Shake and deflate


Thursdays seem to be “doctor day” lately, last week we were at the family doctor for a check up and last Thursday, I was waiting with Miss Cathy to see another doctor-only this time it was in an emergency room.

Let me back up a moment and tell you how we got there. Tony called me on Wednesday to tell me that Nile, my niece was in the hospital with a collapsed lung. It was just one of those rare, freaky things that “just happen sometimes” and unfortunately it happened to her. Thank God she was at home taking summer classes and not back at school alone when it happened. I was in shock listening to him tell me about tubes, fluids, punctures, thoracic this ‘n that, trying to make sense of it all. The only thing I could focus on was that he said she was out of danger.

We did the dance of “You don’t have to come, it’s too far” and “Of course I want to be there” two-step that loved ones do with each other when one feels they’ve imposed enough with the news let alone adding to the burden by expecting the other to drop whatever they’re doing to be there and the recipient of the news feels impotent to help but wants to take some kind of action to show they care, even though they know they can’t affect any real change in the situation-so, showing up is usually as good as it gets. The only thing holding me back from leaving right then was the question of what (if anything) to tell Miss Cathy. I told Tony I was going to leave it was up to him and that he should take some time to decide if he wanted to tell her; running the risk of getting her upset by telling her or running the risk of getting her upset later on after the fact-it was pretty much a lose, lose situation.

He decided to call and tell her.

I was in the kitchen making myself some lunch after running errands all morning and taking a yoga class when she came into the kitchen in her nightgown to talk about the news. Her timing couldn’t have been worse because I was already running on fumes so I just couldn’t handle listening to her (not that she didn’t have every right to be upset). I just needed a moment to sit down and digest some food and the news about Nile before I could be any use to her. I felt as if I was being cold or that I was putting her off but I’m learning to take care of myself first (so that I can best be there for her later). It’s kind of like when you’re on an airplane and they instruct you (in case of emergency) to put your oxygen mask on first and then the child’s because you’re no good to them if you’re deprived of air-well, I felt like I needed to put my mask on first.

I could see some disappointment on her face as I told her that I needed just a little time to sit down and eat, then I would come and talk to her about Nile. She acquiesced and went back to her room. Through my open door I could hear her making calls, reaching out to share her pain but no one seemed to be there when she called.

Tony called back to tell me that she seemed to take the news okay and that she didn’t give him any indication to him that she wanted to come to the hospital so I took that as a sign that she might not want to go anywhere. I looked in on her a few times while I was supposedly “taking care of me first” but I couldn’t help it, I just wanted to make sure she was okay. What I saw was that she was restless and she just couldn’t sit still; first she was on the phone (in her nightgown), then when I looked in on her again she was fully clothed, with lipstick and her hat on sitting on the edge of her bed ready to go somewhere, so I asked, ”What’s going on?”

She didn’t answer, she just looked at me. A few minutes later, realizing I wasn’t going to be able to “put my mask on first” I went back into her room but she wasn’t there. I found her sitting on the sofa in the living room (back in her nightgown) looking sad and lost, her hands shaking just a little. Knowing that she’s a very nervous person and upsets easily (even before her diagnosis) I wasn’t surprised but I checked to make sure that she was “just upset” over her granddaughter and not about to have a seizure or a repeat of her disorientation and near collapse of a few weeks ago. I brought in the bowl of soup and toast on a tray that she’d left in the kitchen and sat with her to make sure she didn’t spill anything on herself while she ate, raising the spoon to her mouth with a trembling hand.

After she finished eating I suggested that she lie back down so we walked back into her room and we talked about Nile when she was comfortably under the covers. At the end of our talk she asked, “When do you think we can go to the hospital?” I told her we could go right then, but it would have to be in the next fifteen minutes to beat the impending rush hour traffic on the Beltway. Knowing that she couldn’t get packed and ready in that time frame she agreed that we wait until rush hour was over before making the drive to the Virginia hospital across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on interstate 95, which is notorious for accidents, delays, construction and traffic congestion (and that’s on a good day). I told her that we should take advantage of the wait by napping because it was probably going to be a long night, so she and I both lay down but neither of us got much of a rest.

Even though she didn’t sleep and was “up” she was very slow getting out of bed. Bt the time she was packed and ready to go it was 8:00pm. As luck would have it, traffic had died down so we were at Mary Washington Hospital in a little over an hour hugging Nile and Tony, Suemi and Zachary, Nile’s brother. They had all been at the hospital since early morning and I could see the concern on their faces, all except Nile, she looked great-considering (and I’m sure the Percoset drip didn’t hurt). With Miss Cathy and me there out little family was complete, Nile being the last addition to the family nineteen years ago. She was remarkably composed and alert, not at all what I expected from someone with a tube sticking out of their side and only one functioning lung. She was sitting up in bed chatting with us, seemingly more concerned for everybody else than herself.

Miss Cathy sat in the chair by the bed holding Nile’s hand as Tony filled us in on her condition, saying that it was still a matter of “wait and see” whether or not surgery was going to be necessary. It was after nine when we got there and we stayed for a few hours, Mary Washington being one of a few hospitals I’d ever been in that had such a liberal policy for visiting patients. But, it was getting late so we ended our visit and drove to Tony’s house, everyone exhausted from the day and anxious to get a little sleep before being back at the hospital in the morning.

By eight am Suemi, Miss Cathy and I were in the kitchen having breakfast; Zachary had to go to work and Tony had decided to take another day off from his job and was already at the hospital. I was sitting in the family room that opened onto the kitchen, Suemi was at the kitchen counter preparing snacks for everyone and Miss Cathy was at the kitchen table with her back to me, talking to her daughter in law. Knowing that she could sit there and talk forever I suggested that she might want to think about getting ready since it would take her awhile and I knew she was anxious to see her granddaughter.

She said, “I think I’ll just sit here and relax for a little while” which I thought was an odd response since all she’d been talking about was getting to the hospital but I shrugged, and decided to fire up my laptop to distract me from overhearing the conversation between the women that I’ve heard many time before. A few moments later I caught something out of the corner of my eye and it was Miss Cathy’s hands that were shaking. I got up to go to her just as the shaking started to take over her body, Suemi saw this happening at the same time and reached her first, cradling mom’s head against her side talking to her soothingly as the shaking became uncontrollably.

No sooner had I reached the sink to get her a glass of water when her eyes started to roll back in her head and she vomited the oatmeal she’d had for breakfast. Suemi said, “Call 911” and I fumbled with their landline, surprised by how quickly the situation had gone from familiar to chaotic, panicking a little myself, before calling the paramedics on my iPhone and regaining my footing. Suemi was brilliant, she was in control and calm and I followed her lead, grateful for once, not be alone to cope with the situation. By the time I’d given the 911 dispatcher the address and told her the situation Miss Cathy had stopped shaking and I could see that she had “come back to herself” (her eyes were newly focused and she was coherent). She seemed out of any immediate danger and said that she didn’t want to go to the hospital but she still wanted the EMS to come. She was understandable upset and started to cry a little, Suemi by her side to comfort her. I knew she was out of danger when she started barking orders that Duke, the dog needed to be put away before the emergency service workers arrived- even with vomit on her nightgown she was still trying to be in control.

We’d cleaned her up as best we could and she was trying to change out of her nightgown into a pair of pants by the time the paramedics arrived (which was under ten minutes). Two paramedics worked on her while a third asked her questions to ascertain her condition and to determine how alert she was. I jumped in when necessary (to correct some misinformation she had given) and I took a mental note that I should always carry my “Mom” notebook (which has all her medical history, prescriptions and all relevant information in it) with me at all times so that I’m better prepared in a situation like this.

When the medic asked her if she wanted to go to the hospital she said “yes” and burst into tears. I went to her this time (Suemi was out in the garage with the dog) and held her close as she sat in the chair crying, saying that she was afraid and embarrassed, her ego de-flated. I told her that I was there, that Suemi was there and nothing was going to harm her. I told her that all the people in the room were there to help her. By this time another team had arrived from an ambulance service and they put her on a gurney and drove her to the local hospital emergency room. I grabbed as much of her stuff as I could and followed in my car, Suemi waving from the open garage door saying she’d be there soon.

We stayed in room 10 of the emergency room for about four hours while they took an EKG and chest x-ray. She’d calmed down considerably and slowly became her usual “Chatty Cathy” self with the nurses. The doctor examined her early on and came back a few hours later with the test results, which confirmed that her episode was anxiety related. Her blood sugar and pressure were understandably elevated so they wanted her to stay for awhile and relax until her levels could stabilize then I could take her home. This would be the third time she was in the emergency room due to a nervous response to a situation; it was obvious that she couldn’t handle stress anymore.

Once we were home I got her comfortably into bed where she napped for the rest of the day. I’d already talked to Suemi in the emergency room about what we needed to do moving forward and later I called Tony at the hospital where he was still waiting to hear from the doctor about Nile’s condition to tell him that Miss Cathy was okay. We all agreed that what happened to mom confirmed what we’d suspected all along. We decided that it was best that we no longer tell her anything that could upset her. She just can’t handle bad news or stressful situations anymore; it’s not good for her health.

While she was resting I washed her soiled clothes, refilled her meds and got back to some our day-to-day routine. Then I lay down for a nap myself and slept like a dead man for four hours, waking up at 7 pm to check in on Miss Cathy and she was sitting up in bed watching television.

Post script: On Saturday afternoon Nile was released from the hospital after her lung had “re-flated” without the need for surgery. Her prognosis is good and she should be able to return to her hectic, active lifestyle as a co-ed in a few weeks, but since this happened to she has a recurrence rate of 30% in her lifetime.

As for Miss Cathy, she woke up on Friday feeling like her old self, “pumped up” as good as new. Her cousin, Mary came to the apartment with her daughter Juanita for a visit and that lifted her spirits but nothing made her happier than finding out on Saturday that Nile was home. I could hear her on the phone talking to Tony offering to come over to “take care” of Nile while she was convalescing-completely oblivious that “she’s” the one in need of care.

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