Put on a happy face?
Updated: Apr 14
Death is closer. Then before.
As our towns shutter, our streets empty, our neighborhoods hush, Death seems to loom over us all with a ghastly grin, merrily mocking "Maybe I'll take this one! Maybe I'll take that one!" while poking and prodding the populace at random. Then it ventures even closer.
Mom has tested positive for COVID-19.
She and I both have had off-and-on coughs and sniffles since January. Nothing new for either of us; Mom no longer has the capacity to protect herself from any germs at any time of the year, and I smoke like a chimney, so, I've kept my eye on her sniffs and snorts but haven't worried too much.
Three days ago her coughing increased, dry, incessant. The sniffles turned into a cascade of snot. Her temperature went up, we're not sure exactly by how much as the ear/forehead thermometer we have is clearly unreliable, but she was warm to the touch, then cold and clammy. She wobbled when walking, bent over almost horizontally to the floor as she shuffled through the house.
We kept eyes on her at all times for fear she'd fall. Luckily though, she has slept almost non-stop since 8pm Wednesday night and while the coughing has been severe, bringing tears to her eyes when a particularly bad bout hits, she has not been wheezing nor appears to have difficulty breathing.
After spending two days going through virtual office visits and several assessment phone calls, Mom was scheduled for testing. We choose the drive-thru option as she was so weak I didn't think I could get her in and out of a clinic by myself (they are requesting that only one person accompany the patient if possible).
The testing was really well orchestrated, taking place in a large parking lot. They asked us to keep our windows rolled up at the first two tented stations while they held signs up to the driver's side window to ask the questions they needed answered. We had to show Mom's ID through the window at the first and second station and then we were waved on to the third tent for the test - those folks all dolled up in their hazmat gear sent me spiraling into a brief fantasy that we were actually pulling up to a circus on the moon. (I know, I'm odd and at the oddest times.)
Our tester was an awesome guy! We discussed how best to get the swab up Mom's nose successfully the first time, because, as we all know, second and third attempts at anything with our dementia people are never as easy as the first.
I don't know how you gently accomplish shoving a 5-inch swab up a pissed off old lady's nose, but the dude did it! I helped by giving Mom a hug in her car seat to keep her hands still, he gently held her forehead steady and with only a few protestations and one scream of rage it was done.
It was the most excitement Mom and I have had in days.
Since then we've been contacted by several medical professionals now that Mom is positive. All of them have given me hope that Mom can survive this as she is already showing signs of improvement - not false hope, but statistics and facts that make me think we've got a good chance of still having a Mom next week. (If you too are frustrated with the alternating hysteria/laissez faire attitude that has permeated the news cycle, I highly recommend you contact your doctor's office for actual information that will help you navigate this new world.)
They also calmed my fears about the rest of the household. The Other Girl skipped her Wednesday shift this week because she was sick last weekend (I'm pretty sure she's got a milder version of what Mom's going through). MotherMinder has been sheltering in place with us since last Saturday, and The Boyfriend in the Basement has been... well, in the basement. So I feel responsible for the health of all of our Stumped Town Dementia residents.
To get it from a medical professional horse's mouth that we all need to be careful, but we are not the walking dead just because we've been exposed was hugely comforting.
So, we shall keep her at home, continue to disinfect all surfaces and our hands/clothes/bedding, anything she's touched. She is already stronger, still unsteady but much improved. The cough and runny nose has subsided considerably. She is up briefly then back in bed to sleep for a few hours. We are to seek additional medical help if her breathing becomes labored, but other then that the strategy is to put on a happy face and help her through it.
We wait, and watch, and cherish her as we try and keep her hydrated, keep her strength up with soup, jello, apple juice, and, surprisingly, mashed potatoes with veggies. (I made a big pan of vegetarian shepherd's pie a couple days ago - I had no idea creamy taters would come to the rescue when she's lacking interest in food, but it's working!)
Earlier today, as I spoon fed her oatmeal while she kept dozing off in between bites, I said to her, "Mom, you sure are a tough old broad." She gave a throaty laugh that faded into a glimmering grin underneath eyes full of mischief; her trademark expression of merriment briefly shining through.
Who knows what the next few days/weeks will bring, but I gotta warn 'ya, Death - for this round you may have just picked a fight with the wrong happy face.