Monday, December 19, 2016

Our Hospice Journey - Week 6 Observations

The following is an update on my Mom
and our
Journey through Hospice.

If you missed my first installment on our Hospice Journey and the drama that brought us to this point,
please take a lookie see at my previous post:
Our Hospice Journey, the Beginning


Dad & Mom on their 40th Wedding Anniv. in 1994.
(Dad was 15 yrs. older than Mom & didn't make it to their 50th)

So, I know all our family & friends have been wanting an update and I really feel I owe it to everyone, but the truth is, I'm not sure what to say (but I'm sure I'll think of something)...

It's been 6 weeks (46 days to be exact) since Mom's dramatic fall that led to me placing her in hospice and I have to say, my Mom is one tough cookie -- far exceeding the initial survival expectations of the doctors; however, in my daily visits I am seeing quite the conflicting mix of slight improvement vs. end-of-life (EOL) failings.  So I think with this post, I'll just list a few of my observations...

First, the Small Improvements:

1. A slight increase in appetite.  Mom has gone from consuming 100-200 calories a day at first, to now perhaps 200-400± calories a day; yet still not enough to sustain one in the long-term. Her desire to eat varies greatly from meal to meal and she often skips meals. The increase is most likely due to a change in medication that can increase appetite.  [Update:  I knew the minute I said she was doing better at eating, things would go the other way... scratch the eating part.  she has consumed maybe 400 calories in the last 4 days.]  

2. Staying awake/alert for up to an hour at a time.  Again, this varies greatly -- at first she was staying awake for 15 minutes at a time, but now she sometimes stays awake and converses with me for up to an hour, but those days are still pretty rare.  Some visits she is only able to stay awake for 10 minutes.  One of the hospice reps. shared with me that during one of her visits, Mom never opened her eyes while she was there, just talking with her eyes shut.

3. Helps herself more.  Well, yes & no, good & bad.  She is able to use her right/broken arm that is still in a stint more to feed herself, however, the nurse & I kept harping at Mom that she needed to press her button if she needed something (like pain meds) and she wouldn't do it.  But now, perhaps we have created a monster and she presses it for anything and everything... fresh coffee, a cookie (at 2 a.m.), and she gets agitated if they don't come fast enough, like they are her personal room service.

And Now the Signs of Failing (all typical end-of-life (EOL) symptoms):

1.  Confusion!  Here I'm not speaking of just not knowing what day it is... that would be expected considering she is sleeping more than she is awake (one of the Big 3 EOL/Dying Process symptoms), but now we have to take with a grain of salt EVERYTHING she says as it is a mixture of cognitive & confused.  Mom tells me one thing and says the opposite to the aids -- there's always 4 versions to her stories and sometimes she comes up with some real zingers -- extremely irrational!

2.  More Pain.  Her hip, leg, and arm pain seems to have increased just this past week and she is asking for more meds.  Mom is currently taking a hydromorphone called "dilaudid" which is a typical opioid (narcotic) given for pain relief at EOL.  Dilaudid is a derivative of morphine that Mom is given with acetaminophen four times a day + she can have more pain medication up to every hour if needed.  The tricky thing with dilaudid & morphine is that they can also mess with breathing and actually end their life quicker -- there's a fine line.  [Update: They have upped her dilaudid to every 4 hrs. around the clock.  This will help with pain, but she will sleep more and no-doubt eat less.  It's a no-win situation.]

HERE is good link on hospice meds. and end-of-life symptoms.

3.  Shortness of Breath. I haven't noticed this, but Mom told the hospice RN that she is experiencing shortness of breath quite often. The nurse did offer to order her oxygen, but Mom is refusing it, which is her right.  Mom said she thinks shortness of breath just comes with old age -- Mom is pretty set on her ideas.

4.  Vivid Dreams & Conversing with the Dead.  Mom sometimes tells me about her dreams as this has become her new reality with sleeping so much.  Recently she told me how her and Dad (who passed away 16 yrs. ago) were talking & picking over the food, but she didn't say it was a dream.  Her dreams are now becoming a problem in that she imagines she is more capable than she is and she thinks she can actually do what she is dreaming up.  Recently she has wanted me to buy her a cane (she will never walk again), and bring her sewing machines & mixer.  The reality is that she is too weak to do anything and I often have to physically bring her hands out from under her blankets just so she can eat.

5. Sleeps more.  Sleeps with her eyes half open.  Mom has been falling asleep while in the middle of eating a meal, sitting (raised up) in bed holding her spoon or coffee cup half way to her mouth ready to take a bite/sip, but is out like a light... rather mannequin-like. Additionally, she often sleeps with her eyes half open which is an end-of-life thing.

6. Withdrawing/Staying in Bed.  Although the aids offer to get Mom up, Mom says she is happy snuggled down in bed.  Sometimes she has big ideas that she wants to do something, but then when the aids offer to put her in a recliner or wheelchair, she refuses.


So, as you can see, the failings out-number any small improvements.  And although Mom can sometimes put on a good front with others, I see all the little red-flag signs that she is failing.  It's not that death is imminent, it could be months to weeks, or she could have a heart attack any minute... in her frail condition, it wouldn't take much.

 How am I doing?  Well, okay.  Stressed.  To tell you the truth, I went into this knowing nothing about Social Security or Medicare and Mom kept very poor records (throwing out more than what she should have), so organizing her records and paying bills has been a maze.  Just making a change of mailing address or discontinuing her satellite service seems to take an act of Congress. (rolling eyes)  I also find it hard to not be in control of everything -- there have been times where I believe some of the nursing staff is negligent and I have to take a deep breath and walk away.  I really do appreciate the good nurses!!  I feel my own life is in a holding pattern right now (which I have read is typical); my mind is elsewhere and I'm just going through the motion of everyday life, afraid to plan anything in case I get "the call" (and I do tense up every time the phone rings).  I've decided that some day this week I'm going to visit Mom early and then treat myself to a day at the mall -- I need the mental break!
I'm still learning to relax, but I'm okay.

  From all my research and my own experience, it seems like the one BIG question is always, "how long?".  How long does the hospice patient have to live?  There are end-stage indicators, but it's impossible to say for certain.  Life expectancy percentages are vague in the few studies that I have seen and are really of no value.

One thing that we know for certain is that God has ordered our steps and our days and herein we can find great peace.

Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass;
~ Job 14:5


"You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer." Job 14:5 NLT    I found this incredibly comforting! I need to cling to this truth and focus my mind on God's sovereignty in it all.:

Thanks for Visiting!
Until next time. 
Blessings, Jane

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Our Hospice Journey, the Beginning

Two weeks ago I was forced to make one of the hardest decisions of my life --

putting Mom in hospice.

Many of you all know of the on-going circumstances with my mother's progressing Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) over the past two years, so as an update, and for those that might be visiting this post and anticipating eldercare in your near future (Welcome!), I would like to share our story in hopes it might be of help to you as I've found reading other family stories have been of great help to me.  This post is a little long, but if you are like me and starting this road, you might find every smidgen detail helpful -- picking up a few tips I've already learnt and learning from my early mistakes.  Everyone's experience is different and there are so many variables, but I have learnt some commonality with most all hospice patients and I'll share that as well.  We are only a couple of weeks into it, but here is what we have experienced and I've learnt so far...

In my small and somewhat older-aged family, I've experienced more funerals than weddings & births and have become very familiar with eldercare and end of life decisions from an early age; however, this was the first time I have been solely responsible in making such a life-decision of my own and I can't say I wish it upon anyone!

Just as a little background...
  • I'm an only child and the health care agent for my mother.
  • In addition to working full time outside of the home until retirement, Mom has carried the load over the years as caregiver first for her parents, then (my) Dad, and then her sister.
  • My beloved daddy passed away September 30, 2000, just 29 days short of his 87th birthday following years of having Parkinson's Disease and "a bad heart", and finally succumbing to ischemic colitis (blood clot to the colon) in which surgery would most assuredly have been fatal considering his age & already poor health.  Dad was in the hospital 18 days when the doctors told Mom that he was dying and it was decided to place Dad on hospice there in the hospital where he passed away 12 days later.
  • My Mom's older sister and only sibling passed away in 2003 at the age of 77 following a series of strokes.
  • Mom (almost 88 yrs.) has always enjoyed amazing health until two years ago when she experienced her first "heart-event" (near or small heart attack) and a trip to ER.  She was diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) with a heart function then at 30%.
  • Mom has had five serious "heart events" in the last 2 years with EMT's rushing her to ER:
    Mom, four days after her first heart-
    event, celebrating her 86th birthday.
    Nov. 18, 2014 being the first; then Apr. 5, 2015
    (Easter Morning); then she seemed to bounce back like most CHF patients do for a while, until Aug. 6, 2016 (her heart function now down to 20%), then again Oct. 8, 2016, and now Nov. 3, 2016.  CHF is a progressively fatal disease, and her heart is now not keeping up to keep fluid off Mom's lungs, with 3 trips to ER in the last 4 months.   
  • Mom is a fiercely independent & stubborn German and insisted on living on her own.  We live over an hour away, but have managed to honor her wishes to live independently, with me calling her nightly to check up on her and making the weekly drive to her one-level townhome to visit, do her grocery shopping, run errands, or when she was up to it, take her on errands or out to eat.
Mom's Fall 
As usual, on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, I made my weekly 1¼ hr. trip to visit my Mom, do her grocery shopping, pick up some lunch for us, eat, and then Mom rallied her energy wanting me to take her to the bank and then asked me to take her back to the grocery store so she could buy a carton of cigarettes (rolling eyes...I know, even with heart failure, Mom refused doctors' warnings to stop smoking... she had cut back, but I suspect she was smoking far more than what she told the doctors).  Mom will be turning 88 years young this month and has experienced a steady decline over the last 6 months; although a small lady to begin with, she is down to 88 lbs. and very weak & unsteady.  Upon returning to her townhouse, she started to "sweep" some of the fall leaves with her feet (not a smart idea when she can barely balance herself), but I grabbed ahold of her and thankfully she didn't fall... this time.

Our week continued as normal with me calling her on Wednesday evening, but when I called Thursday around 6:25 pm, there was no answer, which is very unusual as she doesn't go out after dark, but I waited a bit thinking she might be washing her hair or something and would give her some time (I've learnt over the years with her not to panic too quickly).  I tried calling again around 6:50 pm and a man answered, my first thought was to say, "excuse me, I must have the wrong number", but I didn't and told him who I was calling for.  He then proceeded to tell me that he was Mark, Mom's next door neighbor, and that he had found Mom on the floor of her garage, had called 911, and was awaiting the ambulance.

Mom lives on a quiet cul-de-sac street of mostly 80+ yr. old neighbors.
Here you can see how hard it would have been
to see her way back by her door.
What had happened was Mom went out to get her mail around 1:30 that afternoon and while she was still quite far back in her garage, she again tried to scoot some leaves with her feet and lost her balance, falling on the hard concrete floor, breaking her right hip & right elbow with some additional wounds on her legs & arms; evidently not hitting her head, however she turned instantly numb, was in great pain, and couldn't move.  Unfortunately, no one could see her way back in her garage until her neighbor came home around 6:40 pm, saw her garage door open (unusual), and heard her calling him.  

The ambulance came around 6:55 pm, meaning she had been laying on the cold concrete floor for nearly 5.5 hrs..  Mark agreed to call me back after the ambulance left and then I headed to the hospital (an hr. away from me).

Mom Not Expected to Survive
When I got to ER, Mom could communicate with me in a shivering voice while the ER staff's first priority was warming her then 90.8° body temperature (thankfully it had been an unseasonably warm Minnesota fall day with a high of 64°, but it was expected to drop down to 39° that night) ; we are guessing if Mark had not found her when he did, she would have not made it.  Warming her took quite a while.  Her heart and other organs had suffered quite a trauma and her vitals were very poor.  Tests strongly indicated that she probably had suffered a heart attack sometime during all this.  There were other issues too, perhaps an infection & intestinal problems.  Her vitals were coming up slowly, but her heart remained very unstable and of course, she was in a lot of pain from the broken hip & elbow (significant breaks, not just hairline fractures).  By Friday morning she had been moved to ICU, but was still unstable and the medical staff stated that although she was one tough cookie, they had their doubts that she would make it through the weekend.  Several doctors counselled that I should consider placing Mom on hospice/comfort care; that between her age, the broken bones, her unstable heart, and other issues, she is basically inoperable (to set her broken bones).  Surgery or even the anesthesia alone would most assuredly be fatal, and for her to just lie in bed for 6-8 wks. awaiting for the bones to heal would most likely be fatal to her heart as well.  It's a no-win situation and she will likely not survive either way.

Now, there are at least two lessons from this incident:
First something we did right -- at the time of Mom's second heart event, we made out her "Health Care Directives" that I think most every hospital encourages.  It gives the hospital/caregivers clear instruction on what services Mom is okay or not okay with.  It lists who will be her "Health Care Agent" (me) if she cannot communicate her wishes or health care decisions.  Being our family has been down this road several times, it was easy for us to discuss our wishes to each other and Mom knows she can trust me to follow through.  Mom does not want any machinery or invasive procedures keeping her alive in the end; she doesn't want to do anything that involves risk, but rather to die naturally when it's her time.  I'm okay with that as I would want the same.  We also filled out a bright-colored POLST (Provider Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment) form that she kept on her refrigerator that flagged the ambulance drivers whenever she called 911, helping them to know what they should or should not do, including the BIG letters "DNR", meaning "Do Not Resuscitate", should the need arise.  With Mom's frail body, the mere act of this would probably break many of her ribs and may even kill her.  Of course, with her declining all medical procedures, her heart failing, medications ineffective for the most part, and with no curative treatment possible, the only next step is to keep her comfortable and maintain as much of a quality of life as possible until the end (i.e. hospice).
You will also have the option to fill out a "Power of Attorney" form at the same time, which I highly recommend as at least our hospital won't do it later.  The nursing home did recommend it; but then it's a matter of finding a notary, but we had it done in the nursing home ASAP while Mom is still relatively cognitive.   
What Mom did wrong was adamantly refuse to get one of those medical alert necklaces in which she could have pressed a button and got an ambulance to her home right away.  The doctors & I had tried repeatedly to convince her that this would be a good thing, but she just wouldn't hear of it.  In hindsight, Mom now sees where it would have been of great value, but now it's sadly too late -- feel free to share our story with your loved ones so they don't make the same mistake.
Getting back to my story, so Friday afternoon with Mom still in ICU, I had to make the hard decision to start her on hospice.  IF she survived the weekend, perhaps she could be moved to a nursing home near our home (if there was room).

When I came to visit Saturday morning, she had been moved to a temporary hospice-like private room within the hospital (the hospital no longer provides full hospice care, so it is just a temporary room until she can be moved to a nursing home, hospice facility, or my home).  Not only had she survived the night, but seemed relatively alert and happy (must have been the meds) and ate almost a whole bowl of hearty chicken noodle soup for me.  I was very encouraged and feeling much better about my decision to place her in hospice.  You see, ever since Mom & I had decided to place Dad on hospice 16 years ago, it has always bothered me that they seemed to just let him starve to death.  That was certainly not our intent, but no one ever explained hospice to us as I understand it now, so let me just take a couple of minutes to explain.

 Hospice vs. Palliative Care
When Mom was in ICU, both terms were thrown at me quite a bit, and being I'm no expert in medical-ese, quite frankly, I had no idea what "palliative care" meant, nor the difference between the two terms, Hospice and Palliative Care, until I looked it up.  Both Hospice & Palliative Care are known as "Comfort Care", but there is a difference.  Basically anyone with a serious illness can receive Palliative Care, making the patient as comfortable as possible, usually with painkillers, with or without curative intent.  Hospice differs in that patients must meet certain Medicare eligibility requirements that Palliative Care patients do not meet.  With hospice eligibility, two physicians certify that the patient has less than six months to live, and in which the patient has received curative treatment (if possible) and is no longer benefiting from it nor is there evidence that further treatment would be effective.  (Some hospice patients do live beyond the 6-month life expectancy, which just means they are reevaluated at that time and the doctor can place them on another 6-month hospice cycle... or, they may stabilize for a while and be taken off hospice for a time).  In either case, the patient is not "starved to death" by their caregivers.  They are offered as much food and beverage of their choice as they want; in my Dad's case, he was already semi-unconscious and in the dying process.  Barbara Karnes RN gives a very good explanation of this in her post, "eating or not eating".  On the other had, my Mom is relatively cognitive and can still eat some, yet her heart is very unstable and she unknowingly is showing all the signs of entering the dying process...

The three biggest signs of the dying process
(and typical of most hospice patients) being:

1. A person gradually stops eating.  This is something I didn't understand with my Dad, that a person naturally begins to stop eating and that's okay, as God designed.  Mom was already down to 88 lbs. before her fall and I've learnt not to push or nag about eating, just make food available, even bringing in things she likes, but if she eats only 2 bird-size bites or doesn't feel like eating any, it's okay -- always offer food, but don't push it.  During the dying process, the patient's inactivity doesn't call for as much food; additionally, internals (kidneys, liver, etc.) are gradually shutting down and their ability to swallow diminishes, so they just naturally stop eating.  "Beginning months before death a person will stop eating meat, then it becomes fruits and vegetables, then soft food.  By the weeks before death a person is barely eating anything.  Ice cream and liquids are often the best they can do."  Usually Mom can somewhat manipulate the spoon or fork as long as someone gets her meal all set up in front of her (occasionally I or the nurse will feed her).  She is still doing relatively well with drinking fluids, but as an educated guess from all my years of counting calories (rolling eyes), I'm guessing she is only taking in about 200 calories a day, at best.

2. A person begins sleeping more than they are awake.  This is very much the case with Mom; she is rarely awake more than 15 minutes at a time.  She has managed to stay awake for 45 minutes to 1 hr. while I was there the last couple of days, but it varies.  Mom was already napping quite a bit before her fall and now the pain meds. make her sleepy as well.

3. A person begins withdrawing from the world about them, not interested in activities, news, socializing, and eventually family.  This one has been true of Mom, coming on gradually over the last six months or so.  Mom basically became a shut-in a month or so prior to her fall as she was too weak and her heart too unstable to go anywhere.  For the most part, she had become interested only in her own world.  When talking to her, she cared only about what she was going to say next, often interrupting me as if I weren't talking -- very one-sided conversations, and not replying to anything I said.  Now, however, outside of asking about the weather, she seems to have lost interest in almost everything.  She is no longer interested in her favorite tv shows, although she wants tv on continually; words and interaction have dwindled.  Sometimes she has an empty stare or sleeps with her eyes open (often a sign of dehydration).

additional points:

4. A fall, broken bones, or additional illness such as an infection or pneumonia act as catalysts in the dying process.  Even if an elderly person is only showing negligible signs of the onset of the dying process, a broken hip such as my Mom's will act as a catalyst towards a rapid decline.

5. Significant Cognitive Impairment or Dementia: "Senior Moments" are a normal part of aging, however, with the combination of an advanced life-threatening illness and medication; memory, judgment, decisional capacity, verbal fluency, understanding, reasoning, and orientation in time and place can decline substantially.
This has become huge with Mom over the last couple of weeks.  At times she seems mentally alert & sharp, relatively aware in conversation for brief moments, but often she will start saying something but unable to finish her sentence (and I never do find out what she was going to say), or her thought process has slowed and it takes her forever quite a while to finish a sentence.  She has a hard time thinking of words and I have to guess what she is trying to say.  She is unable to recall when or if she ate anything.  Sometimes she will talk of returning home or wanting to start trying to stand up, not understanding that that is not possible. 
6. The dying process doesn't necessarily change a person's personality, it intensifies it.  If a patient was a critical person before their illness, they may become a real grouch as life draws to a close; if they had a calm personality, they will most likely withdraw more and be mellower yet.   

Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care by VITAS Healthcare  
Barbara Karnes RN (30-yr. hospice nurse, SUPER blog)
Three Signs of Approaching Death From Disease or Old Age by Barbara Karnes RN
If They Would Just Eat, Everything Would Be Better, by Barbara Karnes RN

Image result for www.gracepointecrossing care center imagesSo again, getting back to my story, I did get Mom into a nursing home that is less than four miles from our home (yeah!).  It's the same nursing home that the girls & I have volunteered at, so I knew it was a relatively good one; actually, we volunteered in one of their other buildings that is newer and nicer decor-wise, but with Mom bed-ridden, I guess it doesn't matter, the staff is good!  Mom had stated a few years back that if she ever had to go to a nursing home, she wanted to come to the one up by me, so that is good.  It's not the Shangri-La Mom would have really wanted, but we don't have such a thing up here in farmland. 
In Mom's more lucid moments, she questions how she ever got to this point and firmly believes she will go home again; and currently there are some brief moments where Mom seems to be her ole self again and I wonder too; however, the doctors state that even in the best case scenario, she will never walk again and even if she could take a few unstable steps, she would be too weak to pull herself up to a walker and could never live on her own.  When Mom starts talking like she will go home, I take her dear hospice doctor's advice and just say we will take one step at a time and that seems to satisfy her.

Having to Make Quick Decisions

It all happened so fast -- the somewhat unexpected fall, Mom's near death, the hospital wanting me to make relatively quick decisions, Mom's brief moments of seemingly quick recovery, and the hospital wanting to move Mom outside of the hospital ASAP makes one's head spin.  I found myself pondering & questioning everything that had just taken place, what various doctors & medical staff were telling me, and any and all options; it seemed like non-stop day & night replay going on in my head.  We were fully aware that this time was coming sooner than later, but not in such a dramatic fashion.  Was I making the right decision?  For us, the reality is that this was our only option, and I did the right thing.  Some people are superstars when it comes to nursing and compassionate caregiving and are able to take on the care of someone in such a situation, I/we are not.  Not that I don't feel compassion and pity for my Mom, but some of us are not cut out for nursing and personally, I have a very weak stomach/strong gag reflex at the sight & odor of some of the care involved.  Additionally, our home is just not very accessible, it's too open-concept for a peaceful corner for Mom, and we have several pester-y indoor pets.  It's good that Mom is so close and in good hands.  I visit her daily, keep close tabs on her care, and get her anything she wants or needs, but I leave the rest to those that are gifted in that area.

Oh, and one more word of advice (from my mistakes), if you are facing having the hospital transport a loved one to a care facility or your home (we had to because of Mom's broken hip), make sure you are signed up with a "hospice agent" (company) BEFORE the transport.  Being new to this and on a big learning curve of the way nursing homes & insurance/Medicare operate, I didn't know, and although the hospital called it hospice care there, it's not the same as signing up with an actual hospice company, which I did 22 hours after Mom arrived at the nursing home, putting the nursing home finance lady into a real tizzy, haha, but I asked her to pull some strings and she got it all worked out.  She was all worried and I was clueless. :)  If applicable, check with the nursing facility and find out which hospice companies usually service their patients (the hospital social worker can do this for you if you prefer) and then go online and check each company's website, maybe meet the reps if you have time (I didn't), and make your choice.   

It's all been pretty stressful with such life and death decisions; meeting with numerous medical people, but I'm finding the stress lessens a bit over time.  I visit Mom daily, usually around her lunchtime so I can see for myself how much she is eating and how well she is doing, or not.  I am thankful that I was able to get Mom into a Christian nursing home and signed her up with a Christian hospice service.  I met her hospice nurse recently and she took so much time with Mom, talked so kindly, and at the end quoted Psalm 23 and prayed with Mom, all while holding Mom's hand.  It was beautiful!

It's only been a little over two weeks since Mom's fall, so I'm sure I'll  have much to share in the days, weeks, and perhaps months to come.  Mom is one tough lady and if anyone can make it through this recent major setback, it's her.  However, she is declining, CHF is incurable, and her heart could fail at any time.  Only God knows the number of her days.

Our faith is strong in the God Who Sees

and our hope is secure in Whom we find great peace.

Until next time, God Bless ♥

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Our c.1889 A.H. Andrews Table & Chairs

 In all likelihood, you either have one of these soda fountain sets, have seen one, or own something that is a corollary of an A.H. Andrews invention.   Speaking of the soda fountain set, they aren't rare, but they are relatively old.  When I was looking for a quaint bistro set for our front porch, these sets were everywhere (Craigslist, Ebay, Etsy, and local antique shops) and in all prices & conditions. 
Scene from my last post, Evolution of a Porch 
Our c.1889 Bistro/Soda/Ice Cream Parlor Set
Our 127-year-old A.H. Andrews "Confectioneries" Set
I bought our set from someone on Craigslist and it started out innocent enough with my curiosity & simple research to find out how old exactly our set was and maybe a little more information on it; however, I soon found out that the dating of my set was merely a minuscule byproduct of what mushroomed into a fascinating historical account of something much greater --

a man and his company.

I love things that have a past -- things with a history; a story to tell.

As a lover of history, antiques, & research... this post is right up my alley; so I hope you don't mind, but here is my own version of "History Detectives" (one of the few tv shows I sometimes watch).   Although my research gave me hours & hours of entertainment, I'll try not to bore you with too many details, but I'm not promising anything.  Oh, who am I kidding, have you ever known my posts to be short?  Let's just blame it on big images and proceed; it's more material than my average blogger visitors want to know, but for those of you who do want to know a little more about A.H. Andrews Co. -- perhaps you have an antique stamped with this Company's name, I'm going to share a bit more than usual.  Mind you, I spent a copious amount of time researching and I'm not going to share everything as that would be called... a "book", yes, a book, and since I'm quite certain that it wouldn't become a NY Times bestseller, we won't go there.  Additionally, A.H. Andrews was so diversified with so many inventions and useful devices of that day, that each item could warrant a chapter in itself, so make that a thick book. :)  This all started out with a simple table & chairs and although interesting (at least to me) and perhaps helpful for some..., well, perhaps this will inspire you in your own research.  With that said,...    

Let's start at the beginning!

Setting the Historical Scene
Image result for American Civil War
The American Civil War (April 12, 1861 - May 9, 1865) had just ended.  It was a time of reconstruction -- a time of boom in every conceivable sector -- agriculture,  invention, industrial & factory, transportation, and rapid economic growth!
America was now in it's Gilded Age! (1870s - 1900)
 Inventors/InventionsInventors/Inventions► Thomas EdisonThomas Edison Perfected the light bulb in 1880,Perfected the lig...
It was a time of opportunity, and often those who were ambitious and worked hard, found prominence and sometimes great wealth.

Owner/Inventor & Great Success

A.H. Andrews
The Hand-book of Chicago Biography 1893
One such man was Alfred Hinsdale (A.H.) Andrews, born Dec. 25, 1836 in Connecticut; his parents being "people of broad culture of the old puritan type".  A.H. was well-educated, hard-working, ambitious, and interested in mechanics, which would later pay off handsomely.  Following high school in 1854, A. H. came west, seeking opportunity; first soliciting subscribers to the NY "Independent", a well-known weekly magazine at that time, and eventually settled in Chicago in 1857 where he worked for the Holbrook School Apparatus Co. (a firm that made school/college furniture & supplies).  After eight years of hard work & gained experience with furniture in that firm, and after building a nest egg of $3,000 that he had saved out of his salary, his inventive genius began to devise improvements, which led him to leave the Holbrook Co. to form his own company -- first as a partnership with Mr. S. Bigelow, as "Andrews & Bigelow", but was soon changed to A. H. Andrews & Co. and incorporated in 1865, just after the close of the Civil War.  By the end of the 1860s, Andrews employed  about 70 men, who made approx. $150,000/yr. of furniture, and his company continued to grow.

The A.H. Andrews Building 1872 
As a side note, the A.H. Andrews Building was one of the first businesses to be rebuilt (in 1872) following The Great Chicago Fire of Oct. 1871.

   By the beginning of the 1880s, A.H. Andrews & Co. had become the LARGEST manufacturer of commercial furniture; quite a feat in Chicago's robust furniture industry; employing about 500 people and manufacturing around $600,000/yr worth of school and office furniture.

A.H. Andrews Bldg. 1893
By the 1890's, the company's "elegant" Wabash Ave. (Chicago) headquarters housed the office, map-mounting rooms, sales rooms, and shipping rooms for apparatus.  The company operated factories in Chicago & Buffalo, NY with a plant at each place occupying an entire "square" [block?]; later opening branches in NY, Philly, Boston, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and around the world; employing twelve hundred men and turning out annually two million dollars worth of goods.


1881 Catalog (190 pgs)
You can read this catalog posted by the Library of Congress

The July, 1904 banker's periodical, "Common-Sense", wrote a very nice 3-page biography on Mr. Andrews in which it stated, "the story of Mr. Andrews' career is an intensely interesting one.  From first to last he had no help, no favors.  It has been hard work, lots of it, and a steady, strong up-hill pull."  If you asked Mr. Andrews to sum up his success in one term, it would be, "hard work".   

A Pioneer Manufacturer of School Furniture & Supplies

Image result for A.H. Andrews school desk
The Andrews Triumph school desk & seat combined, which
was known to every school child in America, was one of
the first of Mr. Andrews' inventions in 1867.
Although A. H. Andrews & Co. was primarily noted for the manufacture of school furniture, the company ambitiously became supplier of everything a school might want... school bells, globes, microscopes, noiseless drawing slates, teacher's manuals, and even the specs. for schoolhouses!  A. H. Andrews became the quintessential schoolhouse supplier throughout America at that time. 

Image result for Andrews Dustless Eraser
Little eraser earns a fortune
for it's inventors!
A.H. along with his brother, Herbert Lee (H.L.) Andrews, a hard-working inventor in his own right within A.H.'s company, invented the dustless eraser, the little striped felt blackboard eraser with which every school child was familiar. 

Not Just School Supplies

Not only was A.H. Andrews & Co. BIG in all-things schoolish, they manufactured furniture for offices, banks, telephone operators, drug stores, confectioneries (my set), restaurants, clubs, billiard parlors, barber shops, shoe stores, medical ofs. & hospitals, reception rooms, churches, theaters, and lumberyards (take breath); did I miss anything? The A.H. Andrews Company became the largest manufacturer of school and bank furniture in the world

A.H. Andrews ad from 1883 Chicago Elite Directory
The Andrews brothers focused primarily on the invention & improvement of many "useful devices" included the first hinge seat (folding chair), the first curved back & seat, a folding bed (pre-dates the "Murphy Bed"), the Andrews "Triumph" school desk & [chair] with the first dovetailed wood & iron connections in school desk construction (which revolutionized the school desk industry), metal furniture ("for it's durability; light weight, not easily marred, 'germ proof' and in every way a most convenient and economical article"), a dry ("fireproof") kiln for lumberyards, and a $500 office desk which nearly every millionaire in the world did business.

The  Andrews' Gem Folding Bed
Andrews' GEM Folding Bed came well before "the Murphy Bed".

"First in the field, -- and still leading!"

"Even on the cloudiest day there is still the glint
of merry sunshine on every piece -- a suggestion
of cheerful brightness that is irresistible!"
(quote from Andrews M-16 catalog (& ads))

"It was our Mr. A. H. Andrews who first produced and marketed twisted steel wire furniture such as this catalog illustrates.  Practically every new design and every important betterment of the older patterns has originated in our big factory, where advanced ideas are constantly being developed and tested out by the experimental department."

(quotes from the "Andrews Metal Furniture" catalog)

Image result for A.H. Andrews Metal Furniture Catalog
Andrews Ad c.1903-1905 (This is when the Andrews Company was at this address)

A. H. Andrews & Co. enjoyed a leading status throughout the 1880s, peaking in 1885.  It is said that the Company started making metal furniture in the early 1890s, although my table may slightly predate that as I will show you in a minute.

Ahh, Metal Furniture, Can We Talk About the Table & Chair Finally???

Ah Yes, so getting to my set... finally.

Here is my A.H. Andrews Set tucked in the corner of my front porch to protect it from the elements.
The table and chair (left,corner) are definitely an Andrews, the chair on the right I bought a bit later and may be by another company that copied the Andrews chair with slight variations.

Page 33 from The A.H. Andrews Co. Catalog M-16
"Concerning Chairs and Tables"

The Page Reads in Part:

"Note that all our round wood tops, solid quartered oak or birch mahogany, in addition to being thoroughly seasoned, are made, always, with a reinforcing wood ring on the under side, and will not warp. It may be added that we have never put them out any other way. Note also that in ANDREWS' tables the legs are now seated in pressed steel—not cast iron —sockets, so that breakage at this point, in setting up tables, is practically impossible."

They came in 18", 24", 30" 36" and 42" diameters (My table is 24" with "Japanese Copper").
As you can see, my table top is not in excellent shape, but it's an original; (everything is original on it) and it's still smooth.  I may try to clean it up later, but I just have a plastic tablecloth on it for now.  I don't think I will be painting it as that takes away from the value.  I specifically wanted the 24" top as my porch is narrow plus 24 inches seems to be the standard diameter of bistro tables.

The real gem of the table is on the flip side...
It is common to see these tables & chairs around, but it's a bit more rare to find one with it's original wood and stamp on the bottom side.  Mine is even more rare as it has it's PRE-PATENTED stamp.  It reads:
A.H. Andrews Co.
Patent Applied For
(I don't know what the "G.O." stands for, if anyone can enlighten me on that, I'd appreciate it.)
After much searching, I couldn't find a patent date for the table except I saw a picture of one table with a patent stamp, but it was too faded to read the date, it read:  ?(month) 10, 8 (or 9)?  (year).  So I believe that table was either patented in 1889 or the very early 1890s, putting my table possibly at or prior to 1889.  (If anyone has a stamped table or proof of a patent date for the table, I would love for you to comment below)

Page 12 from The A.H. Andrews Co. Catalog M-16
I have two "Japanese Copper" chairs

The Page Reads as Follows:

"A standard chair for all purposes. Heavy 3-ply veneer seat (either quartered oak or birch mahogany) 14½ inches in diameter. Frame of a special grade of Bessemer steel, regularly finished in durable Japanese copper, but can be had if desired in nickel plate or in white enamel. Weight 12½ pounds.
Japanese copper finish $200
Nickel plated finish $3.00
White enamel finish $3.20
 Specify whether oak or birch mahogany veneers are wanted, and also indicate the finish desired on the metal parts (chairs finished in white enamel will have seats enameled also). In an ANDREWS chair, you have a springy, cushion-like support for your back—a support that yields slightly with each movement of one's body, but comes back to place instantly when the pressure is removed.
No wooden chair can compare with an ANDREWS in respect to durability and sanitary cleanliness."
I have seen the chairs with patent stamps of April 16, 1889 and July 16, 1889.
Antique Wrought Iron Ice Cream Parlor Chairs by LimeSilo13 on Etsy
Andrews "Sweetheart" chairs

Being Real:  The A.H. Andrews Co. prided themselves on a quality product, or at least that was their sales spiel, perhaps some things were of higher quality than others... for example, the "Japanese Copper"  finish of the metal furniture was nothing more than a sprayed-on copper rust inhibitor, but it does give it an extra nice patina, I think.  Understandably, there seems to be more chairs than tables available today, but I'm surprised of the number of chairs that have survived with the original patent stamp on the underside since the chair was veneer but the table was solid.  The original table tops seems more rare as most have been replaced with a new top or painted -- I have even seen where a Formica-type table top had been mounted on the original table legs and still offered at a steep price.  However, most all A.H. Andrews products are 100 to 150 years old and have that desirably quaint appeal that make them highly collectible.   Just as a heads up, if you are interested in procuring your own Andrews', several furniture companies of the time copied Mr. Andrews' twisted metal designs with slight variations and it takes are careful eye to know whether you have an Andrews chair or a copy -- the best bet is finding one that has the patent stamp.  Just as an added note, the similar A.H. Andrews chair with the heart-shaped metal back (pictured above), called by some today as the "Sweetheart" ice cream parlor chair, and the square table with the same legs as the round table, were both patented a bit later, in 1894. 

  The Tide Turns

In US history, many of us know of the Dust Bowl  & The Great Depression (1929-1939), but few realize that there was a very similar depression prior, known as the "Panic of 1893", which started  in part to failed international commodity investments, which in turn started a major domino effect to the US economy -- US stock prices declined, over-extended railroads failed, there were bank runs, over 500 banks closed, 15,000 businesses failed, numerous farms ceased operation, home & business mortgages defaulted, unemployment was very high (25% - 43% in some states), soup kitchens were opened, and many worked in exchange  for food.  Times were dire, and the economy didn't really start to normalize until 1899/1900.

Image result for Panic of 1893
Panic of 1893 YouTube Video

Needless to say, with businesses folding and most of America barely able to put food on their tables or eke out the necessities of life; life became hard.
Between the Panic of 1893 and a series of unfortunate events, the A.H. Andrews Company struggled to stay afloat...

  • June 17, 1891, The Iron Workers Strike; 150  metalworkers in the factories of A.H. Andrews & Co. struck for more pay and forced the company to shut down for a time;
  • Sept. 21, 1891, A fire at one of the Andrews Co. lumber yards caused $200 in damage (translates to around $5,700 today)
  • Dec., 1892, A former employee is charged with defrauding the A.H. Andrews Co. of $100,000;
  • Feb. 20, 1893 (the Panic of 1893) was the first realization of serious economic depression in the US where the booming over-building and over-extending came to a screeching halt; supply quickly outgrew demand, and furniture sales became nonexistent.
  • April 7, 1893 School Furniture Company/Conglomeration Anti-Trust Rumor
  • 1894 More defrauding pertaining to A.H. Andrews Co. 

Mr. Andrews' business succumbed to financial distress a couple of times, and the sheriff took possession of their store and factory on December 5, 1895 (the courts were very apologetic to dear Mr. Andrews).  

"In various forms the company has been in existence thirty years and its business has increased in volume every year until two years ago.  Since that time, about the time of the general depression, the business decreased at an alarming rate.  For several months the company has been embarrassed..."
Dec. 6, 1895 The Herald, Los Angeles, CA 

 You Can't Keep a Good Man Down

It is said that through it all, Mr. Andrews retained a cheerful, optimistic outlook on life.  On March 26, 1896, just 3 1/2 months following the closure of the A.H. Andrews Co., it is reported that Alfred H. Andrews, James Heaney, and William Merle, Sr. (Messers Heaney & Merle were former competitors of Mr. Andrews)  incorporated the A.H. Andrews Company with Messers Heaney & Merle as controlling stock partners.  Mr. Andrews remained the president of his company until the time of his death in 1914, at which time William Merle took over with Mr. Heaney as treasurer; although Mr. Andrews connection with the firm was nominal for some years and he was not responsible for its management.  The Merle & Heaney Manufacturing Co. were kept separate from the A.H. Andrews Co..  Actually, history seems to get a little murky at this point with conflicting sources on the merger.  More than one source stated they merged two years earlier in 1894, another says 1893, and yet another says 1889; it's hard to say, but an earlier merger would have placed it prior to the foreclosure, hmm.

After the merger, I find little about the A.H. Andrews Company, but it seemed to go into a steady decline.  The land and buildings of A.H. Andrews were sold in July, 1896, however the A. H. Andrews Co. remained in business in rented space.   I see Andrews ads through at least 1905, and a lawsuit in 1918 (the A.H. Andrews lawyer seemed very busy).  A very pared down Andrews Co. still existed at least through April 18, 1937 as the Chicago Tribune reported of the Company renting in the "Champlain Building" (Chicago) at that time; by this time W.F. Merle, Jr. was President following his dad's death January 28, 1921.  It is difficult to discern exactly when it happened, but the Merle & Heaney Company appears to have gone out of business in 1923 and I find no record of when the A.H. Andrews Company went out of business (sigh).          

A.H. Andrews, the Man

For all of A.H. Andrews' accomplishments, relatively little is known of his personal life.  Unlike many of the successful men & aristocratic families of the Gilded Age, Mr. Andrews remained a very kind, just, hardworking, humble, and devout man.  He was very well liked by employees and the public at large!  I believe the following excerpt from, again, the "Common-Sense" bankers periodical of 1904 describes A.H. Andrews best...

(from an interview by Anne Shannon Monroe)

One has only to sit talking with Mr. Andrews a while to realize the genial kind hearted man he is.  Wholly unspoiled by business, broad-minded, charitable, kindly disposed toward all men, there is no one of the old galaxy of Chicago's stalwarts better known, better loved, more esteemed than A. H. Andrews.  
His sympathies are keen, and his interest fresh as that of a boy.  He avoids publicity, never having given an interview nor his picture for the purpose of write-up; but when I said to him: "Now, Mr. Andrews, there are thousands of young men and women who are ambitious to amount to something in the world, and it would really be a kindness on your part to give them some light, on their way, from your own early struggles" -- his eyes kindled and his fine face took on a look of sympathy that readily explained why he is loved by every young man who has come within his influence.
Bending forward and speaking most earnestly, he said: "It is all hard work, and willingness to adopt new ideas.  In my youth, it was no unusual thing with me to work 15 hours a day, and often and often I have left my brother working at the office at midnight, to find him still there when I got down in the morning; and he would work all day, without an hour's sleep.  When we had an idea to work out, or a scheme to promote, we never thought of sleep or food.  Hard work is the secret of success."
"But many men work hard all their lives,"  I suggested, "and never reach a place when they can be called a success."
"This is because they do not choose simply one line and stick to it.  A man must find out, early, what he is best fitted for, and do nothing else.  he must reach out for every new idea, work intelligently, not alone doggedly, and be ready for innovations.  This is an age calling for special qualification -- for special knowledge."
When other young men were at ball games and other attractive resorts, A.H. Andrews was bending over an office desk.  It was said in those days, that the light never went out in the Andrews' office.
When a young man decides that there is "no chance nowadays, anyway," and goes to the theater or to the bowling alleys to pass away the time, let him recall the experience of A.H. Andrews and his three years of working 15 hours a day in order to get a start.  Let him remember that while other men slept, A.H. Andrews was planning a simple little device for children.  While others killed time, A.H. Andrews was getting all he could out of every moment given him.  

Of Genealogy & History

Alfred Hinsdale Andrews 

Dec. 25, 1836 - June 10, 1914 (age 77)

A.H. Andrews was the third son of Deacon Alfred and Mary L. (Shipman) Andrews, both of sterling integrity and high esteem.  His father was at one time an extensive manufacturer in wood, iron, and leather.  In later life, as a diversion, he turned his attention to literary pursuits, and prepared & published three large works, two being genealogical.  His grandfather on his father's side was an officer in the War of 1812.  His grandfather on his mother's side was a brass manufacturer.

A.H. attended common, high and normal schools and worked on his father's homestead farm.  At age sixteen, he worked at a mechanical business and attended one term at the Connecticut Literary Institution in Suffield, Conn.. Evidently literary study was not his cup of tea, but rather he devoted much attention to the study of mechanics.

  A.H. was married February 6, 1872 in Milwaukee, WI to Ella Cornelia/Carnelia? Matson (5/13/1851 - 11/8/1923), daughter of Deacon Newell Matson & Flora Melissa Case, his wife, of Simsbury, Conn & Milwaukee, WI.  His wife, Ella, was prominent in literary and society work; member of the Amateur Musical Club and Woman's Club of Chicago, and member of several art and literary clubs.

Mr. & Mrs. Andrews lived in Chicago until 1891 and then resided at their country estate at Ellynside, Lombard, Du Page County, IL (west of Chicago).  It was said their house was the oldest and best known in the US.

   Mr. & Mrs. Andrews had one son and one daughter.  Their son, Herbert Cornelius Andrews (3/19/1883 - 5/31/1905) worked at the LA branch of the A.H. Andrews Co. for one year, but refused a fine position there in order to follow his great love in genealogy, like his grandfather, completing extensive works in that area.  Herbert was always sickly and died at the age of 22 at his parent's home.  Their daughter, Bertha Matson Andrews (6/8/1874 - 6/7/1947), graduated from the Rockford Seminary and the Chicago Kindergarten College and was director of Kindergarten and Training Teacher of the Colorado State Normal School 1901-02 and wrote ABC books.  She married Dr. Arthur Tenney Holbrook on July 29, 1903 in Lombard, IL and had three sons, Arthur A., Herbert, and Matson.  Hmm, I'm wondering if there was a connection between A.T. Holbrook and the Holbrook School Apparatus Co. where A.H. Andrews got his start; I'm not finding one, but I'm guessing there was. 

A. H. Andrews was a member of the Society of Colonial Wars and a Republican, but never held a political office as his inclinations had been only towards business.  "He was in full accord with the bold anti-slavery stand maintained by his church before and during the [Civil] War."

As a Congregationalist, he was member of the Congregational Club of Chicago and several church organizations; active member of the Union Park Congregational Church and regular attender of the Plymouth Congregational Church, and later after their move to their country home, a trustee at the First Congregational Church of Lombard, all within the Chicago area.

Mr. Andrews was well-spoken of by his relatives as very loyal and kind to his kindred, and ready to aid those not so successful in life as himself.   

Headstone image of Alfred H Andrews
A.H. Andrews' simple gravestone at
Babcock's Grove Cemetery, Lombard, IL
 Mr. Andrews passed away on June 10, 1914 at the age of 77.  One obituary states he died at the home of his daughter in Milwaukee, WI, where he had gone for a visit following a long and severe illness of more than a year; another states he died at Lakeside Hospital in Milwaukee. 


Oh my, well, that wraps it up for my study on A.H. Andrews.  If you made it through the whole post, you get two gold stars. :)  I hope you found it interesting &/or perhaps spurred you on to doing your own research on something you might value, no matter it's actual worth.  Since starting this study, I became so impressed with the man and his company, that I'm now wanting to purchase an original A.H. Andrews' chalkboard eraser for a little chalkboard that we place above the table on our front porch... and maybe a globe (right Kyle?) :).

Have a Blessed Day!