Excerpt from “My Lovedance”
On January 6th, 2015 life threw me a curve ball.
I took one look at my mother and knew life was about to change. Mom was sick, really sick. And I know sick.
I’ve been working in the medical field for over thirty years. I can smell disease, feel tumors, see death. And Mom rarely ever gets sick.
But after flying to Utah to spend Christmas with one of my sisters and then driving from LAX to Big Bear to entertain my youngest sister’s family for New Years, Mom was tired. And she’s never tired! My mom is the Energizer Bunny! Plus she had a strange rash on her her legs.
So that day despite being “my worst patient” as she proudly claimed, Mom got up on my exam table so I could check her out.
The rash turned out to be phlebitis and I didn’t like what I felt in her stomach. And the abdominal ultrasound confirmed my suspicions.
So I consulted with my collaborating physician and ordered a CT scan and a venous Doppler. Mom’s bloodwork didn’t look great either.
The next week as I was orchestrating Mom’s care, my other sister (there’s four of us girls, less than four years apart between me and the youngest with twins in between) texted that she was driving from Northern California to check in on Dad.
My parents have been divorced for twenty-five years but still lived in the same town.
Mom drove up to Ojai to stay and work with me, managing my businesses since 1997. And she insisted on driving the seventy miles back home so we could have our separate lives. A very self-sufficient woman, our mother raised us girls to be strong and independent.
Dad seemed to have the same neurological symptoms he had five years earlier, so I set up an appointment with his neurosurgeon, ordered blood, and an MRI.
Mom had a tendency to focus more on others than herself, so I didn’t think she needed to know about Dad yet and she was adamant that I not tell my sisters about her until we knew more.
So the next morning, I’m with Mom at the interventional radiologist getting her liver biopsied while juggling calls from my sister regarding Dad’s medical care. When it rains, it pours.
That evening my sisters were giving me a hard time for not getting more involved with Dad. I went in to check on Mom and she took one look at my face and asked what’s wrong?
“Please,” I begged her, “let me tell my sisters.”
I called a conference call knowing my three sisters would think it was regarding Dad. “This isn’t about Dad. It’s about Mom.”
And then the tears began to flow.
The great weight was lifted for a short time. The next day Mom insisted on going back home to pack. Since her venous Doppler showed no signs of deep vein thrombosis, my collaborating physician and the interventional radiologist agreed that she could go home. I let her go, knowing my sister would stay with her.
But Mom felt fine and sent my sister home!
Sunday morning at 7:15, I got a call from Mom’s partner. “Deb, the paramedics are here and they want to speak to you.”
I instructed the emergency personnel that Mom was probably having a pulmonary embolism. By the time I got to the ER in her home town, they had brought her back to life three times.
I walked into the emergency room – the same one I volunteered as a candy striper before going to UCLA nursing school in 1981. There I found my mom intubated, panicking, but very much alive.
I kissed her, tried to orient her, asked the nurse to please sedate her, and consulted with the emergency physicians. Then I texted my sisters. “You need to come now.” They all flew in that evening. By then mom was in the ICU.
That was Mom’s worse nightmare.
I know nearly dying, being intubated and tied down (yes, they use soft restraints to keep the patients from pulling out their ventilation tube) would be most people’s worst nightmare, but being taken to that particular hospital was hers.
You see, both her parents died in that hospital.
In December 1982, my beloved grandparents moved from Philadelphia to California to be near their only daughter and granddaughters.
I was just a nursing student at UCLA but when Poppop got off that plane, I knew he was going to die. And he did, three weeks later.
Less than two years later, Nana died in that same hospital.
Mom never ever wanted to go there…but there she was in the ICU, unable to communicate with a tube down her throat and her hands tied down. Have you ever seen anyone yell with their eyes?
Thank goodness for my daughter, an ICU nurse, who knew those machines like
The back of her hand. The rest of us nurses…yes, three out of four daughters…hadn’t been practicing in the hospital for years.
Five days after that fatalistic call, Mom was discharged from the hospital into my care.