My mother’s bypass surgery was a success and she was taken to recovery around 7:00 PM Central time on Friday. At some point after that she was taken into ICU where, by policy, she would stay for 48 hours. At 8:30, Mary Ann, the friend that has been by my mother’s side this entire time, was allowed into the ICU to see Mom but she was still on a respirator and highly sedated and was non-responsive to Mary Ann’s presence.
Saturday, was better. My mother came out of the anesthesia and was taken off the ventilator. By the time any of us out of town kids knew what was going on, my mother had been fed and had visitors and was laughing, something that’s hard for me to fathom when you’ve just had your chest split open, but more power to her.
My sister, Erin, only found this out after going nearly the entire day without a word from Mary Ann and finally calling the hospital directly hoping they wouldn’t use HIPAA as grounds not to tell her anything. To the contrary, they filled Erin in on my mother’s condition and then transferred her to a portable phone that they took to my mother and allowed them to speak.
They spoke about my mother’s care in the coming weeks and my mother said that she felt pretty good all in all and didn’t really know that she was going to need help. Erin pointed out that she was probably on some pretty good drugs right now and that while she might feel that way now, she might feel pretty differently when the time comes. They further discussed timing and it was basically established that I will be coming to Tulsa on the July 5th, and that my sister can’t get there any earlier than July 12th, and depending on when the doctors want to release my mother from the hospital there may be a gap where there is no one around.
Erin’s family doctor from Oklahoma, told her of another hospital in the area that my mother could be transferred to, in place of being discharged, that is a rehabilitation hospital that is focused on longer term care, as opposed to the hospital she’s in now that will be focused on treating her and discharging her. My mother’s response was “I’m not sure how my insurance is going to feel about that.” This phrase of Momese is roughly translated as, “I don’t want to go to another hospital.” What she doesn’t yet know is that her friends have already spoken with Erin and are ready, willing and able to step in and take care of my mother, 24/7 until I arrive. I suspect that if my mother were aware of this, suddenly the second hospital would start looking much more appealing to her.
As their conversation was ending the staff at the hospital was bringing dinner to my mother who told my sister, “I just finished lunch and now they’re trying to make me eat dinner.” As I would later discover, my mother is medicated enough to not be completely clear of what’s going on around her, and I suspect that “I just finished lunch” is not entirely an accurate statement.
Erin filled me in and I called an hour later. My relationship with my mother isn’t the best, but I love her and I wanted to hear her voice myself, I also thought it would be good for her to hear from me and know that I’m thinking about her… She may not remember.
I called the hospital roughly an hour after Erin did and was told by a not terribly nice nurse that they don’t have phones in the patient rooms in ICU. I told her my sister had just spoken with my mother and she suggested maybe it was on my mother’s cell phone and she offered to give my mother a message that I had called. I knew that not to be the case but I decided to give her a break for the moment. I called my mother’s cell phone, but it went straight to voice mail. I called it three more times with the same result. When I finally called the hospital again, I was told by the same not nice nurse that she had given the message to my mother. I explained that I had called the cell phone several times but that it was going to voicemail. The nurse then put me on hold and after several minutes came back to tell me that my mother didn’t have her cell phone (this does not surprise me as SHE’S IN ICU.) She then told me that if I called back in about half an hour blah, blah, blah, portable phone they could take in to her. Why they couldn’t just do that in the first place I do not know.
Finally, I called back around 8:30 Central time and they put me on the phone with Mom. She sounded good at first. She sounded almost like her normal self. She didn’t sound weak, she didn’t even sound short of breath, though she did say it was hard for her to breath. She said it was difficult for her to get comfortable to sleep (I would imagine so), she had a couple of hiccups in the middle our conversation which I would have expected to cause some kind of wincing but she didn’t seem to react (I don’t know and don’t ever want to find out what it’s like to have your chest cracked open and then put back together again, but I would imagine that everything would hurt after that. She told me that she’d be in the ICU until this afternoon and then she’d be taken to “the next step down in level of care”. In other words, not ICU, but not just a regular room either. Two days after that she’d be taken back to a regular room. I asked her if she knew how long she was expected to be in a regular room and she said, “Well, they’ve told me several times, but I can’t remember.” That’s when I knew that she was more drugged than either she realized or wanted to admit to, one.
She was clearly tired as is completely understandable. One of the common after effects of open heart surgery is low levels of energy, which is why she will need help. She will need help getting in and out of the shower (and probably onto and off of the toilet.) She will need someone to make sure she’s getting the proper amount of exercise and to make sure she doesn’t over do it. She will need someone to make sure she eats well, and not skip meals because she’s too tired to prepare them. She will need someone to make sure she doesn’t fall down and help her up if she does and she will need someone to make sure she takes her medications, something she will be particularly resistant to.
I asked her if she knew when she would have her cell phone readily available again and for a moment she got testy with me, telling me that she didn’t know and she wasn’t worried about that right now. But she very quickly lost steam and reverted to calm and reasonable, telling me that she just needed to get better and be more mobile and then she would worry about things like that. I don’t know if the change in attitude was a lack of energy, or if it was that she realized that her attitude wasn’t appropriate. I let it slide and pointed out that I only asked because it was hard to get ahold of her. I had called three times before the mean ole nurses finally let me talk to her.
(Due to my highly negative opinion and the frequent unkind things I say about my employer, I NEVER say the name of the company I work for, but I will say that it’s a health-care organization – one of the biggest in Northern California – and as such I have some understanding of the staff’s side of the issue. I also have an understanding of the patient’s family’s side of the issue and while I understand where the nurses are coming from they really need to be more sensitive to and understanding of the absent family members needs.)
All in all, my mother seems to be doing well. It would, of course, be better if this hadn’t happened, but she’s coming through it nicely.
Folks, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this was a great relief and a great disappointment to me.
It is of course too soon to tell just how my mother is going to handle the reality of her situation when she’s out of the hospital and faced with it. Everyone that we’ve spoken to has said that there’s no reason to think that my mother can’t recover from this and get back to her life. Honestly, it had never crossed my mind that she wouldn’t, but apparently Erin had thought it through and considered that this may mean bringing my mother to New York to live (whether she likes it or not.) I always assumed that she would eventually recover and go back to her life as it relates to job and friends, etc. But I also assumed that for the next month or so she is going to need a lot of time and attention. And it seems apparent that it will probably be me to give it to her. At first, I was dreading this. I do not have a great relationship with my mother and spending this amount of concentrated time with her was terrifying to me. But as I adjusted to the idea, I started to feel a change take hold in me. Some of what I’m about to say may sound harsh, but it is a simple reality.
My mother will not be the one in control or in charge this time around. I am. With this visit, the priority will be for me to take care of her and her needs, for me to make sure that she gets what she needs and does what she must to recover. This visit is all about what she needs and not what she wants. And it is because of this, that I have the power to stand up to her, to take control of the situation, to not have her push the buttons she normally pushes, because I think the buttons are gone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to go there looking to pick a fight. But I am going there with the strength I have needed for some time, to be able to take control of the situation, to tell her when her words, attitude and behavior are not welcome. To stand up for my point of view and establish some new ground rules for our relationship going forward.
Yes, I began to see this as an opportunity and I am even starting to look forward to my trip…
And then I spoke to her yesterday. She sounded better than I thought she would. She sounded more stable and emotionally strong than I thought she would. I admit that part of what I’ve been thinking has relied up on her being weak. I expected her to be emotionally shattered, physically drained and generally dependent on others. Now I’m not so sure. Again, she’s in the hospital. She’s heavily medicated; she’s being catered too and other than the discomfort she must be in and the fact that she hasn’t been home in four days; she probably doesn’t have a grasp of what her real life is like now. Things could change dramatically, but if she’s not as weak and dependent as I expected her to be, this may not be an opportunity after all.
In the end, it doesn’t matter. I’ve found a strength I didn’t know I had. I believe that even if she is the same she’s always been I have the strength to endure it and stand up for myself now. I’m doing what I must. I am doing what is right and I feel good about it.