A week after my mom's 87th Birthday and exactly 6 weeks before Ironman Langkawi 2014, Sunday, August 17th at about 3 AM, I received what to many at our age, consider as the "dreaded phone call". What with our ageing parents and their being frail already especially when they are past 80.
Indeed it was. My brother, Ricardo nicknamed Dicky was on the other end. First of all, Dicky never calls me for anything. Moreover, it was in the middle of the night. That's how I figured that something was probably wrong. He was calm but obviously sounded concerned. "Mommy had a bad fall. She has a huge lump on her head and her face", Dicky said in Tagalog. He was asking for a suggested hospital where to bring mom. I immediately suggested to bring her to the hospital where her cardiologist is given her history of milk strokes and heart attacks.
My brother, Raoul later on narrated that he heard a loud thud in the middle of the night and knew that mom had somehow fallen on her way to the toilet, unassisted. Our 87 year old mom is of strong stock. She's had falls many times in her life and she'd always immediately try to get up to reassure everyone around that she was actually okay. But this time, it was different. She hit her face hard on the door and she was having seizures and would go in and out of consciousness.
She made it to the hospital and was immediately confined to the ICU after the usual evaluation in the Emergency Room. The serious injuries from the fall resulted in a mild heart attack which complicated her condition of having fluids in her lungs which she was already battling with prior to the fall.
|Better Days - Mommy's 87th Birthday.|
Surviving Round 1
But, being the fighter that she was, she kept her spirits up and reassured everyone that she was fine and was getting better right away. Despite the limitation in the number of visitors to the ICU, most of us 8 siblings and our Dad would visit her daily. After about 8 days or so, the Doctors discharged her albeit the huge bruise on her face. I guess it was her will to live and her natural positive attitude towards everything that helped her recover rapidly.
During the regular visits to the hospital, my training load for Ironman Malaysia started to get compromised. However, I would still log in all the necessary long rides, runs and swims especially on weekends.
Round 2 - Pneumonia
Unfortunately, 3 days after being discharged, Mom's health started to fail again. My regular visits to my mom at her home is Tuesdays, along with all my siblings. However, I felt uneasy that Monday Holiday morning and decided to cut my long ride short to visit mom. I was shocked to see our mom so weak and having extreme difficulty breathing. She knew she was in trouble and was starting to say her goodbye to my two brothers Raoul and Dicky and myself. She didn't want to go to the hospital and insisted on waiting until the next day before seeing the doctor to give her time to put her affairs in order with her Savings & Loan Association where she was a member of and the banks. She started to dictate who gets what including money for the grandchildren.
|Dad watching over Mom at their home a few minutes before we rushed her to Makati Med.|
My brothers and I immediately boarded her into the SUV and rushed her to the Makati Medical Center where the efficient and highly competent doctors diagnosed her as having a serious case of pneumonia which was probably hospital acquired (from her previous, recent stay a few days back). It was a different hospital from Makati Med.
It helped that our cousins are doctors at Makati Med. Moreover, the guy calling the shots at the ER was a La Salle Greenhills contemporary, Dr. Lagman who was a member of the Varsity Men's Volleyball team in Alma Mater back in the day.
She was once again confined to the ICU and doctors at both the ER and the ICU said that if we hadn't brought her in when we did, she would have passed away within a few hours. Her oxygen levels were below 30% and she was starting to go once again, in and out of consciousness.
At the ICU, she was forced to use a ventilator where they pushed tubes into my mom's respiratory tract or so to have the machine help her breath. It was painful to see our mom suffer but we had full faith in our panel of doctors.
The first two or three days were nerve wracking. She seemed to be in so much discomfort and even pain that it was hard to see her suffering. They had to tie her hands down because the doctors feared that she might pull out the tubes from the discomfort.
But once again, her positive disposition despite the extreme suffering somehow help in her recovery. The doctors were weaning her away from the ventilator and took her off the breathing machine around 6 to 7 days after checking in.
It was during this very serious stay at the hospital that my siblings and I would gather almost every evening to cheer our mom up, some of us taking turns watching over her at the ICU overnight. The doctors required this given the very fragile state she was in. They needed a close relative available at all times to make decisions on her treatment and in case her situation would worsen.
Despite the general feeling of worry and concern, my brothers and I were bonding because of the common concern and the daily meet ups. We would gather at the ICU viewing area, chat with our mom who would communicate to us via writing on a slate given the tube in her respiratory tract. Our dad would also visit daily. We also encouraged our New York based brother to come home given the severity of mom's condition. We figured, it was good to have him over in case mom would indeed pass.
But, mom had other plans. She fought pneumonia so hard that all her 4 or so doctors were amazed that she was actually getting better and told us that mom was such a courageous fighter and survivor. We were all elated when they took her off the breathing machine and transferred her to a regular room. The family would visit her en mass and other relatives hearing the happy news would also drop by.
She must have felt so loved with so many people visiting her daily. And though she would complain about how hard her stay at the ICU was, she was clearly happy to have lived through that ordeal. She said, "It's because I prayed so hard in my youth for God to give me a long life. I didn't know it meant that I was going to suffer the much as when I did in the ICU".
|Merced enjoying her personalized Coke bottle at the Hospital.|
We all pampered and spoiled her. We would take turns feeding her because the doctors insisted that she eat to get stronger. Grown men spoon feeding our elderly mom. A reversal of role from 50 to 60 or so years ago when she was the one spoon feeding all us 8 kids.
She also took a liking of the Dilibar of Dairy Queen. It was delicious, easy to consume and I guess the cold ice cream helped relieve her throat which was battered by the tubes. We would buy her as much as she wanted.
|Our Heroic Brother, Raoul. He kept the most watch over mommy. Mom really felt his love and care.|
She checked out a little after a week in the hospital and we were in a celebratory mood. We gathered at the house and had a big dinner with almost everyone present, including our brother Jun who had flown in from New York. It felt like the 80's again as it was a very rare time that we were all together as one family having dinner with both parents at the old house in Paranaque. Lots of laughter and love all around.
|One of the Celebratory Dinners After Mom's Recovery|
She kept making "bilin" and handing out our inheritances throughout the dinner. To the point that we would tell her that she need not do so given her strong recovery. Not a lot of stuff really.
She called me Saturday night and insisted that I drop by the house to get a gift from her. She wouldn't say what it was but insisted it was special. I postponed my visit and said that I would go on Tuesday as I regularly did. She sounded a bit disappointed but agreed. When I got there Tuesday, she was so excited to give me the figurine of the "Mother & Child" (Mary and Jesus) which she explained she got in Italy at the Capuchin Seminary where Saint Padre Pio, the stigmata lived and performed miracles. I was so happy to receive this gift. I have often prayed to Saint Padre Pio for special favors and intercessions.
|Mother Mary & Jesus Image from Mommy|
We bought the necessary medical stuff including oxygen tanks, regulators and the like to help her keep well oxygenated and prevent a recurrence of her life threatening episode form a week or so back.
We were all optimistic.
She was determined to get well. And she finally got to go to the bank and the savings and loan office. I think she also went to do her regular rounds of going to the salon, the supermarket and seeing friends.
Then, after about over a week. I once again get the dreaded phone call. This time it was Raoul. He said that he had to bring mom back to Makati Med because she was again having severe difficulty breathing and was slipping in and out of consciousness.
The pneumonia was back with a vengeance.
By this time we were all experts on the procedures and the protocol at the hospital. We all gathered at the Makati Med on a daily basis but this time, instead of having mom in the ICU, she was first placed in a regular room. We were thus somewhat relieved. However, as the days passed, her conditioned worsened and they had to intubate her again and scheduled her to be moved back to ICU. From being able to communicate with us and talk to us, she was back on using the slate.
She must have known that the fight in her was gone. She was hardly ever demonstrative to us, but the day she was being moved to the ICU from the regular room, it was Raoul and Jomari our tisoy brother who were with her at the hospital. She asked to hug them both and said, "O, good bye na".
I wish I was there at that time but I had just left to finish some work I was rushing for the next day.
My brothers updated me by phone on her condition. Aside from the pneumonia, her kidneys and other organs were stressing out. She hadn't peed in days and they needed to give her dialysis already because the creatinine levels in her system was starting to poison her. I was on my way to the send off party for the Philippine Contingent to Ironman Langkawi at that time I got the call. I went through the motions of attending the party but I had decided right then and there that I wasn't pushing through with the race anymore.
After a quick stay at the party, I went to back to the hospital where I was pleased to see my other brother, Rene there watching over mom. We kept telling mommy for her to get well, to keep fighting and that we cared for her and loved her. But, unlike the other time(s), she would just smile faintly as if resigned already.
She was to go through dialysis on either Monday or Tuesday but the doctors cautioned that it was indeed a risky procedure given her age and frail heart. The alternative though was even more risky. Her creatinine levels were already nearing toxic levels.
By Monday, I noted that she was so tired and barely responsive. I visited lunch time and instead of having her awake as she always would be when we visited her, she was groggy and seemed to be in a sedated state. Relatives came to visit but could no longer enter the ICU. Our sister Joan had watched over her and was relieved by Erwin for the night shift.
|Monday noon time, right before Dialysis Started - already groggy.|
Erwin said that mom struggled to write something on the slate that night. She wrote, "Fighting Strongest". I think she meant that she wanted to let us know that she kept on fighting to survive but was having a really tough time this time around.
She had her dialysis on Tuesday with Erwin on the watch. He said it was difficult to see and that her Blood Pressure had dropped to 40 at least twice during the 2 to 3 hour procedure.
That night, our mom was almost in a daze already. She was unresponsive and could only squeeze our hand or nod ever so weakly. We had organized a Rosary prayer at the chapel with some relatives and were happy to see the support of our cousins and friends.
Baby, aka Jomari whispered to her that it was really okay for all of us if she already let go. That we will all be alright and well and that we didn't want her to suffer. We took turns in stroking her forehead, holding her had and telling her we loved her and for her to get well, if she could.
Before we left, I went back to the ICU and gave mom my Rosary. The caregiver placed it in her hand and she squeezed it tight.
The next morning, I decided to drop by the hospital first before heading for work. I never, ever do this. But for some reason, I thought I wanted to be there. I found out, too that my other brothers Raoul and Jomari were at the hospital as well.
We called for a priest to anoint our mother and stood watch over her. Her BP was normal, her oxygen levels were getting better and her breathing was good. Her heart rate strong and steady. But we just stayed there and watched over her. Jomari eventually had to leave for work and did so after the anointing. At about this time, our Dad was on the way up having just arrived from the house.
I am convinced that my mom was just waiting for my Dad to arrive. Because as soon as he passed by the window of the ICU unit my mom was in, her heart rate started to drop dramatically. From 65 to 39 then 29. By the time my Dad got to the ICU all the doctors were already preparing to revive her. She had flatlined already. I immediately texted all my siblings on what was happening. Jomari rushed back to the hospital and got there just in time. Mommy didn't want Dad to feel guilty about not being at her bedside when she passed. That's her very good nature. She was always very considerate.
"Mom's heart rate is dropping fast. Doctors preparing to revive her...this is it" was my first text. I followed this up with something like "Doctors reviving mommy". By this time, Dad was confused and didn't understand what was going on. I was starting to shed tears already seeing how the Doctors were working on reviving mom. Then after the third attempt, the Doctors asked if we wanted them to continue. Despite vigorous attempts, she would not be revived. We finally told them to stop. I texted my siblings. "Mommy passed away na. We love you Mommy". It was 9:55 am.
My military Dad was quietly crying. Just tears. No sound. He stood up from his wheel chair and was caressing and kissing Mommy's face and whispering to her ear. Tears streaming continuously from his eyes. It was the very first time I saw my Dad cry. I was in the same state and so was Jomari. I kept telling mommy how much I loved her.
When they lifted the blanket that covered her body, I noticed her hand was still clenched tightly. I opened it and found my rosary in her hand. It was the last thing she held on to when she passed away.
|Mommy is in Heaven now.|
As a Family, we are consoled by the thought that God sent the Blessed Virgin Mary to bring our mother up to Heaven. She passed away on September the 24th which is the Roman Catholic Feast Day of The Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy or translated in Spanish as "Maria Virgen de la Merced" after whom mommy was named.
I think God is telling us not to worry about our Mommy.
Lord, please do take my mommy into Heaven with you.