Ah yes, my great aunt, Dot. You’ve read stories about her, rolled your eyes with me when discussing her gifts, and fumed in unison over her taunting Cordy. But today, this post isn’t about her antics, it’s about her.
On Monday or Tuesday, we’re not sure which, Aunt Dot fell in her apartment. She lives by herself, and although she has one of those Life Alert “help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” necklaces, she wasn’t wearing it. She wasn’t discovered until mid-day on Wednesday, and she couldn’t remember how long she had been on the floor. An evening in the emergency room resulted in the relief of finding no broken bones, but they did find she had a bladder infection and pneumonia, and her recently developed diabetes was out of control. She was admitted to the hospital.
Thursday and Friday involved a lot of tests. Her right carotid artery (the one that supplies blood to your head) is totally blocked, but we knew this. Her left carotid artery (that’s been doing the work for both of them) was discovered to be partially blocked. We thought that was probably the worst of the news, and she would likely need to move to assisted living from now on to ensure someone was nearby in case she fell again.
But it got worse.
Turns out the dark shadows the lung x-rays picked up were pneumonia, at least on the right side. The left side, though, was a tumor, encompassing all of the upper part of her left lung. They needed to do a biopsy to determine if it was malignant or not.
Today they did the procedure, but it didn’t go well. While lightly sedated, Aunt Dot stopped breathing. The medical team quickly got a tube down her throat and hooked her up to a respirator. She was then moved to ICU.
The doctor told us he’s 99% sure it’s malignant, and this lung cancer is starting to grow into her bronchioles. It can’t be treated, because the treatment alone would kill her. If she didn’t have all of these other problems, he’d give her 6 months to a year to live. But with all of her other health problems, including emphysema, she has at best 3-6 months, but could die any day. How this giant tumor had been missed by her primary doctor at her regular doctor’s visits is baffling to me.
I saw Aunt Dot briefly today after the biopsy procedure. She was semi-conscious and fighting the tube in her throat, so they had to fully sedate her again. It was hard to see her like this. Yes, she’s been a pain to me my entire life, but she’s still family. She’s my grandmother’s sister. That tough old woman, who was very intimidating to me as a child, looked so tiny and frail in that hospital bed. I stood by her side, watching her squirm and twist in a half-daze, and I didn’t know what to say. I finally reached out, touched her hand and said, “It’s OK, Aunt Dot. We’re here, and you’ll be fine.” Somewhere through the haze, I think she heard me, because for a moment she calmed down. The part about being fine wasn’t true, but it was all I could think of in that moment.
In the morning, the medical team will try to remove the tube. If she can breathe on her own, she’ll be moved out of ICU and eventually to a nursing home. If she can’t, they’ll give her 24 hours more and try again. She has a DNR order, so if a second try wouldn’t work, we would let her pass without any further intervention.
While I don’t want the last days of her life to be drawn out and painful, I do hope she will regain consciousness and will be given the time to put everything in order before she dies. I wouldn’t mind having a little more time to talk to her, too. One of my aunts told me today that Aunt Dot was so happy that I visited her on Thursday, bringing Mira with me. The entire reason I visited her today was to bring Mira to her to lift her spirits again, but I arrived right when she had stopped breathing. I hope she can see Mira at least one more time.
And I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I’m finding myself a little sad that Christmas just won’t be the same this year without another damn nutcracker and a bag of stale cashews.