothes for the trip, and then called her daughter. I went back over to Clara’s, and Mike asked if they could still leave for the beach. At first his question took me aback, your Grandmother is sitting in the chair grunting and unable to move and you want to go to the beach? I thought for a moment, and realized whether he stayed or left, it would not change the fact that Clara was now a vegetable. I asked if he could stay until the ambulance came to help keep the dog out of the way, then he, Tanya and Zack could leave. He readily agreed. Once the paramedics arrived, they tested her sugar and the level was fine, which confirmed my belief it was a stroke. As they loaded her on the stretcher and got her in the ambulance, Clara’s grunting got louder. Minutes later her daughter arrived, with the ambulance still sitting in my driveway, I was getting worried that she was in some sort of distress. I knocked on the back of the door of the ambulance and they said they were just trying to get an IV started. With Clara’s condition from dialysis, getting IV’s started was always a challenge. Clara was mumbling now, and didn’t seem as vegetative. From my description on the phone and seeing Clara for herself, her daughter said, “She’s not that bad.” She was just moments earlier. Andy and I drove in one car, her daughter wanted to drive over in her own car, and we followed the ambulance to the hospital. By the time they got her settled in and allowed us back, Clara was back to looking vegetative. It was hard for Andy and his sister to witness. Clara was paralyzed on the right side, when the nurse picked up her arm it was as if it was dead. I secretly wondered if Clara was going to be one of those people that lived for years as a vegetable since her heart was strong. I knew I would not be able to completely pick Clara up to care for her as she would now need. The thought of her in a nursing home in that state made me sick to my stomach. Tests were run and it confirmed that she had a stroke. A neurologist was called in and treatment options were explained. A clot busting medicine could be given, but since she was already on blood thinners, she could bleed internally causing her death. Without this medicine, she would remain in a vegetative state the rest of her life. Even though I was the most involved in Clara’s daily care, I felt it was important for me to yield to Andy and his sister, they should make the decision. They both agreed there was no choice and approved this medication to be given to their mother. There was only a small window of time that this medicine can be used following a stroke, and we were just about out of time. The doctor called the pharmacy to quickly get this medication down to the emergency room, and the nurse started the necessary preparations for Clara to receive this medicine. The doctor also ordered a blood test. The nurse inserted the needle to withdraw the blood and when she attached the tube to collect the blood, Andy noticed his mother scratching her head with her right hand, which moments earlier was completely lifeless. Apparently, the vacuum effect of this sealed tube for collecting her blood moved the blood clot and blood flow was returning to Clara’s brain. Just then the clot busting medication arrived and the doctor halted its administration for a few moments to observe. Within minutes Clara was speaking, her speech was quite slurred, but her thoughts were coherent. Her paralysis was mostly gone, but she was more limited on her right side than before this stroke. She said she heard everything the paramedics were saying and they were annoying her because they were hurting her inserting the IV. We were all in disbelief. The doctor said Clara would be admitted to the hospital for several days. I knew I had even more work ahead of me once she was discharged and I was thinking that I really would like to relax on vacation before having to face that. How could I ask Andy if we could still go on vacation with his mother lying in the hospital hours after suffering a stroke? I excused myself so I could go get a cold drink, it was now five hours since I had awakened and had nothing to drink or eat. I needed to think. On my way to the cafeteria I was racking my brain as to how to approach the subject of our vacation without sounding like the most selfish person in the world. When I came back to the room, Clara was resting comfortable, and her daughter had gone to call home to inform her family as to her mother’s status. Andy said to me, “I don’t want to sound rude, but I still want to go on vacation.” Ahh, my dilemma solved! I told him we knew that she would be getting care at the hospital, and with cell phones, we were only a phone call away, and less than three hours away at the beach. When his sister returned we told her we were going to head out soon for our vacation, and she had the same look I think I had when Mike first asked me if he could still go to the beach. Clara woke up and I made sure she understood what was going on and she did. She was in a great mood. We told her we were going to head out for the beach and she said to go and have a good time. On the way to the beach I would get calls here and there with questions about Clara’s medication or history so I still felt connected to her care. I battled with feelings of guilt for still going on our trip. The next morning I called the hospital and Clara was in the intensive care unit. The nurse offered to take a phone over to Clara. It was unbelievable, Clara wasn’t even slurring her speech anymore, her speech had returned to normal. As word spread of Clara’s stroke to our friends, some went over to the hospital to check on Clara. None could believe how chipper she was. My sweet Clara. She needed to stay to receive some intensive physical therapy before returning home since the use of her right arm was still limited. Her daughter would go to work each day and then stop at the hospital on her way home and stay for hours. I know it had to be hard on her, but I thought of all the times I had that duty. I wasn’t feeling mean spirited about it, but the reality was the bulk of the work was going to fall on me once she was discharged. By Thursday we still had two days of our vacation left, but by now I felt like I was being greedy. I told Andy that I just didn’t feel good about staying any longer at the beach since we had not seen his mother in five days. He said it was getting hard on him too, so we cut our trip short and headed home. My sons stayed at the beach. We drove right to the hospital and Clara was delighted to see us. She asked why we came home early and we told her it was because of her and she laughed and said, “No really, why did you come home early?” I don’t think she ever completely believed she was the reason we came home early, which perplexed me based on the care we regularly gave her. By now Clara had been moved to the rehabilitation section of the hospital.
I was Clara’s full time caregiver for 8 years. I mentioned earlier in this blog that I am posting exerpts from my book, Life with Clara – One Caregiver’s Journey. My goal has always been that my experience and honesty could help others in this life changing role. My entire account is available at www.createspace.com/3469034