20 Sep

At 6 on Saturday morning, my mom was restless and seemed to be in pain. I gave her some morphine.

She spent the rest of the day… sleeping? Not really sleeping, of course. But it sounded like she was snoring. She didn’t moan, didn’t move, didn’t open her eyes.

My dad laid with her in bed for hours. My brother came over and sat with her. I unfolded her arms, which had been pulled tightly to her chest, and rubbed lotion on them and on her legs. I moistened her lips with a sponge. I stroked her forehead. I put on the Rome Open so she could “watch” her favorite tennis player, Rafael Nadal, play.

Mike brought me dinner and my dad took his spot in my parents’ bedroom while we ate. When Mike left, my dad said my mom had been coughing. I hadn’t heard her coughing at all, all day, so I rushed in. I heard her snoring but nothing else at first, then there was a kind of sputter. A very alarming sputter. I listened more closely and felt cold.

Hospice provided us with a comfort kid of medicines to use in various circumstances. It comes with a chart that says, for X occurrence, use Y medicine. One of the occurrences was “end-of-life gurgling.” Was this end-of-life gurgling?

I called my brother, who was at work, to let him know what was going on. He didn’t answer so I texted him. I also messaged Mike, to keep him in the loop.

I called the Kaiser hospice line and was on hold for what felt like forever but was really 3 or 4 minutes. I explained the situation to the call screener, who said a nurse would call me back as soon as possible. A few minutes later, a nurse called. I walked her through the situation and she asked me to take the phone into the room so she could heard the sound my mom was making.

“That is definitely what we call ‘terminal secretion,” she said. End-of-life gurgling.

The nurse said we could try sitting my mom up, which might help drainage if for some reason there was some liquid in her throat. My dad hauled her up as best he could and we propped her up with some pillows. I gave her some Ativan and morphine, in case she was in pain but couldn’t communicate it.

I called my brother again. Again no answer so I texted with the update. Didn’t hear back. Asked Mike to call. He tried, no answer. So he called my brother’s restaurant and got through to my brother, thankfully. My brother said he would come after his shift ended. Which I do not understand. AT ALL.

Since they say hearing is the last to go, and since my mom loves music, I put some on for her. A shuffle of songs by The Beatles. I sprayed some of her favorite perfume on her. And my dad and I waited. Waited for my brother to arrive. Waited for my mom to die.

I hope to forget the sound of my mom’s death rattle — make no mistake, that’s what it was. Clogged and liquid and rattling. Horrific.

That sound continued for a long time. Just before 1 a.m. on Sunday, I went into my parent’s bedroom to give my mom her hourly dose of morphine. My brother was in there with her. I turned on the light and was shocked to see she was foaming at the mouth. My brother had noticed it and gotten a washcloth to put under her face, clean her up, but he hadn’t said anything to anyone.

I immediately called hospice, to speak to a nurse. When I got through to someone, she said to turn my mom onto her side, so we re-positioned my mom. Hospice sent a suction machine, like a miniature version of what they use at the dentist, which arrived around 3:30 a.m. We never used it. The foaming stopped.

The rattling continued throughout the night. I slept from about 4:30 to 6 a.m.

At 6, I got up and checked in. My mom’s breathing had quieted. At first, she was breathing every four seconds or so, but not as deeply as before. Then her breath slowed. After she took a big, shuddering breath, I put the pulse oximeter on her finger, to see how many beats per minute her heart was beating. It wasn’t picking up a pulse. I ran and shook my brother awake.

The three of us — me, my dad, and brother — crowded around my mom, straining to see if she was still breathing. I couldn’t feel a pulse. For a brief moment, she had a weak pulse. Then I lost it. I asked my brother to try. He couldn’t, either. Just like that, she was gone.

It was about 6:25 this morning. I’m glad she’s no longer in pain, but it’s still surreal that my mommy is gone.

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