Thursday, February 9, 2017

What's Next? Part 8

Wednesday morning dawned sunny for a change which was a nice change of pace for us here.  Of course, with the sunshine, the weather has also turned colder.   The pictures in this post were taken last week when we had a bit of snow on the ground for skiing.  I did ski up to my mother's in the morning, but had to stick to the line fences to find enough snow to work with.
Early in the morning the nurse from Dr. W's office called me to let me know she'd been able to secure a February 14 appointment with a vascular surgeon instead of February 28.  I was glad to hear the news.

My relief was short-lived, for when I arrived at Mom's a half hour later, she was bent forward in pain, clutching her stomach.  She had tried to eat a little breakfast, but the end result wasn't good.

"Do you know what is wrong with me?" she asked.  "How long do I have to go on like this?  I can't tell you how much it hurts."

I picked up the phone and called the vascular surgeon's office myself.  I explained to the scheduling nurse the severity of Mom's situation and asked if there were any way someone could see her sooner than the fourteenth.  

I was put on hold and talked to several parties before the physician's assistant came on the line.  He said in light of the fact Mom was in such pain, I should take her back to the emergency room and while she was there, the surgeon would ask for additional tests to be run and possibly be able to see her in between his surgery commitments.

Mom was still hunched over in her chair and I helped her stand up and go to her bedroom and lie down for a bit and rest.  In the meantime I went back home and got ready to take her to the ER again. 

I called Joel and told him what was going on.  He felt the same way I did; take her in and see what happens.  I had skied to Mom's house, but to cut down on the time, I walked home instead, talking to Joel while I dogtrotted home.

I quickly crammed the essentials into my brand-new purse. (Yes, I had to buy a purse.  I don't usually carry anything more than a wallet and my car keys, but with all the elder's appointments, I've found a need to stash more than my pockets can accommodate)  I couldn't drive Grandma's Buick to the hospital because it was still at the automotive garage for an oil change.  The Buick is easier for Mom to get in and out of but all we had was my aging Pontiac. We had to make do.

I gently woke Mom from her fitful nap and helped her change her clothes for the trip back to Green Bay.   

"What does my hair look like?  I have to comb it.  Are they going to make me feel better? I wish someone could do something about these stomach cramps.  Is this the doctor who can help me?" she asked, grimacing in pain as she ran the comb through her hair.

"I hope so," I said. 

"Do you think this is going to ever end?  I know you want me to eat, but I'm not hungry.  The sight of food gags me.  What are we going to the doctor for today?  Is it for my foot?  Are they going to make my stomach better?" Mom asked tiredly.

 I answered her questions one at a time while I debated changing lanes on the freeway bridge.

We arrived at the ER at noon and I was sorry to see over twenty people already sitting in the waiting room.  Oh, boy, it was going to be a long wait.

Mom filled out her paperwork and we found seats in the crowd of coughing, feverish, retching, bleeding contemporaries.  It was going to be a long, long day.   One after another, people filed into the ER with various maladies, each one seemingly more ill than the next.  One young, impossibly thin woman arrived in a wheelchair clutching a bucket, retching helplessly in full view of the assembled crowd.  People looked at her and then away.  First come, first served.

Seated across the aisle from Mom and I was a black couple.  They looked rather impassively at Mom and I and then their eyes slid away.  Mom's attention was drawn to them because they were both apparently deaf and were using sign language and making guttural sounds to communicate.  I did my best to distract Mom from openly staring for whenever she looked at them, they looked back at her immediately.  Finally the man pulled his stocking cap down over his eyes and tried to sleep while his lady friend seated in front of her walker kept surveillance on the crowd.

On the other side of the aisle another elderly lady with a walker was seated with her middle-aged daughter.  The elderly lady kept leaning forward around her daughter to glance at Mom and whenever she did, Mom smiled at her.  I could tell she would have liked to talk, but her daughter kept her back to us, intent on her cellphone.  The scene reminded me of two timid little girls exchanging glances with each other but too shy to take the next step.  I was hoping the daughter would glance my way, but our eyes never met.  Both of our roles were reversed; I would have loved to have visited with her, too, but she remained fixated on her phone.

Seated next to me was a handsome man with a teenage son.  Out of boredom, we were all fitfully watching Dr. Oz and the latest 'Sugar Detox Challenge and What Happened To Me When I Quit' (or some reasonable facsimile; the volume was down too low to hear any dialogue).  In a low voice, I asked him how long he'd been waiting at the ER.

"Oh, let me see.......a little over two hours," he sighed.  

And yes, I asked a total stranger what was wrong.  I was prepared to be told to mind my own business which would have been his right completely, but such was not the case.

"I was taking a shower this morning and when I raised my hands over my head, my arms went numb.  I've had nineteen surgeries; carpal tunnel, my knees, my foot, and my back; it comes with the territory of swinging a hammer in the construction business for over thirty years.  But I knew when my arms went numb, I'd better call the doctor.  He advised me to come here.  I had to pull my son out of high school to drive me over."

We had a long talk; discussed children and marriage and his business;  he and his wife are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.  She has 'frou-frou' furniture upstairs in their living room that is way too hard to sit on, so he has his own man-cave  in the basement where he resides in solitary comfort. Sometimes his sons come down and watch a movie with him.  But he was very proud of their upcoming anniversary; and when I congratulated him on the longevity of their union, he said, "We're in it for the long haul; too many people throw in the towel way too easy."  

Then his name was called and off he and his son went.  We wished each other luck.

After an hour, Mom's name was called and we went back to triage.  She had her blood pressure taken and an IV line put in.  They drew several labs and then sent us back to the waiting room again.

A lady in a wheelchair arrived.  She was a bit heavyset like me, and around forty or so, with her neck in a brace.  She was on the phone trying to reach her employer, her friend, her insurance company, anyone she could think of.  Because we were all crammed in the room like sardines, we could all hear her phone conversation with no effort at all.

"Yes, hello?  I'm not coming to work today. I was in a car accident.  I'm at the ER, waiting to be seen.  No, I didn't get hurt in the accident.  I got hurt falling out of the wrecker truck.  Yes.  I missed the step and fell flat on my face on the highway.  Am I ok?  Well, apparently not, I'm at the ER after all.  I don't know when I'll be back in to work.  I don't have a car now, the left front tire is pointing in toward the engine, I don't know when I'll get it back.  No, it wasn't my fault; some guy was turning into Wal-Mart off of Main Street and drove right into me.  I couldn't avoid him.  And then the tow truck came and gave me a ride but when I got out of the truck I missed the step and fell.  I had back surgery a few months ago and I'm afraid I've hurt my back again."  

Repeat the above story, to her credit, almost verbatim, six times as she made one call after another.

Another middle-aged couple arrived and sat across from us.  The lady had her thumb wrapped up in a huge wad of gauze and was wiping tears from her eyes as she tried to get her cellphone out of her purse one-handed.  Her husband was already on his cellphone before they were seated.  Mom and I sat in silent patience, trying once again not to stare.  The minutes dragged by while the couple texted.  I was looking over the lady's head to see what the next show on TV was when our eyes inadvertently met.  

I took a chance.  Gesturing to her thumb, I asked quietly, "Stupid question, but what happened?"

"I caught my thumb in a meat slicer," she said, once again wiping tears from her eyes.

"Oh no! How bad is it?"

"I don't know, they just wrapped it up and sent me back to the waiting room before I get stitches.  I won't look at it.  I'll get sick," she smiled shakily through her tears.

"How long have you been here?" I asked.  

"Not as long as you," she said. "You were here before we walked in. Normally we come in the middle of the night, this is a whole new experience for us.  There are so many people here.  I guess bleeding doesn't count for much of an emergency."

At that moment, Mom's name was called again.  I wished the lady good luck and she returned the favor.  Mom was taken back to the exact same room we'd occupied on Sunday.  It was now 2:16 PM.

I helped Mom disrobe and into her hospital gown, the nurse brought her heated blankets and then we were left to wait for the ER doctor.  In about forty-five minutes a young doctor came in the room. 

"Hi, I'm Dr. O.  I see from your chart you were just seen at the ER on Sunday.  What brings you back?"

I explained the situation and he frowned slightly.  "I don't understand why they told you to come back to the ER.  We've already run extensive tests on her two days ago.  There's not much else we can do at this point."

I told him the cardiologist's office had recommended we come in and about the possibility of him ordering further tests.  

"Well, ok. I'll check with him; he is in the hospital today, but in surgery. We'll see what we can do."

Mom and I settled in to wait some more.  The blood pressure cuff had been placed on Mom's arm and was taking a measurement every fifteen minutes.  One reading of 204/84 set off an alarm which was very loud.  Her blood pressure meds have been discontinued at this point since she doesn't want to eat.  Mom startles easily and the intermittent beeping made it impossible to talk.  I finally pushed the button for the nurse and someone came in and reset the monitor.  Mom's stomach cramps were coming and going, and the nurse asked if there was anything she could get for us and then left us alone again. 

I turned on the TV and searched for something to watch.  The hospital has cable and all of Mom's favorite stations weren't available, so we ended up watching TLC's 'My 600 Pound Life'.  Ironic, wasn't it?  An 89 pound woman watching a 596 pound woman struggle with her life.  One doesn't want to eat ever again and the other one can't quit.  

We sat through the preliminary part of the story; how the lady came to be in this situation, how at first she was proud of her weight and celebrated her life, found love with a man who is attracted to overweight women, married and eventually had a daughter.  But now the daughter is eight years old and the mother cannot play with her or even fit through the chain link fence to the playground.  Her joints hurt, she is breathless and miserable.  Time to change.  She goes to a bariatric surgeon, is scheduled for surgery, and then meets with opposition from her husband who is angry with her for wanting to lose weight; for cryin' out loud, her weight was what attracted him to her in the first place, and now she wants to get skinny?  Why buy a hot dog when you can get a steak?  (I'm not sure what that comment meant.)  Yikes, it looks like they are headed for a divorce.  (I know, these shows are all about the drama, but when you're sitting with your anorexic mother in yet another hospital room, sometimes ridiculous drama is just what you need.)   Mom was very interested in the entire show.

Around 4PM, the doctor came back in again and pulled up a stool by Mom's bed.  I turned off the TV, sadly we will never know if the marriage survived the bariatric surgery.  

"Ok, Lucille..... I talked with the cardiologist, Dr. T, between his surgeries.  He's reviewed your CT scan from Sunday and said there's nothing he can do for you.  Your stomach arteries are calcified and with your advanced age, he feels the risks of surgery far outweigh any good outcome.  There's a possibility you would die during the operation.  The reason your stomach hurts so much is because you have limited blood flow to the intestines and the stomach itself which causes cramping.  I'm sorry they sent you here.  It bothers me to see patients sent in a big circle from one doctor to another and then to the ER and back home.  We're basically the grunts of the medical field; we see people in crisis and then send them up the pyramid to the specialists.  I'm sorry you made this trip for nothing.  I will be calling your general practitioner and consulting with him; I suggest you make a follow-up appointment with him when you get home to discuss your options.  As I said, it bothers me that you had to get your mom back into a car and haul her here for no good reason."

As he was talking, tears were streaming down my face.  I have been pretty good about crying in public lately; I know Mom is 96 and we will have to part, but the helplessness of standing by while she is in pain is dreadful.  And hearing the news that there is nothing else they can do is hard to take at any age.  I apologized for my demeanor, but he said he understood.  He gave Mom a prescription for a painkiller and wished us luck.  We were free to go.

The nurse came in and took out the IV and left to get a wheelchair. I helped Mom out of her hospital gown and back into her street clothes.  The nurse arrived with the chair and wheeled us back out to the lobby where we waited for the car to be brought around.  I was standing behind the wheelchair as we waited, wiping my eyes. I didn't want Mom to see my tears.

Suddenly I sensed we weren't alone in the lobby; seated directly across from where I was standing were the two hearing impaired people again, once again, staring at us impassively and then looking away.  I looked at them and smiled a tiny bit, and motioned to the man to get his attention again.  His dark eyes met mine with a bit of suspicion, but when he saw I was trying to talk, he came to life.  

I motioned to his lady friend and asked him through my crude sign language if she was going to be ok.  He shook his head yes, and smiled emphatically, gesturing to her and then to his right knee, showing me in pantomime that she had fallen and her knee had swollen up to huge proportions.  But now the doctor had fixed her up.

"Oh, no.....did she fall on the ice?" and the lady joined in with signing, telling me yes, she did fall on the ice, but she was going to get better.

Then the man motioned to my mother, pointing at her, shrugging, as if to say, "Is she ok?"

I shook my head.  No.

The man held up his hands in a questioning manner.  I rubbed my stomach and made eating motions, and shook my head, telling them that Mom no longer wants to eat.

"Why?" he drew a question mark in the air.

I said, "Her stomach won't let her." I made a wincing face, "It hurts when she eats, she doesn't want to try any more."

The man drew a circle which I understood to be a bowl and showed a person eating and asked out loud, "Soup?  Eat soup??"

"That's a good idea," I said, but then I broke down completely.

The large man stood up to his towering height and came toward me, planted a kiss on my cheek and hugged me tight.  Then he walked to Mom's wheelchair and showed her he wanted to give her a hug.  She embraced his face in both of her little hands and he gave her a kiss on her cheek and a warm embrace.  He stood up, placed his hands in a praying gesture and told her he would pray for her and for me.  The lady in the walker also clasped her hands in prayer and motioned to us both.  The man came over and hugged me one more time and said, "I love you."  

I thanked them both, by now I could hardly see through my tears.  The car was already there and we were holding up traffic. I thanked them again and wheeled Mom out into the frigid air.  

All the way home Mom kept saying, "They were so nice, weren't they nice?  I've never been hugged by a black man before.  And to think he would want to hug me; a complete stranger.  And they are going to pray for me."

"Yes, Mom, they were very nice," I said as I navigated the stop light and turned the car back into rush hour traffic.  "What a blessing they are."

All the way home Mom marveled about their kindness.

Finally, at 5:30 PM we arrived back at Mom's house.  I helped her walk up the steps.  When she opened the door to the kitchen the heat greeted her and she luxuriated in it, "OH, thank goodness, it's so nice and warm in here!"

I helped her with her coat and asked her if she wanted to eat.  I told her the nice man at the hospital suggested soup and she didn't balk.  "Maybe I could eat some chicken noodle soup."

I scurried to her cupboard, but there was no soup on hand.  Drat.   At that moment Joel walked in.  He came to help with the sensitivity on the cameras installed in Mom's house; I wasn't sure the cameras were picking up everything.  He did some adjustments and then we rode to town together to pick up Mom's new prescription for pain and acquire some chicken soup.

We were back in less than an hour and while Joel showed Grandma pictures of baby Audrey on his phone, I set about warming the soup and setting her table. 

Nothing perks Mom up more than seeing little Audrey; she simply lights up with joy; she loves her so much.

Soon it was time for Joel to go home and for me to leave, too.  I hadn't had much to eat all day, though I did grab one of Mom's now-detested Ensure drinks before we left for the hospital at noon.  (They are rather medicinal tasting...)   She's sick of chocolate flavored anything now, so I'll have to hunt for something else she may like.  

She took her pain pill before she went to bed.  Watching the camera playback this morning, I see she was up once but then went back to bed.  I had a fitful night of sleep, waking several times to check the camera.  I was surprised when I turned it on this morning to find her surveying her next painting project, a large concrete raccoon which she had asked Joel to move to the kitchen painting station last night.  She was using a wire brush to remove the algae on the statue.  

I sent Joel a text message, 'Another day here on the farm.....Up and at 'em...wire brushing a raccoon.'

Joel came back with, 'Taken out of context that would be a very strange text.'

I made a few phone calls this morning; Dr. W wants to see Mom on Friday and we've been told to keep the cardiologist appointment next Tuesday anyway.  I've been told hospice is very helpful, I'm hoping the doctor can steer me in the right direction.  

For now, I'm on my way to see her again this morning.  Per the camera, I can see she's playing hymns on her organ in the living room.  If I hurry, I can sit and listen without her knowing.

I'm blessed.



Alison said...

Oh Karen. I'm so sorry there's so little they can do to help your mom. Your story touched me so much there's tears in my eyes and a big lump in my throat now too. I wish I could be there to give you a big hug as well. Even though I'm a cynical, misanthropic introvert at heart, I do find lately that I have to concede that nothing helps as much as connecting in real life with real good people. And it's good to know that they do exist. Love and Hugs from me in the PNW.

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

I hope your mother will continue to be able to enjoy soup and that it will warm her and help her stomach.

Sometimes it seems in waiting rooms where people are suffering, what we may at first glance, perceive to be ordinary people, become Angels right before our eyes in their kindness and caring.

I am sending healing thoughts to your Mom.

Sue said...

Oh Karen......what a time you're going through. I hope you feel my hugs through this comment. I'm thinking of you always.

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Dear Karen, my heart aches for what you are your mom are going through. What a blessing to have received love, hugs and prayers also from complete strangers. Totally wonderful!

Good ol' chicken soup works wonders. I hope your mom will be able to keep eating and being comforted by love, tender care and prayers.

Love you dear Karen ~ FlowerLady

Beth said...

I am so sorry, Karen. You and your mom, MIL, FIL and Carl are in my thoughts and prayers.

Anonymous said...

Maybe your mother could try some baby food. I thought of that when you showed the pictures of the baby eating. Some of it is very tasteful. Anyway, just a thought. I will also pray for your mom. My own mom will be 94 this year. Margie from Arkansas

outlawgardener said...

So sorry Karen! Your story made me cry - the compassion of strangers in the ER and the doctor's words about not much they could do. I remember a doctor younger than I telling us that there was little to be done about one of my mother's ailments. So frustrating and painful for us not to be able to do something for those who helped us through so much. Sending you much love!

Peonies & Magnolias said...

Ok Karen, I'm so sorry for what your Mom and you are going through. I sure hope the doctor's visit today provides some much needed help and answers for your Mom. Sending hugs and keeping y'all in our thoughts and prayers. Take Care.

Jennifer said...

This is such a sweet and at the same time heart breaking post. You describe your Mom so well I can practically see her sitting beside you in the car and playing her hymns. I feel for you going through this and for your poor Mom in her pain. I hope the pain killers will make her more comfortable. Will be thinking of you Karen!