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|Rita Marie Dunnigan Katnich (74), gbm diagnosed in June 2000; born on November 20, 1925, Lockport, New York; went to heaven on November 2, 2000; she was first and foremost the Mom of five children and grandmother of 11 grandchildren; her family was her life; written by her daughter, Kristi Kelly|
|In May 2000, Mom's two sisters came to California from New York for their yearly visit. She took them everywhere in southern California and enjoyed their company. They left for New York on June 1, 2000. The next week, Mom complained about always being thirsty and her tongue feeling thick. One day, she said she was very sick. The next day, I visited her, and her smile was dropping to the left. She said her hand had lost some of its grip. She went to her doctor, who is an internist. He recommended an MRI. He suspected a slight stroke but wanted to make sure. Mom scheduled the MRI, but it wasn't for about 10 days away. In the meantime, she visited a cardiologist and a neurosurgeon. They both suspected a slight stroke but wanted to see the MRI. Mom went for the MRI on a Saturday, and we all spent time together the rest of the weekend. On a walk, my sister Donna and I noticed Mom was dragging her left foot.
On Monday, the call came from the neurosurgeon that he wanted another MRI, this time a contrasting MRI. Mom went back on Monday, and we all waited Tuesday for the results. The neurosurgeon called my sister Anne, and Mom was at her house that day. The results were some form of tumor. Anne immediately went and picked up the MRI and took the MRI and Mom to a good friend of hers, who is a brain surgeon. He looked at the MRI and said she needed a biopsy. Well, he didn't do biopsies but two of his neighbors did. He called the first one, and he came right over. They both were concerned, but we didn't understand at that point the severity of the situation.
Dr. De Salas, the next-door neighbor, arranged for Mom to go to UCLA the next day and have a series of tests. The biopsy was planned for Friday. I stayed with Mom over the next few days of intense stress. She had the biopsy as scheduled, but everything went wrong from that point. She had a cerebral bleed during the biopsy. The doctor first came to us and told us she had a brain tumor and it was a glioblastoma multiforme stage 4. I had never heard of this tumor, but I knew "4th stage" was bad. He returned in about 20 minutes and said she had had a bleed and had a 1% chance of survival that evening. We all freaked out. The shock set in and didn't leave for at least a year and a half. Dr. De Salas saved her life that night, but the horror that was to come on our family had just begun.
After Mom's surgery, my sisters Anne, Denise, and Donna and my son Andrew and I were allowed to go to see her. She had been put in the basement and was the only patient in a makeshift area. She was screaming and had her head wrapped. I had never seen my loving, always happy mother in such a state. I was really scared, and so was she.
I drove home with my husband that morning and called my boss and took a leave of absence. My brother flew in from Virginia, and all of our lives were put on hold to care for our mom.
Mom was in ICU for a month. During that time, she experienced recovery from the biopsy and bleed, a scare when she couldn't be revived, a ventricle drain, and an eight-hour computer-assisted surgery to remove her tumor, which had gone from the right side of her brain to invading the left side. She was pretty paranoid the whole time in ICU and wanted her family by her side 24 hours a day. We stayed. We did do shifts and stayed at the hotel nearby. Thankfully, there are five children as well as some wonderful family friends who came to relieve us at times.
After a month, Mom finally went to her own room and then to rehab. While in rehab, she had a series of 20 radiation treatments. The objective of rehab was to get her to a point that we could transfer her so she could come home. It took a month, but it was finally accomplished.
On August 22nd, Mom came home. I sat in her bedroom that day, waiting for the hospital bed to be delivered and I talked to God. I discussed with Him that I knew Mom would die here in this room, but I didn't know the day or time. But here in the room that I occupied while I was a teenager, and now at almost 50, my beloved mother would meet her maker. I prepared my heart.
Mom came home that day, and we hired a loving and caring nurse's aide to stay 24 hours a day with her. Mom was very upset. She repeated things a million times. She was scared; she never wanted us to leave her. She would focus on certain things and never let up. She was cared for with dignity and love by all of us children and her nurse's aide, and even her two sisters came for a week to stay with her. They answered her every need and kissed and loved her tenderly.
We requested a home health group to come to oversee Mom's care. We asked for a particular nurse and she came once, then put another woman in charge. We got some conflicting care and some medications that we didn't feel were helping Mom, so we changed home health companies and went to a specific hospice group. This nurse was very helpful and explained what we were in for, but until you walk those steps, you really never know.
At first, Mom would tolerate the transfer to her wheelchair and have her meals fed to her in the dining room or living room, where everyone else was. But she really dreaded the transfers and really just wanted to stay in bed. After a month, we tapered off so much activity. She seemed so needy as far as attention. This was very unusual for Mom. She raised five children alone and was always so independent. It took us all day just to meet her simple needs.
On October 31st, I was with the hospice nurse and the social worker, and they told me my mom's days were numbered because of her heart rate. So all of us girls---Denise, Anne, Donna, and myself (my brother Michael lived in Virginia and had been with us at least a month out of the five months Mom was ill, but he had a family and a job back home)---stayed with Mom. Denise and I woke up on November 2nd and laid in the bed next to Mom's hospital bed and knew this was the day Mom would pass on.
That morning, Mom's breathing became labored. I called hospice, but the whole company was at a retreat that day and I couldn't get a hold of anyone. Well, I thought we were going to have to go about this alone. But I knew God was in control. We called for the priest, and he came around 10:00 a.m. and administered Last Rites to Mom. My husband, Scott, came around noon, and Donna's husband and two sons arrived as well.
Mom's breathing was really labored, and we had given her morphine a few times (a very small amount). We were all in her room with her. My sister Denise asked Scott to read the 23rd Psalm, which he did. While he was reading, we noticed Mom's feet were getting colder and her breathing was very difficult. We decided to give her a little morphine to help her with the breathing because her body was actually lifting off the hospital bed at that point with every breath. Each of her daughters was by her side, with my husband Scott at the foot of the bed. We were there with her, telling her we loved her...telling her that her mom and dad were in heaven and they loved her too and were waiting for her to come. She opened her eyes and looked at each one of us with a really sweet smile and then closed her eyes. At that point, we were telling her "God is here, Mom. He has come to take you home; go." Then I realized we were really loud, saying, "He's here! He's here, Mom. Go, go, He's here." We actually felt God's presence. She took her last breath, and God took her home.
It had only been from mid-June to November 2nd, but I felt I had lived my whole life either at UCLA's ICU or in my mom's room. I would do it again in a minute just to have one more glance at my beautiful mother. Here is a woman who climbed three flights of steps to UCLA just to have a simple (so she thought) biopsy, and she was never the same.
We talked every day. I miss her so much. What I would give for one more phone all to hear her say "Hi, hon!"
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