First Mom’s Mind, Now Her Body

After taking time off work, I returned to teaching in January. Needless to say, that and caretaking are keeping me plenty busy. As I write this, I actually have a stack of midterms besides me waiting to be graded. I suppose if I had more public interest in my blog, I’d figure out a way to make time to post more regularly. Still, three months since my last posting is too long a time period. (For those interested, I do give short updates and commentary on Twitter from time to time: @maestrogaeta)

Sadly, my mom’s health continues to deteriorate. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my mom has developed various serious medical/physical problems. Most recently, she has developed kidney disease. It was discovered last summer (‘16), during a hospitalization for respiratory problems (i.e. congestive heart failure.).

I was surprised and dejected to learn about her kidney problem. Before I moved her in with me in February ‘16, I pored over a couple years’ worth of medical records, as part of my planning. I didn’t see any mention of real or possible kidney problems. Based on what I read online, kidney disease can be asymptomatic for a considerable length of time. Still, why a doctor never bothered testing for that, given her compromised condition even back then, is just more evidence, to me, how poor our healthcare system is, especially for the indigent.

At the time of her hospitalization, her kidney function was at 30%. Since then, it has continued to decrease steadily. Six months ago, it was around 20%. Three months ago, it was at 14%. This past week, her kidney doctor told us it was at 12%. It’s technically kidney failure, at this point. In this time, she has become weaker and more fatigued, which is part of the illness.

Her kidney doctor has of course recommended dialysis or a kidney transplant, but after initially agreeing to be prepped and assessed for those things, my mom changed her mind, as she is inclined to do. Indeed, her long history of refusing treatment is not confined to her mental illness. She didn’t effectively treat her diabetes for years, for example. Her current condition is a direct consequence of this. They don’t call diabetes the “silent killer” for nothing.

Years ago, around ’07, on a mountain bike ride somewhere in the Bay Area. Enjoying the view the best I can, trying not to worry too much about mom.

And while her diabetes is more or less controlled now, in the past year, she has decided to stop seeing an eye specialist, a neurologist, a neurosurgeon and has refused to continue treating her anemia. She didn’t like those “quack doctors” and doesn’t believe she is really ill. She regularly tells me that she doesn’t have kidney disease and that the labs are “screwing with the test results.” She says similar about her glucose readings at times.

Given all this, I’m just grateful that she is continuing to see her kidney, heart and primary doctors and that she is regularly taking most of her prescribed medications. There has been zero progress made in treating her serious mental illness (SMI), however, which comes as no surprise to me.

There was nothing in her past to indicate that she would voluntarily treat her SMI and I knew not to expect much from the county’s mental health services. Their programs aren’t designed to help someone as high needs as my mom and their level of organization and professionalism are so inadequate, that my mom has never been formally discharged, even though we haven’t communicated with their offices in three months. Perhaps they need to be audited?

Her doctors haven’t mentioned it, but it appears that my mom’s fragile physical health is exacerbating her psychiatric condition. (My mom essentially has the poor health more typically associated with someone in their 80s. My mom is 66.) My mom has been highly agitated and hyper-fixated on her voices and delusions the last few months. She has been, literally, engaged every waking minute in “spiritual warfare.” At particularly acute times, she tells me the “evil voices” are actively saying that she’s going to die soon. Much of what she is saying and doing aren’t new, but the intensity and duration are deeper and longer. She is also expressing her general unhappiness with living in the area more.

I go about my day the best I can, monitoring my mom, sometimes arguing, and at times just trying to calm her down. I’ll try to engage her in some normal conversation. I’ll try to find her something to do. When she’s in a really bad place, I’ll pray with her and sage her room. My emotions run a bit all over the place as I see my mom slipping away. Eight or so years ago, when I first started to try and help my mom, I thought/hoped eventually she’d be able to return to work and we’d be able to rebuild our family relationships. Now, I’m just wondering when and how peace is going to finally come for us. Ideally, it would be while we are still alive.