(I started writing this on Saturday, September 20th. I’m going to leave a lot of the language to reflect this.)
Have you ever woken up and had no idea where you were? You remember getting there, sort of, but time is a blur. You know you’re not in your bed, but man, you can’t figure it out at first. You just ask, “What happened?”
I woke up this afternoon in a hospital room, and I could not remember anything.
As I opened my eyes and heard familiar voices and unfamiliar machines, I remembered:
I am in the ICU. My mom had a heart attack. I am napping in a chair.
First of all, it is very weird to receive a text message from your mom that reads as follows:
“Well? I’m in hospital. Had mild heart attack..just got in room. Do not worry. They put in a stent. Folks don’t know-just got room. T doesn’t know. IM FINE!!”
After getting out of work yesterday around 6, I checked my phone to find this message. I immediately called Jimmy. I told him I needed to pack a bag and that I’d be home as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, my job is about 45 minutes from home, and traffic doesn’t help anything. While driving, I called my aunt (who is an ICU nurse), who was already there with her. She’s my mom’s emergency contact.
If you’ve never driven while having a full nervous breakdown, I don’t recommend it. However, I realized I’m a pretty damn good driver if I can go through Chicago traffic safely with shaking hands and tear-soaked glasses.
By the time I got out to my mom in the suburbs, it was close to 8pm. I had Allysha, who is an ICU nurse too, drive with me. I didn’t know what to expect. My voice was hoarse from screaming at other drivers and crying at the same time, and I didn’t know if I’d break down at the sight of her. I could only assume the worst.
When we got there, my aunt said we couldn’t go in yet because they were removing the sheath from her stent. These words meant nothing to me, but I had two ICU nurses as guides to explain. I stepped into the lobby to update Jimmy, then the doctor said we could go in.
I expected breathing machines, stitches across her chest, ashy skin. She was sitting up in bed with her glasses on and an oxygen…thing…resting in her nose. She smiled and said she was happy to see me. What I wasn’t prepared for was the dried blood caked on her face and the huge gauze pad on her head.
“Mom, what happened? Tell me.”
She was cleaning the bathroom, really scrubbing it. Her bathroom has a stand-up shower stall and a glass door attached, and as she was washing the door, she suddenly felt very nauseous. She wretched and wretched, but nothing came up. Strange, she thought, and assumed it was the fumes. She still felt sick, so she took a minute to collect herself. As she started to feel better, she passed out. She knew it was coming and managed to land away from the door, but she cracked her head on the tile. She crawled to the bed where her phone was and knew something was really wrong. Towel in hand, she very slowly made it down to the living room couch, got a glass of water, and unlocked the door. She waited about one minute. By this time, she said it felt like someone was standing directly on her chest. She called 911 and realized she could hardly talk.
That’s about all she remembers. By the time the paramedics got her in the ambulance, her heart rate was below 30 bpm.
“Jesus, mom. That’s…that’s crazy.”
“I just knew something was wrong.”
“Did you think it was a heart attack?”
“By the time I got downstairs, I did. I told the paramedics, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack.’ But, as I sat there waiting, I was really relaxed. I thought I’d finally be able to get some sleep if I just go now.”
Last night was a whirlwind. I updated my grandparents, got dinner with Allysha, and made mashed potatoes with cheese to bring her in bed. When I got to her house to walk Edie and make potatoes, I went upstairs to check the damage. It was like CSI. I could see exactly where she hit her head and the trail of blood leading to the bed. I switched the loads of laundry, walked Edie, and brought mom food.
Mom, Tracy (her boyfriend/best guy ever), and I sat around the little tray and drank our sodas while she ate. She had to lay down for four hours after they removed the sheath, but by midnight, she was up in a chair and happy to be sitting.
“Are you tired at all?”
“:shakes head: But I might be after I eat a little. This bed hurts my back. My neck and head are killing me.”
“I think that’s from the whiplash when you landed on the tile.” (Tracy)
“Mom, I’ll stay here tonight with you. Tracy can get some sleep at home.”
“:shakes head again: No, he can sleep tomorrow. He’ll stay here, you go home and stay with Edie. Get some sleep.”
As I lay down last night in mom’s bed, Edie at my side, I found my emotions were quiet. I could have cried, I could have been angry, I could have laughed. But I didn’t. I only thought about two things: the future and my mother’s fulfillment. The cardiologist said she was incredibly lucky; there was likely no permanent damage to the heart. She was going to be okay.
So what happens next? What do we do?
Today was a bit more calm. I got to the hospital around 9am and hung out with her while Tracy went home to shower, sleep, and eat. My grandparents came by to see her, and we all laughed that it was the first time Grammy had been in the hospital as a visitor, not a patient. Around 1pm, I left to check on Edie, get Tracy and me lunch, and bring back some things for mom. When I got back around 2, both mom and Tracy were asleep next to each other, both snoring. I ate my Noodles and watched Bob’s Burgers on mom’s iPad, then reclined my chair, and we all took a nap together.
I can’t quite describe what this felt like.
When I was a kid, my mom and I would take naps together. We’d snuggle up next to each other and quote The Little Mermaid (“and they stared at each other all day. And it got very boring.”) Her hair smelled like shampoo, her clothes smelled like cigarettes and body lotion.
I still take naps with my mom. When I was student teaching last year, we would curl up in the late afternoon and talk about our stresses and what we could do to feel better. She smelled exactly the same.
But, as I laid across from her, with no warmth or contact, I felt like the mother. I watched her sleep, her heart monitor beeping proudly, and my own heart hurt. I wanted to cuddle up next to her, but I couldn’t. I just fell asleep beside her, hoping that our breathing would find a matching rhythm.
I went home tonight. I slept in my own bed, hugged my husband tight, and went to my friend’s house to be with the people outside of my family who choose to love me. It was dizzying. I was peaceful, yet I couldn’t help that part of my breathing was still in that hospital room.
I left early to go home and sleep. I’ll be going back out to the hospital tomorrow morning. As I circled the streets to find parking, I settled on a spot next to a flowerbed. The sickly orange glow of the street lights couldn’t hide the beauty I saw as I got out of the car.
Sunflowers. Big, open, dewy sunflowers. I plucked one from its stem and took it home to put in water. I settled on a beer bomber that Jimmy bought because it was called “Kate’s Weirdo Wit”. Trouble tried to eat part of it, which caused me to panic and assume bunnies can’t eat sunflowers. They can.
I need sleep. I need to be awake for my mom. My brain doesn’t know which one to settle on.
(The blog from here on out is in the present on Friday, September 26th.)
This feels like weeks ago, yet it’s still fresh in my mind.
Mom is home. She came home on Sunday, but she can’t drive, lift, or walk Edie. I’ve gone out every night, save for two. It’s funny how things work. Now that she’s forced to slow down, we’ve spent some really good time together. We’ve had good talks, shared some tasty (heart-healthy) meals, and started watching a TV show together. I feel like I’m a kid again and I can sleep easy.
But, something is still pulling. I think it’s time. I’m not a kid anymore, and my mom isn’t tucking me in. She’s much healthier now that all this is over, but she still needs help. And I can help.
I’m the age my mom was when she had me, a little older even. My mom was 24 when she gave birth and started raising a child. She planned me, and she wanted me. She felt ready to be a mom.
I have no earthly idea what that feels like. If I had a child right now, I’m sure I’d be totally fine and be a great mom. But, I don’t have that readiness she did. Not even close. I still refer to my mom as a “grown up”, while I am stuck somewhere between adult by age and adult by thought.
Until I reach that point, I will keep taking care of those I love, even if that care just means being the best daughter and adult I can possibly be.