I live in Maine and my mom lives in New Jersey. We talk several times a week and she has generally been blessed with good health until taking a certain vaccine (which I won’t get into). After experiencing some falls due to “dehydration” and Bell’s Palsy, she casually mentioned she needed a new aortic valve. This caused me to sit up and pay attention. The echocardiogram showed (in less than 2 years) a change from mild stenosis to severe. The next phone conversation was that the doctor would reassess her in six months and she should go on with her life. I suspect there was more to that conversation with the doctor than I was told. Lesson learned: I should have asked her if it was okay to speak with her physician.

Two weeks later, her other half, a wonderful man named Bob called me and told me that Mom was in the hospital. She passed out in Macy’s, and hit her head in the process. Bob got a ride up to the mall and retrieved her car and a neighbor retrieved her packages and mail. We found out that mom needed a new heart valve, immediately. Fortunately, she did not need bypass grafts and this could be done via catheterization thru the femoral artery. Sounds simple and straightforward, right? Lesson learned: nothing is simple!

Other tests needed to be done before the valve replacement and hosptial time is slow time. She collapsed again in the hospital while sitting in a chair and now has a foot injury. Finally, the procedure was done and went well but after 8 days in the hospital on complete bed rest, she was very weak. She had 2 falls in the hospital and one fall in Macy’s and was a sore and bruised up mess. Lesson learned: It is hard to be a patient’s advocate from a distance but it can be done if you are persistent.

She came home on Wednesday and Bob had care of her until I could get there. I work on Wednesdays and Thursdays plus we were having a nor’easter (again) and driving was not safe. Direct flights are few and far between so it was actually quicker to drive 10 hours. I packed my bags not sure of how long I would be away. I said goodbye to Rich and my two dogs and left a detailed list of caring for my houseplants. He is a very good cook and won’t starve while I am gone. The neighbors up the street invited him for dinner one night also and friends checked in on him.

Having just gotten over an ugly bout of the flu or some other form of creeping crud, (hubby had it as well) was also a factor as to when I could leave. I was exhausted. There was no point in me going to see her until she was discharged which was when help was going to be needed. She sounded fine on our many phone conversations. She was irate that they wanted to send her home with a walker. She claimed she did not need one and they are only for old people. (Hey mom, have you looked in the mirror lately?) She is in great shape for 78 but still she is 78! Thank God, she left the hosptial with the walker. She wasn’t interested in hearing about a shower chair. My husband told her that I better find one in her shower when I arrive or he will hear the screaming 550 miles away. The neighbors across the street are wonderful folks and got mom’s new meds and picked up a shower chair. I did my best to be her advisor from afar. Lesson learned: Be there for your neighbors. These relationships are critical.

The ride down was fortunately uneventful. Mom looked fine but a little frail and bruised up from being the human pincushion in the hospital. She saw me and promptly burst into tears. Bob was exhausted. The wonderful neighbors were having a St. Patty’s Day party and told mom to send me over to pick up dinner. All homemade, I was handed large containers of corned beef brisket, cabbage, taters and Irish soda bread. Was I ever grateful! Other neighbors brought over zucchini bread and Irish soda bread.

Visiting nursing started Saturday. Mom couldn’t use steps yet so she was sleeping on the couch and I was in a guest bedroom as that bed is too high for her to use. Physical therapy started and strength and endurance needed to be built up. I told mom that the exercises were up to her. Bob and I couldn’t do them for her and if she wants to get back to a normal life, she needed to get moving. There have been numerous crying and feeling sorry for herself jags which I short circuited. Crying and self pity can make you physically and mentally tired. She got it and knows what needs to be done but must learn some patience. I am working on that part of the program myself. Mom has been on the same medicines for 27 years and now some were taken away, others reduced. Pill boxes were set up by her to keep things organized. Lesson learned: being organized is key. Use folders for current medical information you need to which you can refer. Keep a book calendar and write on it the day you went into the hospital, procedure/surgery date, discharge date, visiting nurse appointments, future doctor appointments, etc.,.

Monday was a bad day for mom. No energy, cranky and slept a lot. I was very concerned and nurse said it sounded like she over did it. I already knew that but she needed to hear it from someone with initials after their name, like RN. Meanwhile I needed to get the 4 bedroom house cleaned up. She always keeps it clean but she has a lot of “stuff.” I know that mom would be sitting on the couch and look and see dust and try to clean it herself. Lesson learned: accept the ups and downs. This is hard to do.

I took several days doing a major spring cleaning. I would start one project and find another issue with something else, but slogged on through. I also started to inventory supplies on hand. She has a good supply of food and cleaning stuff on hand. Stuff is dated and rotated regularly. I did get rid of the cardboard box collection in the basement. No discussion on that, I just got rid of it. Parting with anything else is a constant battle but I did manage to convince her to get rid of 2 pictures that were literally falling apart. I also hired the woman who lives across the street and left her a list of stuff that needs to be done, like turning on outside water, hooking up hoses and helping with the large container of cardboard boxes that needs to go out on recycling night. I slept better knowing she will take care of this and mom would not attempt to do these chores on her own. A friend of mine also called mom a few times and this really raised her spritits.

I went shopping this morning to replace what we used and purchase ingredients for easy to make meals for when I depart. Bob can make some delicious eggs and basic meals but mom is the main cook and she can’t do that right now. I have left them some premade meals and froze them. The groceries are 2 times more expensive here in NJ than in Maine. Mom drinks coffee on occasion and has the pod type coffee machine. The coffee pods are the biggest waste of money. Get a percolator and a can of coffee. I was shocked at the prices. I stocked up on Progresso and Campbells soups, which are hardy and taste ok. Add a piece of bread and butter and its a meal. I also stocked up on the marinated porkloins. They were on sale. A simple defrost and pop in the oven and follow directions (makes it manageable for them both). The meals are then are very easy to make and all meat and tasty! I picked up some microwavable veggies also. I made a meatloaf and some stew and that has found its way into the freezer. Lesson learned: you can’t do everything so prioritize the jobs!

An interesting issue has arisen out of this unfortunate event. While I was there, mom received a phone call that had the hospital number listed on her caller ID. They identified themselves as a home warranty company (I won’t mention which one), and stated that they knew she was just discharged from the hospital and her doctor wrote an order to this company and she needed to sign up for a home warranty. Fortunately she realized it was a scam and hung up. The same company called a few days later but an 855 number showed up on caller ID. Same story, her doctor wanted her to sign up for this company’s home warranty. I called the hospital and spoke with a discharge nurse and informed her of the scam that was being carried out by a hospital employee. She couldn’t care less. I then filed a police report and reported the hospital to the state of NJ licensing bureau. It appears some hospital employee seems to be sidelining selling home warranties. How low can human beings sink to pull crap like this? How many people are not aware that this is a scam and are signing up and sending in thousands of dollars on these scams? Clearly, mom’s private information was taken. Identity theft is rampant around hospital patients. Lessons learned: be aware of any strange activity on credit cards or strange solicititations via phone calls after a hospital stay. Check your medical bills and insurance statements very carefully. Run a credit report about a month after your hospital stay. What a sad world this has become that this is necessary.

I stayed with Mom for a week as I had to return to work and get back before another snowstorm that was predicted. Mom is able to be alone now but not able to use steps yet. Fortunately, the full bathroom is on the ground floor. She is getting stronger and more mobile every day and will hopefully start cardiac rehab in a few weeks. The day before I left, I made a punch list, changed bed linens, changed furnace filters, made more meals, etc. On the previous day, I uncovered furntiture and set up the back deck so she can sit outside on nice days. I really wanted to rake the yard but time was not on my side so this did not get done. Lesson learned: I am human, middle-aged, and have my limitations. I really need a nap!

Saying goodbye was very hard, with lots of tears. The drive home was long but thankfully uneventful. While I was gone my Plott hound puppy, Iggy, changed so much! He now has adult teeth, is taller and broader, and has dangling male parts. He also learned to drink out of the toilet. After such a long ride, I craved fresh, clean air. I walked 50 feet up a deer path in my yard. I stopped to breathe in the fresh pine and snow scent and thank God that mom was getting stronger and I was home. I know Mom and Bob won’t be around forever but our prayers are they enjoy several more years together and enjoy good health. I turned around and right in front of my feet was a beautiful deer antler! I held it up and looked at the sky and just laughed!

You cannot put a price tag on good health. All the money in the world will not make you healthy and the healthcare system since covid is a disgrace. Quite frankly, it wasn’t all that great before covid. I wish everyone good health and hang onto your families and hug them as much as possible.

The most important lesson learned: Thank God for everything, including the bad stuff. It’s easy to thank God during good times but hang onto Him especially tight during the bad times. He will get you through it!