My mum has not been too good lately. She has had heart failure for many years, caused by excess alcohol damaging her heart muscle. Since Christmas she has been increasingly short of breath and sometimes breathless at rest. She’s cancelled things, talked about viruses, needing to shake it off and the like. I’ve gently suggested it might be her heart – often to be met with dramatic statements such as ’You may as well shoot me now then!’ Her doctor has done bloods and we are waiting an Echocardiogram and review by the specialist. I persuaded my brother – (the one with money!) to buy her a portable mobility scooter so we can go places. I called in to see her yesterday to plan our first outing.
Mum was looking a little better but still has the greyish pallor of someone lacking oxygen. We chatted and had a laugh as we always do. Then she got serious. She had spoken to the warden of her housing to let her know she wasn’t well. She wanted to ensure there was a ‘do not resuscitate’ (DNR) in place. ”I’m not coping well with this” she explained, ”I know I wouldn’t cope if I was paralysed or something and I don’t want to put that on you all”. I agreed with her – honesty had replaced the dramatic statements. She then showed me the letter from Cardiology. “What’s that mean – BNP 1899?” she asked. “I think that’s a heart failure marker I said – let me look it up to be sure”. Medicine has changed a lot since I trained and I use Dr Google as much as the next person! My first search immediately revealed that high BNP is a prognostic marker, normal is 100. The latter fact was out of my mouth before I could self censor and I watched the penny drop for my mum; the one that had dropped for me a while ago – we are nearing the end.
“So what happens now?” mum asked. “We need to hear this from the consultant” I said, “then we ask if there’s anything medical they can do; then we ask them what’s likely to happen and how long it will take. When your heart can’t pump well enough your other organs will start to fail. So far your kidneys are holding up so that’s a good sign. It’s thinking what you want to do, and planning those things whilst we can”.
When I left Mum was joking again, but I felt bad leaving her to digest this uncomfortable truth. I’m glad I’m seeing her today. I’ve cried a little, and wondered just what the next months will hold. I know I can both sweep away worries and magnify them in my mind. I think I’m more balanced though with this. I’m not going to make any big plans; just be here, be present and available and make the most of the time we have day by day. I know I’m lucky to have had my mum so long, and blessed that she came back to us from alcohol – the thief that steals love slowly and surely once it gets hold of you. Today we will visit some gardens and try out the scooter. We will laugh and have fun and I will make precious memories.