Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rough week

The past week has been pretty darn rough for me and my family.  I had a great week with the completion of the 5K and my trip to Atlantic City.  As I was leaving AC, I saw a message from my dad asking him to call me.  When I returned the message, he told me that my Mom had gone back into the hospital on Sunday night.  

2012 has been a real rough year for Mom and her health.  She started off the year breaking her arm in Belize. Then, in may, she had a heart attack while Shelley and I were traveling in Hong Kong.  Since then, she has gone to the Emergency Room several times over the summer.  Each time she went in with tightness in her chest, but all the tests showed that she was not having another heart attack.  Her blood sugar was usually out of whack (she has diabetes) and she stayed a day or two to run tests and make sure she was stable.

I think worse than being sick, she hated the idea that she might be over reacting to the symptoms. During these summer visits to the ER, the hospital seemed to keep telling her that these symptoms were not serious and could be fixed with medication.  Her failure to regulate her blood sugar and diabetes frustrated everyone (her included), because it seemed that these visits may have been preventable.  For me, the worst part of all of this was that Mom wasn't Mom.  Se has been constantly run down and tired.  Mom has always been a fun person, but for the past year, she hasn't been fun.

On Monday, the tests showed that she had, in fact, had a second heart attack.  Her cardiologist decided onTuesday that she would undergo a procedure to take a look at her heart, and if appropriate, angioplasty.  We were all excited about this procedure.  My grandfather has had this done many times and he always comes out feeling like a million bucks. Plus, the surgery is minimally invasive.  Unfortunately, the cardiologist decided during the procedure that she was not a candidate for angioplasty and needed open heart surgery.

Dad called me with the news onTuesday night and I freaked out pretty bad.  Horrible scenarios raced through my head on a never ending loop. I researched bypass surgery online only to discover that the surgery required the doctors to put her on a heart-lung machine for several hours while the worked o. Her stopped heart.  I imagined the sorrow of my little sisters wedding if mom wasn't there.  I pictured her funeral in my mind - what songs she would want, what I might say in a eulogy, where we would have the service.  I did everything I could to force these thoughts from my mind, but they kept returning.  As I made arrangements to travel to Arizona on short notice, my mind would not let one idea rest - should I pack a suit for my trip?  I hated these thoughts, but fromTuesday night until she got out of surgery on Thursday morning, I could think of nothing else.

The date of the surgery changed several times. Originally planned for Wednesday, then likely pushed to Monday and finally scheduled on Thursday.  When planned for Monday, I had arranged to go to German class until Friday and then fly to AZ for the weekend and stay a few days next week.  Wednesday after lunch, I got a text that the surgery was scheduled for the next day.  I managed to leave class and get on a standby flight that evening.  

Katie and Paul picked me up and we drove up to the hospital in Prescott.  Mom was in a surprisingly good mood.  I think part of it was putting on a strong face for us.  But I also think that she wanted to do SOMETHING that might make her better. None of the prior treatments made her any better and she did not want to live the rest of her life in misery.  We spent a few hours at the hospital that night.  We talked some about the surgery, but mostly we talked about life, just enjoying each others company. 

Thursday morning was the hardest. Dad and I went in around 530 as Mom was being prepped for surgery.  I had so little to say, because I just kept thinking, "Will this be the last conversation I ever have with my Mom?"  (Even now, writing this on the plane, I am crying).  I suggested we pray (we went to church every week growing up, but I would not say that we are a very religious family) and I joined hands with my parents.  Mom led Dad and I through an Our Father and a Hail Mary.  Her voice was strong, but My voice kept cracking while my dad could not even speak.  As we finished the prayer, the nurses came in to move her to pre-op.  Shelley and Katie arrived and we all had a chance to say goodbye before they took her into surgery.

The next four hours were some of the hardest I can remember.  I could not stay in that hospital. When my mind is not occupied, it wanders horribly.  I could not spend the next four hours just waiting.  The girls, Paul, and I went to breakfast and then I went back to the house to shower and distract myself. Dad and Shelley sent me any updates via text.  The surgery was schedule to take four hours, so I planned to get back around 1030 or 11. The surgery went great and they actually finished early.  I got a text from Shelley that she was off the heart-lung machine and doing great about a mile from the hospital. I let out a cheer and actually had to pull over because of how much I was shaking. 

Mom has been doing great on her recovery, meeting almost all milestones on time.  She got out of bed by the evening of the first day and was walking around the ICU by the next morning.  Many of the tubes have been removed and she should move off the cardiovascular ICU by today or tomorrow.  Despite some worsening pain, she has been in a great mood. I don't know if the others noticed it, but I sensed that mom was a bit more like mom the last two days than the previous year.

When she first got out of surgery, she remained one breathing tube for several hours.  Since she couldn't talk, she had to write a few things down to communicate.  Her first question was "Where Dad?", but it looked like "Where Paul?", who is my sisters fiancée, so she had to write it 3 times before Shelley figured it out.  The next note was "3 or 4 bypass", asking whether she had triple or quadruple bypass (she had triple).  Then, her third most pressing concern was for "Diet Coke."  She had to wait until they took out the breathing tube, but she did get her diet coke.

I have to say that the nurses and staff at the hospital have been beyond fantastic. They have just taken fantastic care of Mom.  They have been kind, sympathetic, compassionate, strong, funny, and just plain old nice.  To Amy, Carrie, Eve, Franklin, and all the others who helped take care of my Mom, Thank You.  You have made one of the most difficult periods in my family's life infinitely better.  Your compassion and care are truly appreciated. 

Unfortunately, I had to say goodbye this afternoon to return back to DC.  I really want to stay until Mom gets out of the hospital and returns home, but I can't do that.  If I knew everything I know now before, I would have stayed I school until the weekend and then come to AZ for the weekend and a few days to get her back home. But, there was no way, I was not going to see Mom before she went in for surgery. If something had gone wrong, I never would have forgiven myself for not being there.

As this is a Foreign Service blog, I should mention how fantastic everyone at FSI has been.  Despite all the rhetoric about 100% attendance and never missing class, there was absolutely no question about me being able to miss class to be with my family.  My teacher sent me a summary of what we covered in class and suggested homework. The director of German even went so far to make sure I submitted the time as sick leave under Family and medical leave act, rather than annual leave.  My classmates and colleagues have been very supportive.  As I discovered two years ago, family medical emergencies are very hard to navigate in the Foreign Service, but my experience so far is that everyone does everything they can to make a horrible situation better.


  1. Oh wow. I'm so sorry. I hope your Mom makes a speedy and full recovery.

  2. What a difficult week! I am glad that your Mom is doing well and pray she continues to do so. I didn't realize you were from the Prescott area. Me too!