Wednesday, November 18, 2009
It's been days since I wore any make up. My eyes are puffy, my face dry and a bit red. My hair doesn't really look like anyone's paid attention to it in a long time. I looked like a tired, worn out bag lady. The kind you see sitting on the bench outside the convenience store because that's the most entertaining thing she can find to do. Bedraggled. I think I've been waiting to cry.
It's been a hell of a month.
Two weeks ago, my mom called me,"Dad's in the emergency room. Please come get me (she doesn't drive)." We went, found him awaiting pacemaker surgery, and sat. They wheeled my tired, gray-faced father away. We sat there looking at each other, lost in our own worlds of possible loss and wondering what was next. Luckily, we didn't have to go there - he was wheeled back an hour later, pink and chatty and a heart that worked again. She spent the night on my couch and the next day we collected him from the hospital and took him home. He's a new man.
Then Saturday, my dad called me, "Mom's in the emergency room. I think she's had a stroke." He said don't come, we're fine - but then he called every 20 minutes or so to talk, then cry. I'm not sure how many calls later it was when he said, "I am not a comforting presence. Your mother wants her daughter. Please come." So I gathered books - A Walk Through Wales for him and Mama Makes Up Her Mind to read aloud to her. When I arrived, he went home to put the house right, feed the chickens, feed the cat and give her her insulin and compose himself so that he could be there for Mom.
So began the week. Much of my days on the Neurology floor was spent watching Mom, feeding her and letting Dad go tend to his home or sleep. He was exhausted with worry. He wouldn't sleep at home but stayed on a little cot in Mom's room.
I noticed, while watching Mom, that her stroke symptoms seemed to come and go. That there was a particular order and duration. From just being a tired, bedridden lady, she would lose feeling, then use of her left hand; her toes would start twitching, then contracting; her hand would contract; her right eyelid would puff up and then the left side of her mouth and she wouldn't be able to talk. It seemed to cycle through in 5-10 minutes, then she'd be fine for about an hour and it would happen again. Then the "spells" started lasting longer until finally they were lasting between 45 and 55 minutes start to finish. For her, they were aggravating. For us, it was scary. She remained lucid during them, but unable to do anything. The most frightening thing was that this might be her life. Upsetting to us, but devastating to her. We would still have her but she would lose her life as she knew it and be trapped in this strange new reality.
There were tests. Lots and lots of tests. Multiple MRIs and CAT scans. Brain-wave activity scans. Conflicting results. Was it a stroke? Seizures? Was it that rather small hematoma causing big problems? She had a spell on the brain-wave test which didn't show up - not electrical. Her MRIs didn't show a stroke after all... there was no damage to the brain itself. The CAT scans didn't show any new bleeding. My mother, the enigma.
Finally, by process of elimination, the neurologist and neurosurgeon decided to treat the hematoma and see if that did the trick. Surgery was today. Two small holes were drilled into Mom's skull and her brain was rinsed and drained of the hematoma's blood. We waited in the cafeteria for a while, then moved up to the ICU waiting room when we found she was in recovery. We waited a long time, me, Dad, John and Fr. Mike. We talked a lot to pass the time. We engaged other people in the waiting room. It helped.
Dad was regaling us with funny Mom stories - stories about how she was returning, in spite of the spells. Things she would say -quips, comebacks, jokes. She laughed.
Dad was gone when I first heard her laugh. She was in the midst of a spell and unable to talk. I asked her if she could feel her tongue. Ysh, came the reply. So we experimented. She gritted her teeth and talked through them - and you could understand her! Revelation! "Mom, you're gonna have a great career as a ventriloquist when you get out of here." She giggled. "You just have to find a dummy... or maybe you could use Dad." She laughed. Nearly guffawed. It was beautiful. And I realized I hadn't heard her laugh in so long...
You see, that was one of the most sobering things about all of this. My mother had slipped away and no one had realized it. Little by little, she'd stopped laughing. She'd gone still and silent so gradually that it became the norm. I talked to her on the phone everyday, but I couldn't see her and know that the rest of the day was spent quietly in her chair. She'd say she had a headache. Ever since I was little she'd had headaches. This was not unusual. She'd say she hurt. But she had arthritis and bad knees. Not unusual.
We might never have known anything was wrong until it was too late if she hadn't decided that she wanted to have cataract surgery. When she mentioned her headaches to the eye doctor, he refused to operate until the source of the headaches was discovered. And so began the rounds of testing that discovered the sub-dural hematoma.
A plan was in place for dealing with it.... until this. This emergency that threatened to take her away altogether.
Thank God. This emergency is what is giving her back to us. She laughs. She jokes. She's been my mom again.
Right now, she lies in ICU. Her color is beautifully pink. She has a fancy new Klingon haircut and holes in her head. She's sleeping and healing. And I hope she's having beautiful dreams.
So now we wait. Wait for her to wake up. Wait to see if this solved the problem or if the doctors start all over again. Wait for her to come home, and start living her life again.
And I'm still waiting to cry.