A Guide to Caring for Aging Family Members

A few days before Christmas, Katie had brain surgery—but tragically, she was one of the 2%. The surgeon punctured a blood vessel in her brain, and she did, indeed, suffer a stroke.  The following day she had additional surgery—a portion of her skull was removed to relieve the mounting pressure on her brain.  Katie survives.  She has a tracheotomy and a feeding tube.

A number of weeks later her husband, Sam, told us that it had all sounded so positive.  Of course they knew there was a risk of unsuccessful surgery and DYING, but they had just not considered the risk of unsuccessful surgery and LIVING.

Katie was in a coma for several weeks.  The doctor recommended that she go to a rehabilitation facility that specialized in stroke and coma therapy.  The insurance company denied this course of treatment and she was sent to an acute care facility instead.

When we visited, we would talk to Katie and ask her to squeeze our hand if she could hear and understand us. Often we felt a light squeeze—but we did not know for sure what that meant.  During one visit I read the following nurse’s note entered into the journal: “I put a washcloth in the Katie’s hand and told her to wash her face, which she did.”  Shortly afterward, Sam arrived and I pointed him to the journal.  This was the first real indication that Katie’s mind was able to receive and to process.  When Sam  read it, he just broke down.  His relief was palatable.

Katie began to gradually emerge from her coma. The strangest and most difficult adjustment for family and friends was that Katie, normally vivacious well-beyond the average, now had no expression at all, but a totally flat affect.  Her one means of communication, and her only means of expression, was her right arm (much like the story of Christy Brown portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1989 movie:  My Left Foot.)

Katie received some physical therapy at the facility, but was not able to reach benchmarks. She was then sent to a rehabilitation facility where the cycle repeats itself:  Katie emerges slowly; she is unable to meet benchmarks; insurance is discontinued.  The next step is to a sub-acute rehabilitation facility—a nursing home.

On December 19, 2012, Katie went to work and spent a busy day with patients at the doctor’s office where she worked. On December 20th, her life changed forever.  In May 2013 she turned 65.  She resides in a nursing home.  With the use of only one of her limbs, she is bedbound, or more accurately…



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