I’ve never really seen my Mom sick. She’s had colds before, but she has epitomized both strength and stubbornness. That’s probably why she rarely had health issues – they were intimidated.
But last week her friends noticed symptoms of something serious and the day after my soft words on carefree springs were printed, I was on my way to Seattle. Friday morning neurosurgeons performed a craniotomy to save her life after an aneurysm tried to kill her.
You can’t be prepared for things like aneurysms in healthy mothers so you lose at least some of your grip on reality. What usually arrests some of your attention is completely overwhelmed by a more powerful stream of prognoses, usually ending in a complete life transformation and endless waves of grief. That’s why I tried to lean on people. Even if they had no clue what was going on or the severity of things at least there would be some rational positivity in my life. That’s what I was looking for. Some burden distribution, even though I probably hadn’t always done the same.
While doctors worked to fix the bloody leak in my Mom’s brain (the brain that loved me so unconditionally, that supported me, that knew it wasn’t worth it to try and teach me piano, how could this be happening) I flipped through a plum-colored folder with brochures and pamphlets introducing me to a bunch of statistics and my potential new life as a caregiver.
The “Subarachnoid Hemorrhage & Aneurysm Stroke Education Packet” given to me by a nurse taught me 5% of the population may have or develop an aneurysm, 20% have multiple aneurysms and 85% of aneurysms aren’t diagnosed until after they rupture. There is a “50% risk of death” when a rupture occurs. After surgery, there is a 35% chance of a second bleed within 14 days and most patients experience vasospasm.
A week ago my world was wide and large, filled with fluffy simplicity like chairs on a porch. Now I know that vasospasm is the narrowing of arteries due to irritation in the brain caused by the presence of blood.
I was told this just before Mom was returned to the ICU almost half a day after she left. The surgery went well, but she’d be bed-ridden for 14 days and we were to wait and hope there’d be no second bleed, and vasospasm would not lead to a stroke.
I didn’t even know if she’d recognize me, be able to talk, walk or feed herself, so I forgot about statistics. My world shrunk a little more. Now little else exists for me outside of the semi-lit room on the second floor of a neurology ICU in Seattle.
Mom is on the left side of a room which fits two and is eerily similar to the ICU room in which I watched my Dad begin his final days with cancer in 2009.
What do you do with that?
But that night I saw both of Mom’s hands work and both legs move. Her smile was weak but symmetrical. She recognized my voice and knew my name. As much as it almost overwhelmed me to see my Mom poked by tubes and with a bandage on her head, what did push me over was that I was given the chance to see her again, to look into her pained eyes and tell her how much I loved her and have her respond and squeeze my hand.
An hour later at midnight, with that thought in my head, in the same clothes I’d traveled in, on the reclined visitor’s chair, I turned away from Mom, and quietly cried until snot ran from my nose onto the hospital blanket. And I didn’t care.
The bulk of this I wrote Friday and Saturday which was probably the most emotionally compromised time of my life – my filter was down and thoughts had more of an edge. Thanks to improvements Mom is better and I’ve calmed down. It is interesting to think about where I was just a few days ago. I was intensely concerned more than I was hysterical, but the simple fact that I allowed myself to cry should say something.
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