Continuing with our sad trifecta during these uncertain times, click here if you missed it.
I thought I had the Google Map tracking feature on my iPhone but it must have fell off during an update. This map only shows the “ideal” routes we traveled – not what we actually traveled which were longer distances and much longer times. But for the purpose of this blog post, I’ll just show the 1,101 miles or 17 hours 4 minutes we traveled most recently, more or less. First some background about my husband’s and my mom’s health decline that lead to these long miles during a less than ideal time to travel.
I’d like to introduce my sisters, rarely written about in our blogs. I am the youngest of three girls and I live in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Penny is the oldest and lives in the Panhandle of Florida. Our middle sister is Marsha. She lives in Newport News, Virginia. This post will center around mom’s health and decline and my husband’s four month long illness and our subsequent travels.
As most of our friends, family and followers know, Bill and I have enjoyed great health – and it only got better after Bill had a heart health scare in December 2016 (details here). But on January 1, 2020, he suddenly entered an even harder journey than his heart health scare. It was by far the worst journey he has ever been on or could imagine. That will explain our travels to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Part III of this series is next, a detailed post about his struggle to return to optimum health. The GREAT news is that Bill is now on the road to recovery. He has to rest (finish healing) until April 20, so it’s OK with us to be “sheltered in” for now. That’s about the only way to get him to properly heal….
I come from hearty stock. Mom and us three girls have enjoyed great health. We’ve been so proud of mom in her 96 years. Whenever she meets someone new, they are shocked to learn she was in her 90s. Especially doctors, nurses, therapists – and she met a lot of new ones her last seven months of life.
But mom’s health began to decline, around her 96th birthday. A tumor was discovered on her left lung while she was ill – was it bronchitis or pneumonia? Turns out it was lung cancer, but she would battle these illnesses for the rest of her life, while in and out of emergency rooms, the hospital and rehab. BUT in between, she was the strongest woman any of us have seen!!! Her mind was sharp and she was determined to conquer these setbacks. As stated in her Tribute, the possibility of lung cancer got all of our attention. So our road trips began with fervor. We were so glad we got off the road (as full time RVers) as there really weren’t the best roads or accommodations for our motorhome between here and there!
My middle sister, Marsha, is the closest to mom. Both Penny and I moved away from home after high school. Marsha eventually became mom’s caretaker when our dad passed in 1999. She remained very close to mom after she married Cliff Duncan (read about my wonderful step dad here)
But then mom’s health began to decline in August, 2019. Marsha had to take mom to the emergency room a week before her birthday. While it was severe bronchitis, a suspicious tumor was seen in her left lung. Mom was in the hospital a few days then was released to a Rehabilitation Center for 21 days. We actually had to fight to get her out of there! But we managed to have wonderful 96th birthday party for mom, in the Rehabilitation Center. We know how to make a bad thing turn out good. None of the staff or residents could believe mom was 96!
All mom ever wanted was to have as much family as possible around her. And it took that possible diagnosis of lung cancer to make it happen. Mom seemed to bounce back after she was released. She was now living in the nicest independent and senior living center – her motivation to get back on her feet. And she did. But a black cloud hung over all of our heads….
SO, Mom had the absolute best Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays! There is something to say about holidays. It is truly a time for families to come together.
Both mom’s pulmonologist and the oncologist were very hopeful because mom was otherwise in such great health for her age. And did I mention how sharp mom’s mind was??? And mom was strong and an optimist….oh mom was so optimistic! Mom’s most immediate family is on the East Coast (lots of relatives in Indiana, California and Oregon; then scattered in Arkansas and Arizona), comprised of us three daughters, three grandchildren (of four), three great grandchildren (seven) with one great, great granddaughter in Oregon! She was on the phone with everyone her last few months.
As wonderful as Christmas day was, mom had to go to the Emergency Room that evening. She was initially diagnosed with pneumonia. No one had a clue she was so sick. She’s really a strong woman! The outpatient biopsy procedure was scheduled for that Friday, December 27, 2019. Her pulmonologist came to visit her after reviewing the records and declared it was bronchitis. If she still wanted the procedure, it could be done on an in-patient basis. That sounded great to all of us as we were concerned about the outpatient part of the procedure. We didn’t think she’d bounce back as easily as us younger folks….Anyway, mom wanted every opportunity to beat the cancer. She was asymptomatic so why not? My daughter and I drove down after she got off work on December 26 to be with her. She did great, again, just a medical marvel at her age. But it did take some of her strength. She was not released from the hospital until January 3, 2020, nine days later.
Mom was released to a Rehabilitation Center. Her cancer was officially diagnosed as Stage 4 lung cancer and she needed to get her strength back. The oncologist said he felt with her desire to live and her overall health for being 96, he could “slow” down the growth with chemotherapy. There is a lot more to this, but without making this about diagnosing and treating cancer, let’s just say, mom was all in. My oldest sister and I then discussed who would be best to be there to help her and Marsha as mom started the chemo. Mom was living in an independent Senior Citizen complex. She would need one of us to be there with her overnight ….. Penny had some obligations that would be difficult to change. She could come easier in February, so I decided I’d go.
January 19 – 26, 2020 – I hated to leave Bill without a car, so our first attempt was for me to try out traveling by Amtrak. While Bill wasn’t feeling the best, it seemed to be a good solution. He drove me one way 60 miles to the station in Florence, SC. I enjoyed the six hour train trip to Richmond, Virginia – normally our drive is about six hours. I was blessed with the Senior Citizen rate, so it cost only $60! What a bargain. I was in business class with all the coffee, water and potty breaks I wanted! My sister and her husband picked me up in Richmond, which was about a 60 mile trip back to Newport News. I rented a car as my sister and her husband entered the stage of life where they only have one car as well. I was there to relieve Marsha of all obligations with mom so she and her husband could take care of other pressing needs.
Bill must have caught the flu while in the Amtrak station. Two or three days later, he called me at 6:30 pm – he was sick as a dog. I quickly looked to see what it would take for me to rush back to Myrtle Beach. There is no such thing as rushing back to Myrtle Beach. Although there is an airport nearby – no reasonable flights without long layovers. But this was the best choice as I live close enough to the airport, I could easily get a ride home. While there is an Amtrak Station in Newport News, it would have been a 12 hour journey with five train changes – and no guarantee I could make the changes. And then, how would I travel from Florence to Myrtle Beach? That would not have been easy. I could have just driven the rental car, which would have meant me driving on a lot of country roads in a car that didn’t look real reliable for such a trip. Let’s just say, I had to hope and pray Bill would be ok. As it turned out, it compounded his already deteriorating health condition….more later – but again, he is now on the road to full recovery.
Mom ended up never regaining enough strength to try chemotherapy. So all of our energy was focused on her regaining her strength to returning to independent living. She continued to be asymptomatic. Her appetite was good and she cooperated with both Physical and Occupational Therapy. However, she had a few other set backs and it was six weeks before she was released back to her home.
February 10 – 20, 2020 – Penny arrived a few days before mom’s release. She stayed 10 days, long enough to help get mom back home and as independent as we could hope. Mom’s attitude was so good and because she really didn’t seem to suffer from any symptoms, other than tired and weak, she enjoyed being home.
March 11 – 16, 2020 I wrote about my last weekend with mom in my last post, Part I. As hard as it was to leave Bill, I felt compelled to go. He is a strong man, but his health was tanking. We were so grateful as he needed a specialized surgery, at the time, scheduled for March 26. We had prayed he could get in sooner and on March 16, I got the phone call – could we be there March 20 instead??? OH YES!!!! That meant we only had a few days to get all we needed for the journey. We would be there for a week, so we needed a reservation and a few groceries. We have an electric cooler for traveling since we eat at home. We take what is in our refrigerator, mainly fresh fruit and veggies and transport it until we reach our destination. Generally our meat is frozen so it helps keep the cooler cold!
March 17 – 18, 2020 The Coronavirus had caused shelves to be wiped out as I shopped for groceries. We decided I would make a big pot of chicken noodle soup (we use chick pea noodles) to last us most of the time there. There was a run on fresh chicken breasts, but I managed to find a few packs – but wouldn’t you know, I forgot to pack them for the trip to Florida!
March 19 – Bill and I left early the day before the surgery. We made our reservations the night before – we were hearing surgeries were starting to be cancelled. We had to make sure his was still on – and thankfully, it was. When I originally looked for a reservation, about a month prior, we said OH NO! It’s peak season in Florida and reservations are not only hard to find, they are expensive! But since we told the Mayo Clinic we would be available to come early if they had a cancellation, we didn’t book one. So I was glad I never did. And it literally paid off as we got a great rate for “last minute” travel – and due to all the cancellations because of the coronavirus.
We began to notice the impact of the coronavirus as we traveled the back roads of South Carolina. The map doesn’t show our actual route. What we began to see as we looked for restrooms was the fast food restaurants now only had drive up service! And the lines were long. Thankfully, gas stations and rest stops (on the Interstate) were open. Once we got onto Interstate 95, there was little traffic heading south. BUT wow, the traffic heading north was miles and miles and miles of stop and go. People fleeing Florida, heading home after their time as snowbirds was being cut short. We could see the rest areas traveling northbound were slammed packed with vehicles and trucks.
We arrived at 4:30 pm to our condo right on the ocean in Jacksonville Beach. Only 10 minutes from the Mayo Clinic! We unpacked the car and settled into our new home. And then I discovered, I forgot the chicken breasts. We didn’t know how groceries would be in Jacksonville, so I had to make a mad dash and hunt for them. And then, I forgot to tell Bill, I changed our reservation to return home March 25 instead of March 26 – not quite a week post op. Later, I could only thank God I listened to the small voice that prompted this. But anyway, somehow we managed to get all we needed for our stay. And yes, the grocery shelves were also barren. The rest of our time in Jacksonville will be in the next post. Let’s just say, it was so interesting to watch how Florida has to clear the beaches! Spring break was in high gear. While Jacksonville Beach is not a “hot” spot for college students, it is for families. It was sad to interact with a few over their changes of plans.
March 25, 2020 – we headed home to Myrtle Beach. Bill couldn’t lift anything over 10 pounds for a month and he couldn’t drive for a week. This was hard for Bill as he had hoped to drive us home – he’s not a fan of being a passenger. Since I loaded the car and was driving, I didn’t take time to send messages to the family as I usually do when we hit the road. But as soon as I got home, I texted my sister to see how mom was. I hadn’t heard anything for two days…I knew she had her hands full since moving mom in with her. And I figured she knew I had my hands full since I was now the chief cook and nurse. Bill is our chef and I am a poor substitute. But the soup I made came out GREAT! Of course, I followed his directions and he did make the spice mixture at home….
Marsha texted me back she would call me later, she was meeting with Hospice. WHAT??? Marsha sent me a picture of mom sitting on the side of her bed two days prior, all perky and happy as PT was working on getting her out of bed and mobile. Mom just woke up that morning Wednesday morning not herself. It was a drastic change. Marsha had no choice but to call Hospice. It had been a rough nine days since mom moved in with her. They now had all the coronavirus issues facing them. Thankfully, the home health care staff was prepared and they were excellent. But the grocery shopping was now an issue. And they couldn’t have any visitors for mom to help cheer her up and to give Marsha support.
Sadly, Wednesday, March 25, 2020 was mom’s last day on this earth. Mom left the arms of Marsha and was immediately in the presence of her Lord and Savior.My sister is my hero.
I am mom’s executor and was responsible for mom’s arrangements. As tired as I was from the drive home, God gave me what I needed to carry on. I only had the fundamental basics taken care of. I had a big day ahead on Thursday, March 26, 2020. Bill really shouldn’t drive yet, and I had so many phone calls to make, we decided to leave the next day. In the meantime, our daughter was able to get off work to be with Marsha. God is so good as we have the faith to know HE was arranging all of our schedules to do and be where we needed to be to make the best of a VERY bad situation.
March 27, 2020 – We were back on the road. Bill drove us there, normally about a five hour drive. But since he couldn’t lift things over 10 pounds, we were a bit slow getting out of the house. The drive there was actually pleasant. We have made that trip 100’s of times (I-95 north mainly from Florida) but several times since we moved to Myrtle Beach, there were ALWAYS traffic jams somewhere along the lines. We hit no traffic jams or issues. The rest stops were all clean and every one was very pleasant. There were modifications at the rest stops – the “visitor centers” were closed and entrance the the rest rooms were now controlled in a way to limit crowds.
So traveling between six states, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic “social distancing” rules, we can say we saw calm. People were actually pleasant and helpful. And calm. Lots better than when the toilet paper flew off the shelves….
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)