Previously I had written about living with my 87-year-old mom and her various health issues.
The latest has been her skin condition.
For the past several months, we’ve seen her skin turn dryer, even scalier. And she’s been scratching herself almost non-stop every day. Many times to the point of bleeding.
To say we’ve sought a lot of medical advice is an understatement.
We’ve brought her to clinics and hospitals.
We’ve tried various oral medications and skin creams that promise relief.
And we’ve even asked her to ‘beat’ her skin with a cushioned stick rather than scratch her itch.
None have really worked.
All this while, she continues to live inside her itchy, reptilian skin with constant discomfort.
How a visit to the hospital became a staycay
It all came to a head earlier this week when my wife noticed multiple blisters forming on my mom’s upper thigh.
We decided this might be as good a time as any to call it an emergency! Best to bring forward an appointment with the skin specialist in the local hospital, two months down the road, to an urgent appointment this week instead.
My retired older sister (a former nurse), who visits us regularly and helps keep track of mom’s various medications and well-being, brought my mom to the hospital on Tuesday. After some deliberation and partial insistence on her part, the hospital agreed to admit my mom.
Mind you, these are still pandemic times. Hospitals here are still dealing with Covid cases, especially with the recent local spike in the number of folks stricken by the Covid XBB variant.
So getting the hospital to agree to my sister’s request wasn’t easy, since there appear to be no immediate and visible life-threatening signs on my mom.
Thankfully, and coincidentally, that same day the Ministry of Health announced they would stop having Covid-dedicated wards. This was to help free up more beds.
Talk about divine timing!
My mom ended up with a four-night “staycay” and was only discharged earlier today.
My mom has bullous pemphigoid
Source: My sister’s phone camera (Nov 8, 2022)
Yep, this is what bullous pemphigoid can make the skin look like. And this, according to the specialist, is what my poor mom has!
According to the doctor, and my judicious web search, bullous pemphigoid is a chronic skin condition that mainly affects older people. It can be triggered when one’s autoimmune system goes berserk (from say a past viral infection) and attacks the body’s cells by mistake, causing symptoms like the ones my mom has.
It usually starts with an itchy, raised rash. As the condition develops, large blisters can form on the skin. There’s no absolute certainty of cause, but for sure it is neither caught nor “inherited”. So there really was no way we could have known nor prevent it.
Bullous pemphigoid may last a few years and sometimes causes serious problems. But treatment can help manage the condition in most cases.
So while it is extremely unpleasant for my mom, it is both treatable and non-life-threatening.
I only wish the symptoms had been more pronounced in my mom from the start. That way, we wouldn’t have had to jump hoops like some circus act, fleeting from one treatment, oral medication, or cream, to another.
Still, I supposed it’s the nature of healthcare when it comes to the elderly. Many things are pretty much trial and error til we make an accurate diagnosis.
Unfortunately, the bigger issue here isn’t just about the health and well-being of the elderly in general, and my mom in particular.
It’s also about the indignity of aging
Everyone wishes their retirement and the twilight years to be the best as we move toward the inevitable.
Those of us who think of it anyway.
I suspect, though, many don’t have the time or turn a deliberate blind eye to it. Like the proverbial ostrich head in the sand. Drowning ourselves in the here and now seems way less troubling than pondering days of incapacity.
Which is something I’m confronted with daily, having my mom live with us since three years ago.
The endgame as it were stares me in the face constantly. I’m reminded that even though not every elderly will end up the way my mom has ended up — Alzheimer’s, limited mobility, and now bullous pemphigoid — there seem so few upsides to aging.
And by far the greatest insult of all is how it seems to rob us of the simple dignities of daily living that we all take for granted.
With my mom, that means being totally dependent on someone else for stuff like bathtime, meals, transportation, and even TV. When not at the dementia elder daycare, her mental capacity thanks to Alzheimer’s means my mom can’t do much else. Other than coloring and jigsaws.
With poor eyesight and some hearing loss to boot, reading on her own or being read to by us can prove daunting too. As is our attempts to engage her in coherent conversations beyond entreaties like “are you hungry?” or “do you need to go to the toilet?”
When I look at her, I imagine what my final years look like.
And I shudder.
So to those who say that age is just a number, come spend a day with my mom and me okay? Then start planning for when your time comes.
When all our times come.
And they will.