If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother

Ok, time to tell the story. It’s long. It’s sad. Get some coffee or something.

November 18, 2000

I spoke with my mother that afternoon. She was getting ready for work and was in a good mood. I asked her if she would watch the kids Sunday afternoon, because I wanted to go out for a while to celebrate my birthday. Of course she said ‘yes’. She loved the kids more than anything in the world.

The phone rang about an hour later. “Your mother had an accident. She’s on her way to the hospital.”

“What kind of accident? What happened?”

“She fell off the balcony. The railing broke. She stopped breathing. I did CPR on her.”

Dammit. Those kinds of phone calls suck. One minute, you’re cruising along in your life and everything is fine. The next minute, you’ve been hit by a two by four.

She was throwing the squirrels bread from the balcony (like she did every day), and she leaned on the railing and it broke.

My daughter was just walking in the door from school. I told her to get in the car. We picked up her little brother from school and went to the hospital.

The three of us walked in emergency and saw him – looking like a ghost, wringing his hands, saying, “She is pretty bad.”

“How bad? Where is she?”

“They took her for a CAT scan.”

At that moment the emergency room folks wheeled her past us. I only recognized her because her arm was showing. She had a tattoo of a wolf. I told the kids to ‘sit’, and I followed the wolf. They wheeled her into a room. I followed. There must have been five or six people scurrying around doing stuff.

The doctor bent over her and said, “You have ruptured your spleen. We are taking you into surgery. You have quite a few broken ribs and two broken discs in your back. You also broke your elbow, but we’ll worry about that later. Right now, we need to get this spleen taken care of.”

She moaned, then turned her head and saw me. Her eyes were black as coal. She just starred at me.

I finally said, “Yeah, mom, I’m here.”

Everything the doctor said was beginning to sink in. This wasn’t good. My legs turned into jello, and the edges of my peripheral vision started turning black. I leaned back against the wall to keep from falling down. I knew I could not faint in here and take the medical attention away from her.

She said, “I love you. Tell the kids I love them.”

I said, “I love you too, mom.”

Those were the last words we shared.

They wheeled her out of the room as fast as they wheeled her in.

I called the kid’s dad to come pick them up. Poor little things looked scared to death. As we waited for dad, I assured them that everything would be fine. Then I put them in dad’s car, and I headed to the second floor waiting room.

I don’t know how long we were in there, but finally, the doctors came in and said they removed her spleen and she was ok. However, they found a lot of blood around her heart. They did not know if she had any heart damage and were taking her to do another procedure with a catheter to look at her heart.

We moved back to the first floor to another waiting room and waited some more.

Again, I don’t know how long we waited, but they finally told us that her heart was fine. The blood was not coming from any leaks or tears in the heart muscle.

They moved her into ICU, and we waited in yet another waiting room until they let us see her.

Walking into her ICU room was almost too much. Heart monitor beeping, ventilator breathing for her, back brace, arm in a sling, IVs and tubes running in and out and everywhere else. They had put her on paralyzing medication to keep her asleep and still. That was probably a good thing.

The next day, Sunday, they took her off the meds, and she opened her eyes while I was with her. Her forehead was wrinkling, so I asked her if she wanted pain medication, and she nodded. They doped her up and she went back to sleep.

The next morning, I arrived at the ICU visitation time and was with her for only two or three minutes when the nurse came in. She asked me to leave the room so they could take her off the ventilator. Thank goodness. I hated that thing. I’m sure she did too.

I headed down to the cafeteria to get some tea and a bagel or something. As I was just starting to sit down, the loud speaker said, “DR. AL, ICU WEST, STAT, CODE BLUE.”

There were only two patients on west, and that was her doctor’s name.

I knew something went terribly wrong. I threw the food in the trash and headed outside to smoke a cigarette. What else could I do? I was the most helpless and useless person in the hospital at that point.

When I returned to ICU, the chaplain was pacing, looking for me. He said something went wrong and she ‘coded’. Yeah, I already figured that out. Yet another wait. The chaplain sat with me.

At the time, I worked at a large non-denominational Christian church. My Senior Minister was Jewish. My other two bosses were Christian Ministers. My mother and her best friend practiced Wicca. Her other close friend was a Catholic Priest.

The poor hospital chaplain asked what religion we were. I wanted to laugh. “I think we have it all covered,” I replied, “unless, of course, you know any Muslims who will pray for us.”

Finally, her doctor came out and said, “She stopped breathing. She coded.”

I said, “Yeah, I know that. What happened? Is she ok?”

He said, “She’s stable right now, but I don’t know how long she was without oxygen and don’t know the state of her brain. It is possible that there is brain damage, but we’ll have to wait and see when she wakes up.”

That was the last time I ever saw him.

Suddenly all the hospital staff started disappearing when I came around. They were all acting strange. No one would look at me. No one would answer any questions. No one came in the room when I was there.

The real kick in the butt was that my mother was a nurse. She was in charge of the cardiac step-down unit. She was injured at the hands of her colleagues.

Finally, her girlfriend (also a nurse) came in, opened her chart, and started crying. She said, “She was without oxygen for 15 minutes. See here? You can see on the strip where they were doing CPR on her. I’m surprised she’s alive. She’s not going to wake up.”

Over the next three weeks, she opened her eyes, but there was no life in them. She did not look around or respond to sounds or voices or anything. Her temperature would spike for no reason, she was starting to develop sores on her heels, and her muscles were starting to atrophy. Her wrists and ankles were starting to become deformed.

We eventually moved her to a rehabilitation center, but the staff said they could not get any response out of her either. I didn’t expect them to.

After almost nine months of visitation, tears, anger, and pain, she finally died on July 12, 2001.

I miss her.

“Happy Mother’s Day, Momma…and I did tell the kids what you said.”

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