There are those moments in each of our lives when our world threatens to come crashing down on top of us. When we feel completely alone and afraid and helpless. For me, one of those moments was just before Midnight in a dimly lit hospital room… Tuesday night.
Ten days prior, I had driven Mom from her home in Nashville to come stay with us for a couple of weeks, while my sister was in Italy for a month on a work-related trip. We had just come off of a weekend of soccer tourney games and Mother’s Day ~ I was so grateful to have Mom with us, even though she was not feeling her best.
But after coughing all night Monday, Mom wanted me to take her to the doctor when I got home from school on Tuesday afternoon. By mid-morning she decided she needed to go right away, and so Mark took her to our neighborhood Urgent Care, where she was diagnosed with a bad upper respiratory cold and given prescriptions for an antibiotic and cough medicine. “Rest” was what she needed. Mark got her settled and then had to leave for a work trip, planning to return the following day.
When I pulled into the driveway at 1:00, Mom was waiting for me. She insisted on going to the ER. I tried to convince her otherwise, telling her this was not necessary, that we just needed to go pick up her medicines and get her into the bed. I am sad to admit that I was frustrated because I thought it was totally ridiculous, not a good idea, and she was overreacting. It was a bad cold, nothing more.
But she was adamant. I did not understand how awful she felt. And turns out… she was right.
Oh, child… Listen to your Mother.
With Mom in her nightgown and housecoat, we arrived at the E.R. She had not even felt well enough to get dressed. Leading her into the hospital, I cringed as the doors opened for us; I had never seen the waiting room so full.
“What brings you in?” the attendant asked. I explained my mother’s doctor visit, and that basically it was her cough that was bringing her to the Emergency Room. I felt silly saying it ~ once again, I am ashamed to admit that. So with all of those very ill people waiting, we were going to be triaged — triaged with “a cough” as her symptom. But Mom was also weak… so very weak… as weak as I had ever seen her.
After the first couple of hours, I realized this would be a while, so I got Mom situated and rushed home to get my phone charger and laptop so I could get work done; I had a couple of deadlines on which I was already late, and of course I needed my phone. I had been texting back and forth with Mark and friends, arranging rides to and from soccer for Charlie, dinner for the three kids, and arranging for my nephew and Mark’s father to alternate being at the house with the kids until I knew more. And most importantly, I had been texting with my sister, thousands of miles away in Italy, as she was looking into flights in case she needed to plan an early exit.
It truly takes a village.
Mom and I waited seven hours together in that Emergency Room. But Mom’s chest X-rays eventually landed her in a room down the hall. By 8:00, I knew this was more serious than a cough. But I still had no answers.
By 9:00, I was scared. Mom had said something about this being the end of her, and guessing it was time to go see Daddy. That is not like my Mother. (For those of you who know Brenda, and know how she had been such an amazing, tender-but-fierce wife taking intense care of my father the last ten years of his life, you know that these are not words that would typically come from her mouth.) It was at this point that I texted Mark: “I think something big might actually be wrong with her. She really doesn’t seem right.” Mark said he was heading home and would be there by 1:00am.
By 9:30, Mom was hooked up to an IV and receiving fluids — her sodium and potassium were significantly low. By 10:45, the nurse let me know they’d be admitting her to the hospital. Even in her misery, I knew Mom had to be relieved. Someone finally understood.
But it’s what happened one hour later that shattered me. One of those life moments that I mentioned in the first sentence of this story. That moment when the world threatens to crash down on top of you. And despite all of the care and love and support from so many loved ones you know you will be able to lean on, it still leaves you feeling desperately ALONE. And HELPLESS. And AFRAID.
At 10:45, as we had just transferred Mom into her hospital bed, her night nurse pointed to the monitor and turned to me: “So you know about the diagnosis…“. I did not, but before I could say anything, she uttered those three words that my sister had been dreading as our worst nightmare, but words that had not even crossed my mind… in relation to my mother. That diagnosis was my father’s personal cross to bear, NOT my mother’s…
It took me a full hour before I could face it. But I knew it had to be done, so as I stood there shivering and with tears streaming down my neck, I texted my sister across the ocean — and I felt engulfed in disbelief. It was her worst fear. But Sheri was a rock, and in that time of turmoil, her words were soothing to me… I could write for hours about her strength and wisdom and selflessness.
And then I texted Mark.
Congestive heart failure.
The next hours were a nightmare — a surreal and blurry one. Just after midnight, the signs along this roadside got very real. Diuretic to draw fluids from her body. Heart monitor with various colored probes attached. Lovenox shots in her tummy. “I used to inject that into my husband,” Mom matter-of-factly told the nurse as he leaned over her. Did Mom understand what was going on? How was I going to possibly tell her the diagnosis? Would she have the will to fight? She knows this road. She has lived it already… and she could have written the materials in the “Congestive Heart Failure” folder that Jackie had just obligatorily presented to me. I set the folder face-down on the far corner of the desk.
By 1:20am, Sheri had booked a flight home. She would be in Nashville by Thursday night and in Louisville on Friday. God, how I needed her with me.
There are few comforts in life like a big sister.
At 1:30am, Mark met me in the parking lot with random things I needed to get through the night: contact solution and lens case, eyeglasses, and warm yoga pants. But what I really needed was to return to Mother’s Day, next to my Mom in church, enjoying her beautiful singing voice that I had known since childhood.
At 2:30am, I noticed what had been entered into Mom’s file on the computer monitor in her room: Highest risk level for VTE at Level 5. That meant I could add fear of stroke to our list. The tunnel suddenly got darker. So after Mom’s sleeping meds, anti-nausea meds, an oxygen mask and more blood work, we got 90 minutes of sleep before 7:00am Wednesday morning. It was time for her echocardiogram — the tests that would tell us what we really needed to know: How much damage had her heart endured?
At some point that morning, my sister in law slipped in and blessed my Mom with a prayer for healing and marked her forehead with oil — just as she had done for my father days before he left this world. This was too surreal; had I dreamt it?
Time was progressing, and my sister and I knew it was time to let Mom know what was happening. So at 10:00am, I dialed Sheri and handed the phone to Mom — and Sheri calmly explained the diagnosis to her. I examined Mom’s face closely, trying to scan her eyes for an expression of defeat. But I found none. Sheri must have soothed her, too. Mom and I held each other, and then she closed her eyes to rest. The waiting continued. Oh, the waiting…
It was just before Noon when we finally saw a doctor for the first time since we had walked through those ER doors 24 hours earlier. We had some answers. Mom showed atypical pneumonia in her lungs, what most likely triggered what they had diagnosed as heart failure. She had some ancillary infections, but our hope was being placed in the echo results. Our family knows all about those. We needn’t be told about the importance of a high ejection fraction.
It was not until Thursday morning at 10:30 that we received the news we had been anxiously awaiting. The doctor walked through the doorway and told us the results.
Friends, I believe in miracles. I believe in answered prayer. I believe that our bodies can absolutely do ALL things through Christ who strengthens us. Was this what had happened when the doctor walked into Room 423 and told my Mom and me that the echo actually showed that Mom’s heart was in great (he may have even used the word perfect) condition? That she could be released that very day, as soon as they prescribed her viral pneumonia medication and raised her potassium levels with a pill? Had we just witnessed something much, much bigger than our limited minds can comprehend?
How we went from “Tuesday Night” to “Thursday Morning” with its full gamut of emotions… I will never know. Was it an early misdiagnosis? Or was it miraculous mercy on my family…
Mom is back home now, resting in the sacred space she shared with Dad for almost 50 years. Our lives will go on, but not without the lessons we learned in those three days. Perhaps I should have titled this blog “Thursday Morning”. But that would leave out the messy that makes the beautiful so powerful. The messy is what transpired in those hours, allowing the beauty of Thursday to be revealed. And in reflection, I cannot help but be reminded of one of my favorite Scriptures — and the final lesson those days taught me:
Weeping may last for the night,
But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
~ Psalm 30:5b