Tag Archives: hospital

Taking Care Of Mom: A Story Of Survival

29 Mar

I don’t usually take calls on my cell phone during meetings, least of all calls from numbers that I do not recognize.

Answer the phone, said a little voice in my head. It was the same little voice that has guided me many times in the past, the little voice that I always listen to, because when I don’t, I regret it.

I excused myself from the meeting and answered the phone.

To my surprise, it was the lady at the pharmacy down the road from my parents’ house. My mother had come in to the pharmacy to fill a prescription, and while she was there she had started complaining of abdominal pain. Could I please come and get her and take her to a doctor right away?

Bear in mind that this happened in a country that did not have 9-1-1. I was definitely a better and faster bet than the local ambulance service.

I made the fifteen-minute drive to the pharmacy in about eight minutes, only to find that my mother was not there.

“I’m sorry,” said the lady at the pharmacy. “We couldn’t wait. Your mother really needed to see the doctor immediately, so Michael drove her.”

I didn’t know who Michael was, but that was the least of my worries. I thanked the lady and drove to the doctor’s office. I was ushered into the consulting room immediately, and Michael – who turned out to be a kindly delivery man – was free to leave.

My mother was lying on the examination table writhing in pain. Her body was burning up with an ever-climbing fever and her face was the colour of paper. The doctor, who I had known for years and who had always, up until this moment, been completely unflappable, was trying everything she could. Although she was displaying an admirable calmness, I could see undercurrents of desperation.

An ambulance had been summonsed. It arrived and ferried my mother off to the hospital, with me following in my car.

At some point during all of this chaos I got in touch with my dad and my brother, who were out of town on separate business trips. While I took care of admission paperwork at the hospital, they were trying to get themselves onto last-minute flights home.

With the admin taken care of, all I could do was wait. I discovered that hospital waiting areas are every bit as bleak and depressing as movies make them out to be. After what felt like hours, the doctor came out to see me. The bad news was that my mother had an infection so severe that her kidneys were failing. The good news was that the fever was under control and the pain was being managed. I was allowed to go in to see my mother. She looked dreadful, but with the pain and fever taken care of, she was at least able to talk a little.

She was very afraid – and who wouldn’t be? I was terrified myself but trying hard not to show it. The doctor came back into the room and gave my mother some milky-looking medicine. She sipped the cloudy colloid as I gave her assurances that she was OK, she would be OK, the doctors were taking care of her.

I’m not sure when my dad and brother arrived. All I know is that at some point, they faded into the hustle and bustle as people entered and left the room, trying to get my mother’s body to work the way it was supposed to.

This story has a good ending. My mother recovered and thankfully she is in good health.

On some dreaded day – hopefully a long way in the future – I will lose my mom, because no-one lives forever.

But I am eternally grateful to whatever powers prevail that that day, Mom stayed with us.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Cedar challenged me with “She sips the cloudy colloid. ” and I challenged Leo with “Tell a story that makes a lot of use of contrasts, like light/dark, big/small etc.”

Endings And Beginnings

4 Aug

It was bittersweet, that freezing cold day in February, 2003.

I was at a conference with a number of my co-workers, which really meant that I was subjected to a day of boring talks that I had to pretend to be utterly fascinated by. The trade-off was the free lunch, and I have to give the conference venue credit: it was outstanding grub.

After lunch, we had a bit of free time before the session reconvened. I decided to check the messages on my cell phone, so I turned it on and started fiddling with the buttons to get to the voicemail. When it vibrated in my hand, I almost jumped out of my skin. The incoming call was coming from a number I did not recognize.

Gerard, calling from a payphone. At the hospital, of all places.

He was calling to deliver bad news: his dad had been diagnosed with colon cancer. There was a possibility that it had spread to the liver. Tests were underway to find out.

I whispered a few words of explanation into the ear of one of my colleagues and ran to my car. An hour later, I was giving my father-in-law a hug at the hospital. He was looking remarkably cheerful for someone who had just received dire news. Either he was using humour as a coping mechanism, or the doctors had done a really good job of giving him hope.

Much later that night, Gerard and I left the hospital and went home. While he was Googling something-or-other, I locked myself into the bathroom and surreptitiously peed on a stick.

Three minutes later, the stick told me that while one life was fading away, another one was just beginning.

At our first ultrasound a couple of weeks later, we held hands as the technician showed us our baby on the monitor. His heart was beating solidly; and even though he was about the size of a grape, we could clearly see his little legs waving around.

Everything looks great, the technician told us. This is a good-looking baby.

Gerard and I finally allowed ourselves to feel a lick of hope for the first time since we found out we were having a baby. We had suffered a miscarriage several months previously; we had not really trusted that we would actually get to the point of seeing a healthy baby. We had several weeks to go before we would pass the point at which our previous pregnancy had failed, and we would hold our breaths until then. But seeing a strong, healthy baby was something that we had not experienced.

After the ultrasound, we drove straight to Gerard’s parents’ home to see them. Now that we had gone through the ultrasound, we felt OK about telling them. We showed my father-in-law the ultrasound picture, and said to him, “If the baby is a boy we’re going to call him George, after you.”

With his eyes flashing with humour, my father-in-law said, in his characteristic Irish brogue, “Aaaah, don’t do that to the poor child!”

Less than a month later, I stood in the cemetery with snow swirling around me as my father-in-law was laid to rest. As I said goodbye to one George, my hands protectively cradled the belly in which another was growing .

As one life ends, another begins. And the spirit of the old lovingly watches over the soul of the new.

(Photo credit to the author.)

Why I Can’t Eat Mangoes Even Though They’re Yummy

14 Jun

Whenever I’m at the grocery store with George, the first thing we have to do is get a pineapple. In the earlier days of the pineapple obsession, he would take the pineapple home and stick Mr. Potato Head parts into it. He doesn’t do that anymore. He just likes having a pineapple to carry around.

Weird, I know, Other people’s kids carry cuddly teddy-bears around. My son carts around a piece of fruit that could take someone’s eye out.

Anyway, a couple of days ago when we went shopping, I allowed him to pick up the obligatory pineapple. And because fair is fair, I had to allow James to select some fruit as well.

“I want a big, juicy mango,” said James.

No, no, no, no, NOOOOOOOO.

Much to James’ chagrin, I cannot let mangoes into my house. I’m afraid of them. I won’t even walk past them in the grocery store.

“Anything but mangoes,” I said to James, who sulkily selected some pears instead.

I was never really exposed to mangoes until I went to Israel in the early 1990’s. When I had been in Israel for almost a year, I found myself working for a farmer in the Golan Heights, right in the north. For several months, I was a real farm-girl, doing real farm work. I would be up and in the fields by four in the morning, driving my tractor, spraying crops with pesticide, repairing irrigation systems, hanging bananas, you name it.

The pay wasn’t great and the hours were long, but my employer treated me and his other farmhand well, kept us stocked with beer, and allowed us to knock off at lunchtime on Fridays. Best of all, he allowed us free rein to eat the crops we farmed whenever we liked. As a result, most of our breaks were taken under the trees with mango juice dripping from our fingers as we consumed the delicious fruit.

Let me pause for a moment to say that Israel produces fantastic mangoes. They are big and juicy, and oh-so-sweet-and-delicious.

One frightening day, however, my mango-eating heyday had to come to a screeching halt.

On the morning of that fateful day, I noticed a strange-looking mark on my wrist. It was roughly oblong, and looked a bit like a railway track. It was as itchy as hell. I didn’t think anything of it: me and my fellow farmhand, Alan, were always getting cuts and scrapes without really noticing. So I ignored the mark and went on my merry, crop-spraying, mango-eating way.

That night I felt a little under the weather – that feeling you get when you’re coming down with a cold. Assuming that I was, indeed, coming down with a cold, I took some headache pills and went to bed early.

I woke up with a jolt at about midnight, with the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right. It didn’t take me long to figure out the problem: I wasn’t breathing. No matter how I tried to expand my lungs, I just couldn’t get any air past my larynx. And so, perhaps understandably, I started to panic.

I realized that somehow, I had to get the attention of Alan, my coworker and room-mate. I would have screamed, only this would have required me to draw breath and that was a problem. So I did the only thing I could think of: I raised my fist and pounded on the wall.

I was aware of Alan stirring and groggily using some colourful language. My persistent banging forced him to get up, though, and he only had to look at me once to realize that something was seriously wrong.

What happened next is a blur, but I know involved a lot of frantic rushing around and a trip to the hospital, where I was diagnosed with a serious and potentially life-threatening allergy to mangoes. I was treated and released the following day, and given a life-long ban on anything to do with mangoes.

I cannot eat them. I cannot touch them – those marks on my skin turned out to be burn marks from mango juice. I cannot even inhabit the same airspace as them, because inhaling their scent can be as bad for me as actually eating them.

Giving up mangoes was tough. Not only the fruit, but the fields. All of a sudden, I was deprived of the fields full of mango trees, with their mixture of hot sunshine and cool shade and of course, the fruits themselves. And I was banished to the banana plantations, with the oppressive overhead leaf coverage, the scorpions hiding in the bunches of bananas, and the fact that the bananas weren’t ripe.

And the fact that twenty years later, I would have to deal with a whining child who couldn’t get a mango in a grocery store.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/digital1/3060425819)

A Life Hanging In The Balance

20 Apr

About three weeks ago, we hired a new respite worker for George. It has been a long, frustrating process – anyone who has ever had a need for a respite worker will know that the good ones are like gold dust. They are very hard to find, and even harder to keep.

When our new worker, F, walked into our home for an interview, I liked her immediately. Perhaps more tellingly, both of the kids took to her immediately. In a very short time, she has wormed her way into the hearts of the entire family.

Sadly, as she becomes an important part of our family, a crisis is happening in her own. A couple of weeks ago, the car that her sister and sister-in-law were traveling in was hit by a car making an illegal turn. The driver of the other car drove away at speed, but not before a witness snapped a picture of him with a cell phone. Police have since found the vehicle and identified the driver, who is currently hiding out in the United States.

F’s sister is OK. She has a broken leg and some nasty bruising. The sister-in-law, on the other hand, is in very serious condition. She was pregnant at the time of the collision, and the baby did not survive. And now her own body is gradually shutting down. She is not responding to medication, her lungs are filling up with fluids, and doctors are saying that there is nothing they can do.

She has been moved to palliative care. There have been conversations about DNR’s.

My heart goes out to F, who is very close to her sister-in-law. I think of the anguish she is going through, and the pain of the man who is likely going to be widowed very soon. I think of a two-year-old child whose mother is dying. And it just breaks my heart.

Anyone reading this – please send out positive thoughts of strength and healing to a family who really needs it. The doctors say that a miracle is still possible. Let’s try to bend the will of the Universe to make that miracle happen.

We Survived The Gastro Bug Of 2011

13 Feb

It has been quite a week, one in which both kids made it to the Emergency Room at our local hospital. James’ visit resulted in an overnight stay, which left me feeling exhausted and sick myself. With George, we were luckier. His condition, while similar to James’, was less severe and did not call for any needles or IV lines. We were seen by a really nice doctor, and then sent home with strict instructions on how to orally administer fluids.

Most parents of boys aged 5 and 7 have seen the inside of an E.R. at least once. With this latest visit, James has now clocked up four visits (3 months: hair wrapped around toe so tightly that said toe was turning purple; 2 years: hand placed on rapidly moving treadmill belt resulting in the loss of several layers of skin; 3 years: arm pulled out of joint at elbow by big brother; 5 years: severe dehydration).

George has been somewhat luckier in this regard, having only needed to visit the E.R. on two occasions. This is a good thing – I cannot describe how good. James takes stuff like this in his stride. Sure, he cried when the IV line was put in place on Wednesday night, and he cried when I explained to him that we would be in the hospital overnight instead of going home, but when these things happen, he understands that the doctors are there to make him better. George has a much harder time. His autism makes him resistant to changes in routine, new places, unfamiliar people, and strange smells.

Doctors’ offices are bad enough. Hospital E.R.’s have the ability to send him right over the top. It is a good thing that George has managed to stay healthy and relatively injury-free.

The first E.R. visit, the day after George’s 4th birthday, was prompted by an accident in the daycare he attended at the time. He had been stimming, spinning round and round in circles. The daycare staff were attempting to move George to the centre of the room where he could safely stim without hurting himself, but he lost his balance and fell, hitting his upper lip on the corner of a bookshelf.

The E.R. we took him to was very understanding. We registered him and completed all of the requisite paperwork, and then wondered out loud how we would cope with what was likely to be a long wait. The admitting nurse, realizing that George’s autism would make a hospital wait unbearable for him, told us to go to the donut shop across the street with him. When it was his turn, and when the examination room was all set up, someone would come and get us.

The nurse was true to her word. A hospital orderly came and got us after about twenty minutes, and we were taken straight into the examination room, where the doctor, a nurse, and two other orderlies were waiting. Before George had any clue what was happening, he was placed on the bed, and the orderlies expertly wrapped him up in a sheet like a burrito, so only his face was exposed. The nurse immediately swabbed his face, and the doctor, who was waiting with an already-prepared suture, gave George the single stitch that he needed.

We were in and out of there in less than three minutes. Kudos to all staff at that E.R.

This time round, George had to stick around for a longer time. His utter lethargy, while certainly a concern from a health perspective, definitely helped the E.R. visit go more smoothly than it otherwise might have. He endured the admission tests, with the exception of the temperature check. He was having none of that thermometer business, either at the front desk or in the examination room.

He  allowed the nurse to put a tamper-proof hospital band around his wrist. In the examination room, he tampered with it and got it off (people who make tamper-proof products should really test-drive them on out-of-the-box-thinking auties). I was very concerned about the prospect of an IV line. The kid wouldn’t even keep on a wrist-band. How were we going to prevent him from ripping out the IV line?

Imagine our relief when we were told that IV fluids would not be needed. We were told how to administer fluids, how frequently, and in what amounts. We all got to come home.

*Phew*

A day later, we are all officially on the mend. Well, except for James, who is completely recovered. George has just eaten a jam sandwich – his first real food in three days. I’m no longer feeling nauseous (I still think that was due more to pure exhaustion than anything else). Gerard is a bit more lively than he was yesterday.

And now, hopefully, we return to a “normal” life in the special needs family.

Round 2

12 Feb

James is home from the hospital. James is fine.

George is now in an E.R. examination room, waiting to be seen by the doctor. IV fluids are being discussed.

He’ll be fine, but I am so looking forward to life being back to normal.

A Night Away From Home

11 Feb

They should sell T-shirts that say, “I survived my child’s first overnight stay in a hospital.”  Or they should give out badges, like they do in Girl Scouts. Because let me tell you, it is quite an accomplishment. Just one night in the hospital with my son left me feeling jagged and raw. While I was sitting there yesterday afternoon wondering when I would be able to grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee, I sent a message to my friend Amy, expressing my pure admiration for the fact that she did this in a far more serious situation, day in and day out, for five months.

It all started when James started tossing his cookies at the daycare on Monday. For a full 24 hours he was throwing up and having attacks of diarrhea, and even when they kind-of-sort-of passed, he didn’t get better. By the time I got home from work on Wednesday evening, he was still not eating or drinking, and he was crying out from the pains in his tummy.

Recognizing that most kids’ tummy bugs are over and done with in a day or so, and we were now at the end of Day Three, I took James to the walk-in clinic (no family doctor – ours had the gall to retire, citing stuff like “time with family”). The doctor at the clinic examined James for five minutes and decided he wanted none of it. He told me to get James to the hospital. “Now,” he said.

The triage nurse at the hospital was cranky. She was abrupt and acted as if we were inconveniencing her. I didn’t hold it against her. She was nearing the end of what had probably been a long shift in the emergency room, but still. Being cranky with a sick five-year-old seems a bit much. She did her thing and then sent us off to see the admitting doctor – go to the room at the end of the hall and wait in partition D, she said.

The doctor was cranky. He overheard James saying that we were looking for “Number D” and grumpily said, “D is not a number.”

For God’s sake. I mean, I know E.R. doctors are taxed to the limit. These guys are on their feet for long shifts during which they no doubt have to make many life-or-death decisions, but come on. Don’t take out your stress on a five-year-old child who is visibly ill.

Anyway.

The doctor examined James and said that he was severely dehydrated. He invited me to feel James’ hands. I did, and they were ice-cold. The dehydration had made his core body temperature drop right down. We were taken to a dedicated examination room and IV fluids were started. Within 20 minutes, James’ temperature was looking better.

The on-duty pediatrician came in, examined James, and made the decision to keep him in overnight. He was transferred to the pediatric floor, and we were installed in a room. I helped the nurses get James as settled as he could be, and then I lay in the bed provided for me and failed to sleep. Every now and then I kind of sank into a trance, only to be roused by the comings and goings of the nurses who came in to fuss over James every now and then.

James was in much better spirits when he woke up in the morning. He still couldn’t eat, but he requested and received a Popsicle. In a turn of events that was very sweet, when the nurse came in with the Popsicle, he asked her if she would please get another one for his Mommy. We sat there in companionable silence, eating our Popsicles together (and it was so welcome – my throat was parched), and then another nurse came in bearing gifts.  Apparently, every child admitted to the pediatric floor gets a bag of toys that they get to take home with them.

I borrowed a BlackBerry charger from the doctor, and was able to be in touch with the outside world again. I read and responded to emails, James played with his new toys plus the ones his Dad had brought him from home during the night.  Apart from the occasional stomach cramps and attacks of diarrhea still plaguing James, all was well, if a little bit boring. IV fluids continued to drip into his system, and the comings and goings now involved a different group of doctors and nurses.

In the middle of the afternoon, I was finally able to get a cup of coffee and a sandwich. By this point I was beyond exhaustion and beyond hunger. With the nurse watching James, I fled to the donut shop, where I got a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Then, in a bid to extend my freedom for a little longer, I went into the gift shop and got James a new Cars toy and a book.

Back upstairs, I drank my coffee and ate half of the sandwich. I promptly threw both of them up.

Lovely. Just as my son is getting better, now I start to get sick?

Since I have not had a repeat episode since then, I am assuming that my system was just responding to exhaustion, and that the shock of actually receiving food for the first time in 24 hours was a bit too much for my body.

In the late afternoon, the pediatrician came in and declared James almost well enough to go home. He was hydrated again, he was drinking on his own, and he had even managed a bit of food. All we were waiting for, she said, was for him to pee. Once he had peed, we would know that fluids were getting both into and out of his system OK. In the I.T. world, we would refer to this as end-to-end testing.

A couple of hours later, James’ bladder obliged, and we were given the all-clear to leave. The IV was disconnected, final temperature and blood pressure checks were done, and we were out of there. James was definitely a much more healthy, brighter child than he had been before going in.

It felt almost obscenely good to be back home.

James is OK. George, who was doing a great deal of his own throwing up in our absence, seems to be on the mend. I have not tossed my cookies again (although, to be fair, I haven’t taken a chance on eating either).

Equilibrium seems to be returning…

And I am truly grateful to the doctors and nurses at Centenary Hospital for taking such good care of my baby.