Posted on February 1st, 2019
Heather Mauro/ Daughter of Kathleen Mullins
My mom was a healthy 63-year-old woman. She was active and full of life. Up until her brief illness, she worked as a preschool teacher, which she loved dearly. I had seen my mom the day before the illness began showing its face, and she was her normal busy self, preparing for Christmas with her husband, 5 children and 9 grandchildren. The next day, which was Christmas Eve, my dad sent me a text saying that mom had the flu. I thought, ok, we will postpone Christmas celebration and let mom rest….No big deal.
I called her on my way home from work that evening and no answer. Still I was not worried, I continued to think, just a bad case of the flu, she doesn’t want to move or talk, no big deal. The next morning I watched my children open Christmas gifts and continued with my normal Christmas day routine, still not knowing if we would be going to mom’s that evening, due to her having the “flu.” I received a text message from my brother that morning that said they were taking mom to the hospital, I still thought ok, she is dehydrated, they will get some fluids in her and she will be fine.
I asked what her symptoms? Why did you take her in? Mom was one of the strongest most resilient people I have ever met, so I was extremely concerned that she allowed them to take her to the hospital. My brother said that mom had fallen and could not speak or figure out how to get up after falling. He said she was panting and mumbling about going to work. It was Christmas Day, she did not have to go to work. She was confused. My dad mentioned that in the middle of the night she was extremely restless and seemed to be moaning in pain and that he heard her up and down out of bed all night.
When I got to the Emergency room, I was beyond shocked at the lady that I saw in that little room. She was in pain and restless and she looked like she had aged overnight. The initial thought of one of the doctors in the ER was that she had some kind of gastrointestinal bug, because tests indicated that there was no heart attack, no stroke and negative for many other tests. She was taken to the Intensive Care Unit due to her extremely low blood pressure.
My, dad, brothers and I all took turns staying by her side, while doctors attempted to stabilize her. I walked into the ICU room, she said my name and asked me to help her. She kept pointing to the restraints that they had put on her wrists to keep her from pulling out IVs. She said that they hurt. I told her I could not take them off. I began to rub her fingers because I thought maybe the arthritis in her fingers was what she meant. The hand massage distracted her for a while but then she was back to the pleas for help. She tried everything to get me to take them off, even using the “Mom Card”. She very sternly told me that she was going to be very angry at me if I did not help her. She even said that I had to bust her out of there, not her usual way of speaking but I considered the affects of the disease. She also asked me to bring the car around, which makes me very sad to remember, but also happy because she was such a funny person with so much wit.
I had no idea that these cries for help would be the last time that I would ever hear my mothers voice or the last acknowledgment of me being her daughter.
During the night, my dad received a call that mom was having trouble breathing and that they were going to be putting a breathing tube in to help her breath, this also allowed her body to rest and let the machines help her perform the functions that her body was too weak to do. We all returned to the hospital the day after Christmas to maintain our support of her fight against this disease. My dad went home to get some rest after being there all night. We had noticed that mom’s hands were turning a dark purple and that she had dark purple spots on her legs too. The doctors explained that this was due to constrictions in the veins because of medication that they were using to increase her blood pressure. It pulls blood from other areas so that the blood can go to the organs that are struggling to function.
The doctor came in and said that he would like to speak with us in another room. At that time I was there with my two older brothers. We met with the doctor and he explained that mom had Streptococcus A that had led to what they thought was necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh eating bacteria. (Sepsis and Group A Streptococcus, Sepsis and Necrotizing Fasciitis) He said that her body had gone into septic shock due to this infection. He explained that the outlook was not good. We were shocked, until that point, we had maintained hope. None of us had any understanding of this diagnosis.
We continued our endless vigil by mom’s bedside. Her hands continued to darken to an even darker shade of purple and her blood pressure never improved. By this time it was explained that if mom makes it, through this nightmare that she may have to have her hands and feet amputated. I cried thinking of those creative loving hands, not being available to her anymore. I cried thinking of those independent legs not being able to jump in her car and drive or dance in the kitchen as we all laughed on.
Then a piece of hope came when the doctor said that they had believed they found the point of infection and that surgery was her only chance. We were excited for the surgery, because if they can get the infection out then the medication can get in there and really work. We were worried that in her condition, she may not make it through the surgery, but it was better than nothing. We had a priest anoint her before surgery and we all believed that this was the way to get her better. She came out of surgery, but they were not able to get all of the infection. The surgeon was optimistic that by removing a large piece of the infection, the antibiotics could work better at attacking the smaller portion.
I went home that night feeling uneasy. I was upset about the possible amputation and quality of life for mom afterwards. The next day I woke up to get down to the hospital to see what progress the surgery had allowed. I was even at peace with the thought of amputation. I kept thinking, its not so bad, at least we have her here, we can all help her, she is strong, she will make it work.
My positive attitude was quickly shattered when I got to the hospital. I saw my dad, and my brothers gathered at a round table and my aunts and cousin (my moms sisters and her niece who had come from out of town to offer support to her and our family). When I walked in, I began to cry. I knew what was happening. They had spoken with the doctor who said that she had developed encephalopathy, infection that went to the brain. He also advised that even if they continue to fight and amputate her hands and feet, that her chance for survival was minimal.
We talked again with the doctor, with a priest and among ourselves. We all offered our opinions and came to the conclusion that although we wanted to selfishly keep mom here for us, what kind of life would she be left with? How long do we continue to fight? What does the future hold for her?
We said our goodbyes. My dad, her husband of over 44 years. Her 5 children and their spouses. Her 6 siblings and extended family both next to her at death and on the phone in other states. Lastly her beloved 9 grandbabies said their goodbyes assisted by a child life specialist.