“How are you holding up?”
That’s the standard answer. I’ve been up and down and up and down and up and down so many times over the last month.
My mom’s spleen burst in the wee hours of Sunday morning, resulting in its removal. She received hemoglobin today. The swelling in her hands is down, but it’s worse in her legs.
Last time I saw her was Friday. She was a different person then. She was regaining mobility in her hands and arms and feet, slowly, but making progress. There was talk of moving her to rehab soon. She complained regularly that her stomach hurt, but everyone attributed it to the not one but two feeding tube incisions. There was an air leak in the first one, so a middle of the night surgery pulled it out and put a new one in. Maybe those stomach pains were her spleen failing?
She was working hard to communicate with us. My brother installed an app on a tablet and she was having some success using a stylus with it to give us some words. We printed out communication boards; I made an alphabet board complete with commonly used phrase cards interchangeable via Velcro. We were getting better at reading lips. My dad was pleased, to a degree, by the fact that it seemed that she figured out that if she said her stomach hurt, they wouldn’t try to sit her up in a chair that day, and she got a little smirk about it.
Prior to that, she was sedated in the ICU, non-responsive and unable to move her extremities. She finally received a diagnosis of acute demyelinating neuropathy. A plasma transplant worked wonders, and she was alert and responsive and asking questions again, after two weeks being out of it.
Today, I arrived and she was sleeping. I sat and let her sleep. Within two minutes, a doctor and nurse arrived to check her incisions, and I was quickly shooed out so that they could take care of the “oozing”. I would call it less “oozing” and more “dripping blood”. I was quite unnerved. They let my mother lay in a bed dripping blood down her abdomen? What kind of hell is this place?
I found a waiting room, then a restroom. Then I made my way back. They needed more time. I decided I would wait outside her room, trying to hear the talk from behind the curtain. The CCU is surprisingly loud, so that didn’t happen. The nurse came to tell me that it looked worse than it was, that the edges of all her incisions were weeping because of her thin blood, and they had bundled bandages on top of bandages so it looked like more blood. They had packed it with a medicated dressing this time, she said, to help stop the bleeding. She was empathetic; I appreciated that. A minute later, the doctor came to me. He had consulted with the surgeon who operated, and he concurred with the nurse. The blood thinners should be out of her system completely in a few hours, and they would check her again. If the “oozing” continued, they would take her to the OR and wash out the wound so that they could look for a single source of bleeding. He was empathic too, in the detached manner that a doctor needs to be.
Finally the imposing nurse let me back in. Her demeanor changed; she introduced herself and went about making my mom as comfortable as possible. She got her a cold washcloth for her forehead and adjusted some things. She chitchatted with me.
My mom was, I hope, loopy from pain meds. Her left eye looked funny, like it did when she was heavily sedated a few weeks ago in the ICU. She tried to tell me some things, but she was less distinct than the last time I saw her, or maybe I’m just still bad at lip reading. I couldn’t find the letter board and I couldn’t interpret the letters she was trying to make in the air with a shaky hand. I did get this, though: “You shouldn’t be here.” She tried to tell me why, but I couldn’t make it out. “You don’t want me here?” No. “I should be with the girls?” She nodded her head yes, but I knew from her expression that it was her giving up on me, not the right answer. She tried hard to tell me something else too, but the only words I could get were “lost on”. And “on” might not even be right. If I don’t get it after a few tries, she gives up. It’s frustrating for both of us.
I hope that my dad doesn’t get that late night phone call that they’re headed to the OR to flush her wounds because she’s still bleeding. I hope that her body starts to work, to clot in the right places, and let her heal. I hope that I get a chance to find out what’s lost.