Saturday morning, Dec. 18, approx. 1:30 a.m.
“I think I need help!”
Mom is standing outside the door of her guest room, where I was sleeping. She’s gasping for breath and writhing in pain. She says she waited an hour before waking me up.
(Backstory: When I arrived last night, Mom told me that she sometimes feels “uncomfortable” at night. Knowing that she suffered a major heart attack some months ago, I prayed that I’d be there if it happened again.)
We call 911. Two paramedics and four firefighters, including the captain of the Fire Department, arrive shortly. They give first aid and then, siren shrieking and lights flashing, the ambulance delivers Mom to the hospital.
Hospital staff explain the severity of her attack, which involves a complete blockage. “Her condition is very grave,” they tell me. “What would she want?”
“I know what she wants,” I say. “She wants to live. She’s a very happy person. She loves life. She’s going to my brother’s for Christmas. Her great-grandkids are coming to visit next month.”
My brother, James, and his wife, a geriatric nurse, arrive.
Surgery is too risky, the doctors say. We agree.
I want her to see her grandkids and great-grandkids, some on their way from out of town and others in town.
“She won’t know them,” says Dr. N.
“Are you sure?”
He’s sure. “She won’t know them,” he insists. “She will never regain cognitive function.”
They leave Mom on IV meds. Her blood pressure drops.
We gather around to sing and pray. Through her mask, Mom says, “I have so much to be thankful for.”
“Thank you for being here with me,” she says to each of us–James, his wife (Donna) and me.
“I love you, Mom,” I say.
“I love you, too,” she answers.
We recite the 23rd Psalm. When we get to “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,” Mom joins in. (She remembers this later.)
The chaplain sings “Be Thou My Vision,” Mom’s favorite hymn.
We sing “Amazing Grace” and “Jesus Loves Me.”
I recite John 3:16 and John 1:12 (“As many as received Him . . .”)
“I can’t speak very clearly,” Mom apologizes through the mask.
“Yes, you can,” I counter. “You just said, ‘I can’t speak very clearly.’ ”
She laughs. (Mom remembers this later, too.)
Her blood pressure stabilizes, then starts to rise. My nephew comes. Mom thanks him for coming. Mom’s sister comes. She and Mom chat briefly.
James and Donna’s friend comes. Mom’s pleased to see him.
The mask is uncomfortable and no adjusting can make it right. Staff replace the mask with prongs as Mom’s respiration improves.
She sits up and chats freely. I crack a joke. She laughs, and the monitor shows deepening respirations.
She wonders . . . could she have breakfast?
After tea with toast and jam, Mom is moved upstairs to a cardiac ward. My husband, one of our daughters, and our son arrive. Mom is delighted to see them, but sorry that she worried them. Another daughter phones and she and Mom have a nice chat. Mom’s happy, but just a little disappointed that my brother can’t get the Nicaraguan connection of the family on Skype.
She will never regain cognitive function . . . she won’t know them.
Later in the afternoon, she’s moved to another ward. When we leave for the night, Mom says, “I’ve had a wonderful time.”
Sunday brings more visitors and work on a crossword puzzle in the newspaper.
On Monday the cardiologist is making his rounds. I ask him, “If a 90-year-old person had as severe a heart attack as my mom did, would you say she would never regain cognitive function, based solely on her age and the severity of the attack?”
He seems surprised at the question. “A total loss of cognitive function? Did someone tell you that?”
Yes, I answer without elaborating.
No, he answers, he wouldn’t predict that. In fact, Mom could well be home for Christmas, and should be able to continue living in the same situation.
She and I enjoy a Christmas carol concert at the hospital that afternoon.
In the evening, she finishes proofreading my nephew’s introduction to his Honours thesis. She’s found a few minor errors and is looking forward to reading the paper when it’s finished.
She writes Christmas checks for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and asks my brother to bring the solution to the crossword puzzle tomorrow.
she won’t know them
On Tuesday, a medical student informs us that there was no significant new damage to the heart from this, Mom’s second, heart attack.
Tommy and Tina have their great-grandma back.
Mom is discharged Wednesday afternoon. She delivers thank you cards to her current cardiac ward and to the Emergency ward.
Pity the poor clerk on Emergency. Even though Mom hands her the card in what is obviously a greeting card envelope, the woman thinks it’s her Health Care card. (Do you think maybe they don’t get many thank you cards on Emergency?)
” . . . Thou art my hope, O LORD God . . . ” Psalm 71: 5
for my “Advance Directive Warning.” Learn why many Advance Directives are flawed and can lead to needless suffering and premature death. I didn’t realize how badly they could be misinterpreted until Mom ended up in Emergency that Saturday morning.