Thursday July 7, 2016
Early that morning I heard Mom heaving, like she was going to throw up. She had said earlier that she didn’t feel good, and went to sleep early. So I was alarmed to hear the noises she was making.
When you are taking care of someone in the hospital, or a sick child, or sick love done at all, it seems like you sleep a lot lighter. You are aware of subtle changes in their breathing or movements. Maybe it is the maternal instinct, but it is almost like a 6th sense. I immediately turned on the light and grabbed a trash can.
I cannot remember if she was already sitting up in bed or if I helped her, but I held her as her body heaved from the vomiting. It came up deep from within, as it seemed like every muscle, every bone even, in her body tensed up. It was extremely painful for her and she would moan while heaving. I just held her as best as I could and told her it was going to be OK.
I called the nurse and told her Mom was sick and we need assistance. The nurse on duty was horrible and Mom did not like her at all. She was rough and did not seem to like sick people. The nurse said that they could not give her anything to help the nausea and vomiting until the doctor did his rounds and signed off on it. Mom was under ICU care, and even though her condition was getting better, they were still very guarded with her prognosis.
Once she started throwing up my heart sank. I knew what that meant even though I prayed for it not to be so. For the last two years at least,every time she ate well for 2-3 days, she would get violently ill. She would throw up, have diarrhea and cramp for the next 3 days. And she would loose sometimes 10 pounds during these spells.
Her violent dry heaves and vomiting went on for another 5 hours. I held her, held her hand, stroked her hair, got cold wash clothes for her, helped her sit up and down, grabbed the trash can for her. It broke my heart to see her like that and not be able to do anything about it. I don’t think that there is anything worse that seeing your loved on in pain and not being able to stop it. Completely and utter helplessness.
Mom was completely exhausted and could barely sit up on her own at that point. I wold help her and hold her up as she sat on the edge of the bed to throw up. It was so putrid as it was coming up from her pancreas. To this day I have never smelled anything more foul. She would ask several times if there was something the nurses could give her and I had to tell her that not until the doctor came in.
After five hours I called the head of Palliative care and left a message. I think her name was Joanne. I told her that I didn’t care what had to be done, who I had to talk to or how much noise I had to make, but that no one, no doctor, no one had been in to check on my mother. She had been in excruciating pain and vomiting for over 5 hours. They had one hour before I started making a lot of noise and I didn’t care if I had speak to the chief of staff himself, one way or another someone was going to help my mother.
Shortly after that the doctor came in and gave her some medicine to stop the vomiting. Within 30 minutes of that she was resting. They would do more tests to see what happened. By this time she had a cardiologist, a circulatory doctor, a nutritionist, a Gastroenteritis, and a few others. They were all trying to figure out what was going on and how to save her.
But in hind site, what was wrong was that she was dying of malnutrition. It wreaks havoc on the body when it gets to that point. There are so many vitamins and mineral deficiencies that are going on in the body. Things you don’t even think of like lesions on your cornea from a lack of vitamin A. Her hair was thin and breaking, her skin was thin, her eyes were getting l=cloudy. Her mental state was failing and she would have terrible mood swings. She would have dry cracked skin and sometimes sores would come up. A month or so before her went into the hospital, she lost the use of the lower part of her body. Her nails were discolored…So many things going wrong.
Her little body was giving out. She had lost the ability to synthesis protein, so there was no nutritional value in any food for her body any more. Her body simply did not know what to do with food anymore and would reject it.
They told me that if they could not find what was wrong with her that she would die. She was too weak, her immune system was giving out, the pneumonia was getting worse even with the 4 strong antibiotics they were giving her through IV. She would not last, they told me. She was resting, Dad was not there and I had a lot of decisions to make.
My heart sank into my chest. How could it change so quickly? I wanted to cry but bit my lip until the urge went away. Panicked, I went to the front desk to ask about the chapel every hospital has. They told me to go down to another floor and I did. But at that floor they were remodeling the chapel and all they had was a little room with a few chairs for counseling. I said that it would do.
Once I got into that room I burst into tears as my knees hit the floor. What followed was the most sincere and heartbreaking prayer I have ever prayed in my life as I sobbed, heart pounding, nose running, mind racing. I couldn’t breath, I felt like I was going to vomit, I was dizzy and felt like I was going to pass out.
Oh dear God help me, I don’t know how to do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this. I can’t lead this family into her death, I can’t do this by myself, I don’t know how. I am not strong enough. Dear God please, please, please please please, I don’t know how to do this, I can’t. I Don’t know what I am doing. I can’t make these decisions, I am not a doctor, I am not that smart. I don’t know what I am doing God please give me strength, please guide me, I can’t do this by myself you have to be with me, you have to make me make the right decisions, I cant do this, I don’t know how to do this. Please please please God I don’t know what to do. God please let her live, please let her recover, she is my Mom, I don’t want to loose her, I can’t loose her, God please, please, please God, Please. I don’t know what to do, I can’t do this, I can’t do this I can’t do this. God make me strong, Please God Please, make me strong. I can’t do this, I don’t know how. God please. I can’t loose her. I don’t know how to be without my Mom. I don’t know how to lead the family into this. I don’t have enough strength. I don’t have the Grace for it. God please, please let her live, Please make that be your Will, please God please. I love her, please don’t let her die, God PLEASE.
I don’t know how long I as crying, praying, screaming and begging God in that room. But when I came out my face was red, eyes puffy, and my throat was rough. I was shaking violently, I couldn’t help it. I wasn’t ready to loose my Mom, I wasn’t ready to do this, make the decisions. But I had to pull myself together. Life doesn’t stop because you are to weak to handle it, so you just have to do the best you can.
I called Dad that morning and told him what was going on and that she was resting. I could here the worry and disappointment in his voice. At least she was here at the hospital finally when it happened, because now they can find out why and fix it,” I said trying to reassure us both.
I called and sobbed to my boyfriend and best friend several times that day. I was so lost, so helpless, so confused.
After Dad arrived I had to get myself together and prep for a phone interview for a job. I was out of work and was looking for my next contract. So in addition to everything that was going on with mom and Dad at the hospital, I had also been fielding calls form companies and recruiters. Do you know how hard it is to do an interview while a loved one is sick? But the staff got used to my running around trying to find little quiet corners here and there for the business conversations. This company had already rescheduled the interview two times, so I knew a third would not be possible. I ducked in a hallway and did the interview, completely distracted and trying to focus.
The rest of the day was spent talking to doctors, praying and trying to make the right decision. The doctors said that the veins her abdomen might be blocked and that could be what the issue is. So they could go in and clear them out. Or they could administer a feeding tube. Neither Mom or Dad could decide. So I made calls to friends, did my research and prayed. A lot. And in the end I told Mom that if she decided to do a procedure, I thought the one clearing her veins would be the best one, but that it was her decision.
I will never for get this for as long as I live. She looked at me with big, round, innocent eyes and all the trust of a child, and she asked “Do you think I should do it?” In that moment, it struck me how much rust they had placed in me, how delicate the situation was, and the responsibility of the answer. To have someone willing to go through a potentially dangerous procedure just because you think it is what is best for them…that is extremely humbling. With my heart pounding in my throat, I swallowed hard and begged God for wisdom. And whispered, “If you do if may get rid of the pain.”
She nodded her head obediently and said OK to me. The looked up and said OK to the doctors. It was completely love and trust and faith in me. Because I wanted her to, because she didn’t want to disappoint me. Because she didn’t want to break my heart and tell me that she was tired, and just wanted to go home.
So they took her back a few minutes later to prep her for the procedure and I prayed, harder than I had every prayed before, that she survive. They had talked about the risk and how because of her weight and frailty, that it was risky. That if they didn’t think she would survive or if there was any trouble that she would die. And she said yes anyway. And I prayed.
And she came through it fine. She was a little sore but otherwise was great and they thought they were able to clear enough of her veins out in her abdomen that she might not have pain or issues eating. And I prayed.
I called my sister and we fought hard about whether or not she should come down. She said she didn’t have tie, she had to work and I shouldn’t be bothering her with something so trivial. She didn’t believe that that Mom was that bad. She accused me of being dramatic and exaggerating because I was tired. She told me to stop being childish and to grow up. I couldn’t believe what I as hearing. I gave it right back to her out of anger, exhaustion and sheer desperation of begging for help.
“We have to pull together for this to work,” I told her. “This is family, it’s Mom, you HAVE to help. I can’t do this by myself, I have had no sleep, I have been taking care of both Mom and Dad this whole time. I need a break, please, please come help me. Just come down and stay for the weekend, that’s all. As soon as I get back you can leave, please, I can;t do this by myself, You are my big sister, you have to help me. YOU HAVE TO HELP ME!” I finally sobbed barely able to speak.
I told her that if she thought I was being dramatic, come down anyway, prove me wrong. Because if I wasn’t lying or being dramatic, and I was right, and Mom died, then she would feel guilty for the rest of her life.
That night I had to leave to be in Atlanta that next morning. I had to sign paper work and take the employment drug test for a new job. Dad would stay overnight at the hospital and my sister would be there Friday night. Dad just had to handle 18 hours or so there by himself. I would rest, do laundry, repack and be back early Sunday morning so my sister could drive back and be at work Monday.
That doesn’t sound very long, but Mom was very sick and very needy. She needed help with food and water, and she had started to pick at the covers by this time. She would get restless and try to pull out her IV. She would mumble and talk about taking trips, seeing people who weren’t there and about just wanting to go home. When could she go home? She just needed time in the sun and some fresh air and she would be fine, she told the doctors. Every 30 seconds to -2 minutes she would need something, or need to be told not to pull out her IV.
She would have moments of clarity too, and she knew enough to know that she was starting to hallucinate. She would tell me about a little boy that would be in the room, and then look at me and say “But he isn’t really there is he? I am hallucinating aren’t I?” And I would gently smile and tell her that no, the little boy was not there, or at least that I could not see him. I did not know what any of that meant at the time.
I packed everything and left about 6 that evening, maybe a little later. I drive and picked up Mom’s cat, got a couple of energy drinks (which I never drink) and drove home to Atlanta.
I had not slept, I had not eaten, I had had no rest or breaks at all really since I had gotten there nine says before. I was exhausted. I got home, my boyfriend waiting up for me, and collapsed. He hugged me, we talked for a bit and I slept so sound in the safety and comfort of my own home, in his arms and out of shear exhaustion.