About two weeks ago I had written a piece (for myself in draft mode) about how much I love my parents. I really do. It came after my mom’s birthday and then spending time with them visiting my grandpa up in Temple, and I just really enjoy them as people separate from their parental status. It made me think about the time I was made fun of in college by my crappy dorm mates (note, not friends) since I went home almost every weekend, but I liked being home. And I didn’t give a crap what those idiots thought. They smelled like feet and Keystone, anyway. At the time of her birthday this year, I couldn’t help but write about what a special lady my mom is. She really is my best friend; a wiser, older best friend who has been with me every step of my journey. I really do enjoy her as a person, and love spending time with her.
All this love came to a weird head when my mom went to get a routine colonoscopy last Tuesday. She put on her brave, big girl pants (or rather dropped them) to do something scary and necessary for a woman her age, and did everything as she was instructed: low fiber diet, drinking the nasty liquid that makes you go like Ol’ Faithful the day before, and, like a good student, finding out as much information on the procedure before the big event.
She went in, went under, and came out with 4 polyps removed, one of them looking a bit scary and pre-cancerous. We found out it was fine.
I called my mom last Thursday, since I always call my mom multiple times a week, and as soon as she picked up the phone, she answered with a calm, yet worried sigh, “I’m going to the hospital”. In a confused haze, I gently asked, why? She explained that she had been bleeding a lot, especially when she finally ate normally. Thinking that this amount of blood probably wasn’t normal, she called her doctor who instructed her to go to the ER.
I sat stunned, unsure of what to do. Do we run out and take her ourselves (me and Will) to the hospital, even though my dad is on the way? Do we go to the hospital to stay with her? I’m not sure how you handle this situation or what the next step is. So I sat stunned at home, pushing it into the back of my mind since it made no use thinking about it. She’ll be fine, right?
The next day was a busy one at work: all kinds of chaos, work piling up, one of our guys leaving, not knowing what is going on and feeling helpless. My dad called to explain my mom had had a hard night and was unable to sleep and could not stop bleeding. They IV’d her up and set her up for surgery early in the afternoon.
I work in an office of only men. I don’t like showing weakness or crying or really any emotion beyond the man scale of emotion (which is quite limited), so after I hung up with my dad, I took to the bathroom and bawled. No one was in there so I just let it out and started talking. “I want my mom to be okay. I want her to be okay. Please let her be okay.”
I stopped. Told myself to hold it together, and dried my face (and subsequently everywhere else the tears as fallen). I returned to work, not letting the overwhelming thoughts of helplessness overtake me. My boss let me go to the hospital at lunch before my mom went into surgery.
I brought her a plant and a balloon with a happy little sun and a robin, a little bit of the back porch of their house in the hospital. Nervously my hands shook and my stomach became weak and tightened as I entered the hospital. I hate hospitals. To me, they smell like sickness and are filled with bodily fluids and disease and pain and fear. The smell is a combination of soiled linens, bad cafeteria food and sterile needles. I seriously hate hospitals. When I was in high school, our show choir (think Glee) went and performed Christmas songs in a hospital. We went through the rooms, happily singing about ‘tis the season, in our bowties and red vests, and I couldn’t sing because all I could do was hold back the strong pangs of nausea that hit my stomach like crashing waves. I couldn’t get passed the smells, the stench of fear and depletion and I couldn’t stop thinking about my grandfather who had died in the ICU a year earlier. (Ding, ding, ding, there it is, that is why I don’t like hospitals)
I nervously entered her room and saw my mom, my normal mom, but she had little tubular tentacles escaping her body reaching towards machinery. A bag of saline to keep her hydrated, a blood pressure monitor and heart monitor beeping away. Around her little sticks of hydrating q-tips she could suck since she can’t drink water. My mom, still herself with her great spirit, sitting and waiting in a hospital bed.
She went into surgery and my dad and I ate in the cafeteria. Well, consumed food but I’m not sure if we really enjoyed it. We worried, wondered and sat quietly.
Sunday I couldn’t keep it together. I didn’t sleep at all on Saturday night and as a result I was tired and unstable. Every time I mentioned my mom, my voice would get shaky and I would start crying. Even when I was aware of it, I just couldn’t hold it together. So before we met with good friends of ours, I went for a nice run while listening to Quadrophenia, showered and then took a shot of Jamaican rum follow by a big glass of wine. Once the alcohol seeped in, I finally felt relaxed and okay. I could talk about my mom without losing it. I instantly turned to my husband and said, “Holy cow, it DOES work!” I enjoyed my afternoon (loaded with alcohol) and while I wasn’t drunk, I could cope. I know, I know, alcohol is not the solution, but it did give me the ability to be less emotional. Who knew? For one day, it was the band-aid I wanted and needed to function.
I didn’t realize how much blood she had lost until recently. I knew she had lost a lot based on our phone calls and what I had witnessed. When I visited her Friday, I had to use the restroom, and there was blood all in her bathroom and bloody paper towels in the trashcan. Wishing I wasn’t squeemish about medical things, I very quickly used the restroom and found I had to pee much less due to my stomach clinching.
We found out Wednesday that she has lost half of her blood in all the bleeding. Let me repeat, she lost half her blood. She ended up needing two pints of blood, which in theory can help 4 people. She also ended up gaining about 25 pounds in water weight and bile. After an uncomfortable night of pain and bloating, they began pumping her out on early morning Wednesday by putting a tube down her to start getting it all out. To clarify that statement, they have put a tube up her nose that goes down her throat and into her stomach. It pumps out all the liquid (water, bile, general junk) since the body cannot process all that excess fluid. It then collected in a large, clear 7-11 Big Gulp kind of cup, which ends up looking like a Root Beer Slurpee over my mom’s bed. You’re welcome, you didn’t need to drink those ever again, anyway.
They still don’t know exactly what is wrong. They know when the colonoscopy was performed they perforated the colon when removing a polyp (unintentional, of course) and as a result air, bacteria and liquid began leaking into her body. From the notes I took over hearing the nurses, she had/has a GI Tract Infection, possibly ileus (Google it). Her white blood cell count went up which means she is fighting an infection. Her body is giving a fight for not knowing what is going on. When it comes to how much and how to fix it, the doctors might as well be from a House episode using trial and error until the hour is up and they find the real cure.
But she isn’t a character on a show: she is my mom.
She has been on morphine because her pain is so intense and as a result she is having realistic dreams that blur her perception of reality. Think Inception. She sometimes isn’t sure what is happened and what didn’t happen. She hears music and people and babies that aren’t there, and she has had visions of running down the hallway of the hospital, thinking she really did this (which of course this did not happen). She falls asleep in mid-conversation or when someone is telling a story, but all of this is because of the morphine. She looks like herself, talks like herself and is in great spirits. She laughs, makes jokes, is comprehending conversations and seems really positive and aware that the morphine messes with her and makes her loopy and tired.
I say all this because it is our family’s reality right now, especially my mom. She’s the one in the hospital bed, going through the pain and discomfort and sometimes isolation. She’s been incredibly strong and such a trooper when I would have crumbled early on. She did not prepare for this: she prepared for a simple, routine colonoscopy. As we are passing the 1 week mark of being in the hospital, I wish there was a solid resolution. I wish we knew she what was going on in her body, or more importantly, I wish her doctors knew.
If you are reading this, please do NOT visit her. When you visit someone in the hospital, they oddly feel obligated to keep you entertained to talk to them and she needs to rest, not entertain. When she gets out, I know she will be happy to get together and talk. Right now, she doesn’t need that. Plus sometimes people visit the hospital to feel closer to the sick (it’s a strange phenomena where people like living in the chaos of illness, it’s odd), and they are doing it for their own chaotic rush than her healing. Please don’t do that to her. I know there are also those who truly, genuinely care and really want to show your support and love for her. And that is great. But she’s not at that place yet. Not yet. It’s not you, it’s her. And she’s okay with that.
Needless to say, with all my visits to the hospital, I have overcome my fear of that scary place. I now roam the halls with confidence and am practically ready to remove tubes from people’s bodies. Wait, no, not that comfortable. They still freak me out, but I’m getting better.
One place that still scares me and gives me the shakes is the blood donation center. Yet, every time I get over my intense fear since I’ve got good blood and I’m healthy, and someone needs it. Yesterday, in honor of my mom, I left work early to give blood. I still get queasy when they ask me if I’ve had a brain graft or certain diseases, and I hate it when they put in the needle, but people facing scarier things that need my blood more than my fear of giving it. So I donated for all of those who need it and did not anticipate it, or those who knew they needed it and are thankful that I got over my fear and did it. People like my mom.
I visited my mom afterwards, and we ended up talking for for about two hours. She had a tube in her nose and into her stomach, so she wasn’t the best at talking, but she had a great outlook. She was herself, and I could see her. She wasn’t gone.
“Lauren,” she asked, “when are they gonna take this tube out? They said it was only supposed to be in at max 4 hours. That was 24 hours ago”
“I know, Mom. I don’t know.”
She sighed. “I just want to go home” Her eyes filled with tears, the pain and discomfort coming to a head. “I just want to be okay, and I want to go home. And I don’t want this tube in me anymore. I can’t wait for the day I don’t have to have this in me.”
“I know, Mom. Give me your paw.” Then we held hands and she squeezed them while she felt surges of cramps and pains.
Then she looked at the medicine bag coat rack looking thing, and said, “I want to go all Office Space and destroy that thing with a baseball bat. It yells at me and won’t let me go for walks. It’s an jerk.” See, my mom is there.
They did take the tube out and give it 12 more hours to ensure that the liquid food is taking.
Driving home on the way home, I thought about what the real reality of all of this is: so many times, most of us go through our lives taking our health for granted. We don’t have aches or pains or trauma, and we fill ourselves with garbage without doing anything physical. Not to be a rant, but please, please, please do not take your healthy body for granted. Do not assume that you will always be healthy and active. There will come a day when a tube is down your throat and you will long for the day you didn’t have to stop and think about your health.
This is also isn’t meant to be dramatic or explain and live in my own chaos. Some people like crises and thrive on the feeling of life a crisis give them. I write because it is the one, great, powerful outlet I have and people read it. I don’t write songs or poems or talk, really, but I can write my words and thoughts down. It’s the only way to muddle through the overwhelming thoughts and chaos, even when I hate chaos.
Anyone who knows me well enough know that: Just ask my mom.