It was a Monday. Mom had her surgery last Monday. The surgery was supposed to take 4-6 hours. Dr. P said he would give us an update in about 2 hours. So we went to the cafeteria to get something to eat, thinking we had plenty of time. While eating my phone rang and I see it is Dr. P’s cell phone. What the heck? He asks us to come back to the ICU; he needs to meet with us. That can’t be good. He tells us Mom is okay, but he needs to speak with us.
As if that wasn’t scary enough, when we arrive back to the ICU waiting room, he leads us to a small room. I notice tea bags on a table and a box of tissues. I already hate this room. I can’t help but wonder how many families have sat in this room and received bad news. And now my sister and I are here in this room with the doctor who is supposed to be in surgery, fixing my mom’s heart. I used to like him.
Mom’s aortic wall was too calcified to sew the new valve. Years of smoking have made the aortic wall hard as a rock. The surgeon’s knife could not cut through it; there was not even one centimeter of soft tissue to which they could sew the new valve. I kept waiting for him to finish. He didn’t. I kept waiting for the options, for what’s next. He didn’t offer any. Finally I asked, “What does this mean?” His response brings no comfort. The only thing to do is to close her back up; she will recover (the part for which she is high risk) and then get worse, continuing to drown in her own fluids.
In the days that followed, we were treated to another roller-coaster ride. On the day of her surgery, she awoke cheerful and full of hope.
“Is the surgery over?” she asked me as soon as she could speak. (They got the ventilator out very quickly! Praise God! We had all been praying for this, as this was a worrisome risk.)
Yes, Mom. All you have to do is concentrate on getting stronger every day, I responded.
Still weak, she didn’t ask anything else.
As a family we decided to allow Mom to get stronger before we shared the news with her. Unfortunately, on Tuesday, the ICU nurse took it upon her herself to tell Mom they couldn’t do the surgery. When I arrived at the hospital, Mom was crying.
“The nurse said I didn’t have the surgery. Some people said I did have the surgery. I am hurting. I don’t know what’s going on and why no one will tell me the truth” she cried.
I cried too. “Mom, you had the surgery. They opened you up and exposed your heart, but they couldn’t fix the valve. There was nowhere for them to sew the new valve, so you did have the surgery, but they we not able to fix your leaky valve.”
“Am I am going to die? “she asked.
“Not yet, Mom,” I replied. “You are getting stronger every day. We are going to get you strong enough to go home.
“Yea, right” she said.
My sister piped up, “I am still praying for a miracle.”
Mom rolled her eyes. Melina said, “Miracles happen Mom. You just have to believe.”
I jumped up on my feet, “I believe.” I said.
“I know you do, honey. That’s why I asked you to pray for me. I know you have an “in” with God. “
“I don’t have any more of an in with God than you do, Mom. He hears your prayers.
Now what? Mom asked. And I replied, “We are going to get you strong enough to go home and you are going to finish sewing your shower curtain. And we are going to throw you a giant birthday party. “ (her birthday was less than a month away)
Mom smiled. “I guess we can do that,” she stated.
It seemed like Mom lost her fight after that. But it could have just been her state of health. The first day after her surgery, she gained strength. But the third day after her surgery she developed low blood pressure. On the fourth day her kidneys began to fail. On the fifth day her liver began to fail.
The doctors came to see us and kindly, gently told us that anything more they would do for mom, would be invasive and lifelong. Dialysis was necessary at this point. Mom was very against dialysis. My siblings and I agreed. Mom had been through enough.
So the decision was made to move Mom to hospice. After a few more loops on the roller coaster, we were waiting for the hospice team to move Mom while she was still recovering from having her chest split open and her heart man-handled.
When hospice showed up to complete the paperwork before she was moved, they asked the familiar general admission questions. “Any religious preference?” they asked.
“Protestant” Mom responded.
Protestant? My sister and I exchanged glances. She heard the same thing I did. In all the years I had known Mom; her answer was always, “None.”
Allie’s caterpillars had made it to the top of the cup; they had latched onto the tissue paper, and begun the process of going into chrysalis.