I have been AWOL from my blog, Twitter and the TV screen for the past couple of weeks. I’ve also been absent from my building site and pretty much every other aspect of my ‘normal’ life, too.
Instead, I’ve been by my mother’s side, almost nonstop, since Sunday the 2nd of August. She had a spinal operation on July 30th. It was a very necessary op; the risk of having it meant she could end up in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, but without it there’d be no ‘could’ about it. She would have definitely lost the use of her legs, and so she felt the risk was worth taking. The good news is the spinal operation went very well. I went to visit her the day after the operation (she has no recollection of this at all now) and she seemed tired but well. This was Friday.
Sunday morning I awake to find two missed calls and messages from the hospital asking me to call them as my mum has deteriorated in the night. I get straight in the car and over to the hospital where my mum is in the high dependency intensive care unit. They stopped me going over to where I can see her unconscious and hooked up to (what looked like) a tangle of tubes and wires. They say I can return shortly but we need to have a talk first.
I’m taken to a little room, obviously a ‘relative’s room’ like I’ve seen in films and on Casualty. I’m left there alone for what seemed like an age but was probably only a few minutes. A sofa, two chairs and a box of pre-prepared tissues for company.
The doctor and nurse return to tell me mum’s organs are shutting down. Lungs, kidneys, liver and heart. They tell me it’s an hour by hour situation. It really could go either way but with her being 80, diabetic, and a list of other reasons, it would be a good idea to contact family members. All my siblings are in America.
Crash. Inside I’ve hit a brick wall at 100mph. This can’t be. Okay, well it must be. I can see it with my own eyes. I see the nurses bringing new bags of blood for her as they smile pityingly and sympathetically as I stay by her side hour after hour. She wakes, I speak with her. She is very weak but knows I’m there. They fit her with a special type of oxygen mask which resembles a diver’s helmet and helps her to breathe. I keep everything from her at this time as I know that her being frightened could make things worse. I keep up the act and keep smiling and making little jokes so she feels all is normal and this is just a small infection she needs to rest from. She looks up at me and asks in her tiny, weak voice “nothing drastic’s going to happen, is it?”. I almost crack but, instead, stay strong.
“Don’t be silly, mum. You just need to rest, you’re doing great!” – I felt terrible lying to her but had to just wait.
Hours later a different doctor and nurse asked me back to the relative’s room. They said she was being ‘very heavily supported’ after being resuscitated. The breathing machine was up to 80% and if she kept going in that direction then the only two options would be to either let nature take its course or for her to be hooked up to a life support machine which would render her paralysed and unconscious and only offer her a small percentage of survival. They said I should speak to my family and find out what we thought she would want to do if and when it came to it.
I went outside and called my brother and his wife. I held it together as I apologised for having to give them this news. I had been holding it together all day. Finally, I broke down. I just wanted my mum back at home. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. My brother phoned my other brother and sister as I headed back to the ward.
Back in 1998 my father had gone into hospital for a heart bypass operation. He had, like mum, said it was a risk worth taking and, like mum, was looking forward to the new lease of life it was offering. Sadly, he never came out but died with hope in his heart. All of this came back to haunt me as I sat by her side. It had niggled me prior to her going in but I put those thoughts aside and now, here I was, preparing myself for the worst.
After a very long day my mum said I looked tired and should go home to get some sleep. I went back to her house and slept for a few hours. When I returned she had slightly improved though they were still talking about the prospect of moving her to another hospital for kidney dialysis, although that in itself carried hefty risks. I suddenly felt like a penny had dropped in my mind.
Mum’s improving! Of course! What was I thinking? Why had I just accepted what the medical team had said? They were speaking with the knowledge they had but there was one thing they didn’t know. My mum! My mum is feisty, strong, a battler. They had been seeing her as a frail, little old lady but I knew that wasn’t her. I just knew she had to pull through so I went into (almost) full denial that anything could go wrong.
I stayed with her making her smile. She didn’t have the energy to laugh but I could tell her spirits were lifted. I pointed out the resemblance between her oxygen ‘helmet’ and a ‘Minion’. Minions are characters from the children’s film ‘Despicable Me’. This amused her. She said I ought to take a picture of her and send it to my siblings so it would make them smile and reassure them she’s okay as she still has her sense of humour. “Umm, really mum? You don’t think it’s a little poor taste to be taking pics of you like this? Although you’re fine it may make them worry”. She insisted. I found a picture of a Minion and put them side by side with the caption ‘spot the difference’! My brothers and sister appreciated it and it made them laugh, just as mum had said it would.
I kept my emails to my sister and brothers upbeat and light whilst keeping them informed every step of the way. I gave regular updates on Facebook for mum’s other family and friends, but I was very careful not to let on how bad it had been as I didn’t want to scare people like her sister, in Australia, who were too far away to do anything but worry.
My sister decided to come over from America. By this time mum had stopped being ‘herself’. She was saying strange things like the computer gave her a bed bath, she was also hallucinating. The doctors said there was a possibility she’d had a stroke (we later learned she’d had a ‘mini stroke’) and she may have some brain damage but they wouldn’t be able to do a scan to check until she was off the intensive care ward. I had to call in to work and get the day off as, otherwise, my sister would have arrived to this distressing situation and been on her own with her for several hours waiting for me to return. QVC were wonderful. Karen, our scheduler, had already been struggling with cover due to presenter sickness but she couldn’t have been more supportive. It meant so much. I was able to meet with my sister and prepare her before she saw mum.
Days went by and mum, gradually, made improvements. Finally the minion mask was removed. The doctors were amazed at her miraculous turnaround! Every day a little more ‘mum’ showed up until, finally, she was discharged from intensive care back to the regular ward. We were so relieved and amazed. We had first prepared ourselves to lose her completely and then, perhaps an even harsher blow, to lose the mum we knew but get this new one who just wasn’t really our mum. She got through it all! She’s back to her old self!
She was desperate to come home. There was a waiting list for home help, however, that would’ve meant leaving her in the hospital for another two weeks. I had booked two weeks off a while back in order to push forward with my house so decided to get her home. My sister had to fly back to the States the morning after the evening mum came back, so it’s been me and mum back at hers for a week now. I really missed my sister as we had become a great little team of three together.
Mum is doing brilliantly. She can’t do much for herself yet, apart from feeding herself and walking a little with a wheeled walker when necessary, but she’s home and it’s my privilege to be her nurse. We’ve got a bit of a routine going now and we love spending time together. Sometimes it’s hard to see her struggle and taking so many different medications to keep her going but it’s the very best it can be and every day there’s improvement.
My mum is very lucky to live in warden-assisted housing. It’s a lovely little community of houses with an incredible resident manager, Irene, who has lived there caring for people for over four decades. I know she is in safe hands and she has emergency pull cords in every room for when I go back to work this weekend. I will still be staying with her for as long as she needs me but nipping off to work, too.
I’ve missed you all so much. I think I’ll feel very nervous the first time I go back on air, like it’s my first day all over again. It feels like a lifetime ago since I was there even though I did a couple of shifts during the early part of all this. Be gentle with me! I’ll probably be a bit rusty!
I’ll just finish this extraordinarily long blog by saying don’t give up. Miracles can happen. They didn’t for my dad but it was better he went believing in them than going defeated before he even reached the finish line. Keep hope, keep smiling and make the most of every day.
Thank you for reading, I’ll see you at the weekend!
Lots of love,