Sunday, February 21, 2010

DD#35: Waiting

It's Sunday and I didn't blog yesterday - not because I didn't remember (which has happened the other times), but because my day was consumed with waiting. I do waiting pretty well up to a point, then it becomes stressful for me to continue to wait. I want action. I want answers. I want results. I want to see the Rule Book. Waiting past my threshold makes me irritable, impatient, angry, restless, and ready to point my finger and blame anyone and everyone who is causing me to wait beyond  my tolerance level. 

Yesterday my day was pretty well planned out: I intended to visit Mom then do my grocery shopping, arrive home, fix my lunch, and generally do my weekend chores. I arrived at the facility where she has been receiving care for the past 3 weeks at about 11:15, well within my schedule. I walked to her room and the bed was made but she was nowhere in sight so I began searching the hallways knowing that when they get her in her wheelchair she often wanders around finding others to talk to. 

As I rounded the corner, just past the nursing station, there she sat - slumped over, legs akimbo, with her left arm dangling over the side of the chair looking like she'd fallen asleep. I approached her and touched her shoulder while asking her if she needed to go back to her room for a nap. She didn't respond, so I spoke a little louder, "Mom, it's Toni. Are you OK?" Still nothing. I was terrified and thought the worst - maybe she'd died out there in the hallway without anyone there to hold her hand and comfort her! I shook her shoulder and spoke to her again and she opened her eyes a crack and mumbled something.

I called a nurse and said I'd never seen her like that before - what was wrong? The nurse tried to rouse her and we got her back to her bed, thinking she was just sleepy. The nurse kept reassuring me that she'd just seen my mom passing the nurses' station about 10 minutes prior to that and that she'd been wandering around the hallways most of the morning. When we got to her bed, the aide, a big strong man, physically lifted my mother out of her wheelchair and placed her on her bed and they began taking her vital signs and continuing to speak loudly to her trying to rouse her from her stupor. She wasn't responding coherently and mumbled infrequently, just fluttering her eyes and drifting off again.

After checking her vital signs a few times to determine that all were well within normal limits, they called 911 to have her transported to the hospital - this was going to require much more than they could provide at the facility. I was in tears and couldn't stop myself from thinking this was the end - that she'd made a decision to depart. Even though it's always a possibility and even more possible given her age (almost 87) and condition there was a part of me that wasn't ready - perhaps would never be ready for her final transition.

As always, the firemen and EMTs that arrived were so gentle and kind and efficient, working as a team to determine her condition so they could take their next action. One took her history from me while the others worked around the close quarters of her bed, trying to get a response from her, calling out her vital signs and generally doing their jobs. 

They were going to transport her to the emergency room of the hospital she'd left exactly 3 weeks ago. The one who was taking information from me asked me if I was OK to drive and it hit me that he recognized how emotional I was and was concerned for my safety in the middle of all this smoothly run chaos. I couldn't stop crying but told him I could drive and would meet them there. 

When I got in the car, I called my sister, who was in class all day. Thankfully it was close enough to lunch time that they were on their break and she could talk. We're so fortunate to have each other to share the responsibilities and emotions that are associated with this situation. I poured out my fears while reassuring her that I'd call her if she were needed, but to continue her class and let me know when she was on her way home and I'd give her an update.

We arrived at the emergency room at 11:50AM and began the waiting. More history required along with the vital signs and various pokes and prods for lab work. I cried as I watched her react painfully, crying and pulling at her arm to stop the pain from the needle being inserted for her IV. I thought of when my daughter was little and didn't understand and couldn't express in words when she was in pain. Her startled reaction when she felt the sting of the needle for an injection or blood drawn. How horrible it was to watch and want to protect her but knowing that what was being done was necessary. Here was my mother, helpless, not aware of her surroundings - being stuck, and moved, and invaded in so many ways - it broke my heart. Strangers were calling out her name and talking to her and all I wanted to do was tell them to get out and leave her alone.

Her assigned nurse came in with the computer stand and we went through yet another session of history - current meds, medical conditions, past surgeries, allergies and more, more, more, as I worried about whether I had missed anything important. (Let me warn you, learn all you can about your family members. If you accompany anyone without a full knowledge of their medical history there are too many "unknowns", and they'll hesitate to proceed or take many more tests than necessary just to be safe.)

More needle jabs as they needed even more blood for tests. More witnessing of her crying out automatically reacting to the pain even in her semi-conscious state. More waiting. More waiting. More waiting. Finally the ER doctor determined what had caused the episode (a TIA) and what the possible options were, but nothing was resolved until the results of a urine sample were available. More waiting.

 I sat by her, holding her hand, talking to her as if we were having a conversation. I reminded her of the time she held my hand the whole 48 hours I was in labor with my daughter. How, with every contraction, I had squeezed her hand so much that it was painful for her to move it for days afterward. How she had said it was absolutely worth the pain because she now had a beautiful granddaughter. Remember, Mom? What a wonderful Grandma you've been to Jenn and how much she loves you. How much happiness you've given your Granddaughters Hallie and Mary Joy. How your Great Grandson, Christopher gives you a hug when he sees you. Remembering all of the good stuff - the happy times that would remind her how loved she is.

More nurses, lab people, pokes, finishing the history, and more waiting, waiting, waiting. Seeing her lying helpless, in pain, and not knowing how to help kept reminding me of how little we control in this crazy world. By this time Mom had begun a series of muscle spasms in her legs and feet that were causing her to arch her back and grimace as she jerked and twisted on the gurney. It was as if she were having a seizure and it was appalling to watch helplessly. They didn't seem concerned that it was due to a medical condition and I wanted to scream at them to do something to relieve her discomfort. Couldn't they see that she wasn't resting, wasn't calm, was probably in pain as she moaned and cried out.

My sister arrived at 5:30. I'd now been here 5 1/2 hours and my tolerance for waiting was nearing its end. When the lab results came back positive for a UTI, the doctor decided to admit her for treatment there. I could stop the sensation of free-falling - I had the sense of a safety net to catch me. A decision had been made and I knew what would happen now - more blood drawn and more waiting. 

At 6:15 I watched the lab tech go to another room to get samples after the nurse told him he needed to draw blood before she could start the antibiotic for Mom. I was furious with him for not rushing to my mother. Didn't he know we'd been here since noon! How could he calmly go to another room when his lab work was all that was needed to get the healing antibiotics coursing through my mother. It was like watching someone else cut in line ahead of us and I was way past my patience level and into the blame zone. It was his fault if my mother got worse! The nurse didn't insist strongly enough! Who was to blame for this whole thing anyway? I wanted to take names and kick a---!

Mom began a whining sound and was trying to find her way through all of the wires that connected her to the monitor so she could rub the area around her IV. We saw a dark red streak running up the vein from the IV and called the nurse. She was having a bad reaction to the antibiotic, so it required more consulting with the doctor and, guess what? More needle jabs and more waiting. By now Mom was sporadically able to respond, not always coherently, but she acknowledged the spasms were painful and hurting her back. We waited, and waited. I was hungry (hadn't eaten since breakfast at 8:30AM), tired, and pretty close to hostile by now. My sister was tired, hungry, and patient - how does she do it?

They finally got all of the paperwork done to admit Mom and the young man arrived to transport her to her room. (Here's where I want to insert how loving and gentle the caretakers are in these places. I'm amazed and grateful for their compassionate treatment of their patients.) After she was settled into her bed, the PM nurse came in and said, "Oh, she's here. Are you family?" My sister and I both nodded yes, and then she said the words that put me over the edge. "Good, while you're here I can get some history from you." 

I shot a look at my sister and she said, "Why don't you go home so you can eat and get some rest. I'll take it from here." I argued that it was just as much my responsibility as hers and that I'd stick it out until Mom was resting. She reminded me that it didn't take both of us to do what one could do, so leave. She wasn't hungry, she was tired, but was OK with staying and giving yet another history. I knew that if I had to give another history I'd probably be an a-- to the nurse and alienate her. Of course I wanted Mom to get the best possible considerate care, so the last thing I wanted to do was have her nurse pi---ed at me and dislike Mom because of it. I left.

As I walked to my car I looked at my watch and it was 7:25PM and I was completely exhausted. I'd left my house at 11:00AM with all of the best intentions to have a nice Saturday - getting all of the things on my "To Do" list accomplished and then possibly spending some down time watching a good movie after dinner. I had no other plans, but life interrupted and scattered my intentions like litter. I spent the day on an emotional roller coaster because we never know where life will take us. Can we ever prepare for these interruptions? I'm not sure, but I think the best we can do is ride them out like a surfer who's unsure of the wave, but has practiced enough to know his board and what it will do. I've invested the time, energy and practice to know myself  at least as well as that surfer knows his board - pretty sure of my assets and my limits. Knowing myself is the only possible preparation for when life interrupts my plans. Like the surfer, it's amazing when I catch a good wave and it's a learning experience when life comes along and wipes me out. While on some level yesterday was a wipe-out, on another much deeper level, it was another good teaching wave...

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