One of the reasons I’ve hardly blogged the past several months was a bad patch in September when my mother was ill and in the hospital for 10 nights. It started with what we thought was either food poisoning or the stomach flu. (A lot of people seemed to be having food-related problems because of the power outages during the recent windstorm, and there was also a nasty stomach bug going around at the time.) Mom was up about one a.m. Sunday vomiting, and I knew from personal experience she probably faced a bad night. What I didn’t anticipate was how many bad nights still lay ahead.
On Monday Diamondqueen had Mom taken to the emergency room by ambulance. They looked her over, gave her some anti-nausea and pain medication, and sent her home. In addition to going to work, I’d scheduled both a dentist appointment and an eye appointment that day, so I didn’t get home until after eight. There was no message from Mom, so I hoped that meant she was asleep and stabilized. I didn’t want to risk waking her up, so I sent her an e-mail asking her to reply or phone me next morning so I’d know she was okay.
When I hadn’t heard anything at home or at work, I called her. My heart nearly stopped when I heard how bad she sounded. I phoned for a doctor’s appointment, left work, and took Mom to the doctor by noon. To make a long story short, she was admitted to the hospital that afternoon.
She continued to vomit round-the-clock until the next evening, when they finally succeeded in getting a gastric tube inserted through her nose and down her throat. (It’s probably just as well I wasn’t there to witness that ordeal, and the tube was miserable to have in, but at least the vomiting ceased.) It was still a couple of days before we had the complete picture: She had a bowel obstruction caused by a portion of a ventral hernia that had been repaired twice before. We went into the weekend not sure what would happen — the surgeon had simply popped the obstruction back into place but it wasn’t clear if Mom would need surgery to decisively correct the condition — and clinging to some optimism that we’d still get Mom home for her birthday on Tuesday. However, around 9 Sunday morning Mom called to say they’d be operating in an hour. The silver lining was the hernia correction was the least invasive possible, and Mom didn’t suffer with the vicious nausea reactions to her anesthetic as she had with two previous hernia surgeries.
She didn’t make it out of the hospital for her birthday. However, I stopped to see her that morning on the way to work, vastly encouraged at the improvement. And after work, Diamondqueen and the Hooligans met me at the hospital with flowers and a balloon for a celebration in Mom’s room. We arrived just moments after a nurse had removed the gastric tube — the best birthday gift Mom could possibly want, although she was thrilled with her visit, too, including the pictures S. and J.Hooligan had drawn for her.
Mom finally came home late Friday afternoon, after a couple of days of being reintroduced slowly to regular food and getting “therapy” to help her get around again. (She didn’t feel she really needed the latter, but it was something to do to help the day pass.) The following weekend we had her delayed birthday celebration, and the following week Mom and I drove up to the Amish area in Holmes County, Ohio, for a few days of gorgeous fall foliage and all the usual delights we anticipate. All through Mom’s hospitalization we knew the trip, Mom’s only “vacation” all year, was in jeopardy; but something made me cling to hope and postpone canceling, even if it meant we’d wind up eating the cost of the nights we’d booked. Even Diamondqueen agreed with taking that chance, and it did pay off. Although we set forth intending to keep it all as low-key as possible, and with the option of simply going home on Day 3 instead of staying over a another night, it was all fine. Mom paced herself, but she did all her quilt shop-hopping, and she was able to enjoy her favorite meals.
However, I think we were all shaken by the whole hospital episode. Mom was to turn 76 on her birthday. There were moments when I wondered if this was it, if something was direly wrong and she’d never get back home; or if her body would simply tire out from the trauma. Mom seemed to emerge from the ordeal more cautious and vulnerable, too. It’s one thing to suffer through a surgery that was planned for; however, spending more time in a hospital than you ever have in your life for something unexpected that at first couldn’t even be identified can’t help but alter your perspective as you pass your mid-70s.
As if Mom’s situation hadn’t been bad enough, we had an even bigger shock. I’d stayed with Mom over that first Sunday night she was ill. Monday morning I’d spoken to Diamondqueen first thing, then hopped in the shower. I’d heard the phone ring and assumed my sister had phoned back about something. I nearly fainted when I played back a message from my younger brother (two years younger than me) calling from the CCU saying he’d had a heart attack and had had angioplasty the night before. Those weeks had a surreal, dark, world-coming-to-an-end quality; and I’ve never shaken the feeling of a giant tote board hovering in the air before me, with every day, hour, minute, second counting down in a blur — for my family, for me, for the world. (Oh yeah, the economy began it’s critical nosedive that week in September as well.)
Today we all gathered at Mom’s for Thanksgiving, as always: me, Diamondqueen and That Poor Man, the Hooligans, and my brother, looking much trimmer than he had the last time I saw him before his heart attack. We had a huge feast with all Mom’s beloved specialties; and she’d done every bit of it herself. She’d cooked and cleaned for days, and seemed hellbent on not getting assistance with anything, not even asking me to help her get the big bird out of the roasting pan (she announced proudly after the turkey was on the platter that she’d managed it all by herself). She’d had a couple of post-operative weeks when she couldn’t lift more than five pounds, and still had some limitations as November came. She’d gone days without solid food in the hospital, fed only through tubes. She’d lain there and thought about the coming holidays and wondered if she’d be able to cook at all, especially the big Thanksgiving meal.
She did it. It was a marathon she had to run and win, and she triumphed. To add to the sweetness of her victory, her own meal tasted better to her than it often does, from the turkey and trimmings to the pumpkin pie.
We both know there’ll come a day, even if she eases into it a little year by year. But THIS year she was still able to do it all herself. What I’m most grateful for this Thanksgiving is that there was a Thanksgiving, as I know it; complete with Mom’s cooking and Mom’s loving presence, my sister and her family, my survivor brother, my brother by phone from St. Louis, and even the phone calls from my aggravating father (who is also 76, has advanced cirrhosis of the liver, and who I wasn’t sure would still be here when I tried to look forward ahead from last Thanksgiving). There are numerous other blessings, of course (I survived a recent round of lay-offs at work; a year ago this coming Monday I lost my previous job), but this year it was enough for me that we, on this one day, are all still here.