This was supposed to be the schedule for Thursday.
5 AM: Get up.
5:30: Arrive at my parents’ apartment to get us to the ambulatory surgery unit of the hospital.
6:00: Wait in the waiting room until surgery because only one person is allowed to be with the patient in the unit.
8:00: Dad has laparoscopic hernia repair surgery while Mom and I grab breakfast at the hospital cafeteria.
9:00: Surgery complete. Talk to doctor. Mom waits for him to be brought back to his cubby in the ambulatory surgery unit while I drive to church for
10:00: Millie’s funeral, where my daughter Trinity is singing in the choir. After the funeral, attend the funeral luncheon in the church hall.
1 PM: Check in with my parents by phone to see if there is a release time set for Dad yet. Drop off my daughter at home and get to the hospital to bring my parents home and get them settled, perhaps in time to attend
4:30: Poetry workshop.
6:00: Dinner with my daughter, followed by rest, attending to email, phone call with my husband who is traveling for business this week, television, etc.
We followed the schedule until 7:35 AM.
Dad was all ready to be brought down to the operating room and Mom came to get me from the ambulatory unit waiting room so we could re-locate to the OR waiting room. As we neared Dad’s cubby, Mom got really dizzy, grabbing onto a spare gurney in the hallway for support. We were just outside Dad’s cubby, so we navigated to a recliner next to his gurney. I got her a sip of water from the bottle she had with her, hoping she was just a bit dehydrated, but it didn’t help. She started to zone in and out of responding to my and Dad’s questions and we were becoming alarmed. Just then, a transport person arrives to bring Dad to surgery and he helps me to get nurses there to help Mom.
Suddenly, we have at least half a dozen people in the tiny cubby, so I have to step out into the hall. I hear someone say her pulse is twenty. They put her on oxygen, which seems to help her pulse a bit. Her skin is clammy. She is continuing to zone in and out of awareness. Sometimes, she could answer a question from the medical team, but more often my father would. Yes, she had eaten some breakfast at 5 so she could take her meds. From the hall, I chime in to let people know that I am their daughter, that Mom has a history of TIA. The staff calls for a team to come up from emergency to bring her down for evaluation, as it is clear something is really wrong. Snatches of prayer mixed in with the jumble of thoughts in my head.
Meanwhile, the OR is waiting for my Dad. It has only been about five minutes, I think; my perception of time is distorted by so much happening at once. They ask Dad if he wants to postpone surgery, but I tell him to go, that I would take care of Mom. On a practical level, we had to get Dad’s gurney out of the cubby in order to get the transport gurney in to take Mom to the emergency room and I knew that with Dad under anesthesia in the OR, at least he would not be worrying about Mom for a little while. There really wasn’t anything he could do; we both needed to let the professionals do what they needed to do.
They lift Mom onto the gurney and attach her line to a portable oxygen tank, as they had initially attached it to the central wall unit. They rush her down a patient elevator to the ER – one of the few things my mom remembers between the initial dizziness and being in the ER was that she told them it was a rough ride – and the nursing supervisor takes me down by another route. When I arrive outside the curtained area where they are working on her, Mom is able to answer some questions on her own, but I am able to help with some of the them. Frustratingly, a new computer system had gone in to the hospital in June, so they weren’t able to bring up her information easily. I had to give addresses and contact numbers. I have my mom’s pocketbook in which she carries a complete list of her medications, which was a huge help. Meanwhile, the ER team is getting monitors attached and I hear them tell my mom within a few minutes that she is having a heart attack. I also hear her surprised reaction. She isn’t having chest pain, but does have a pain in her back.
At this point, they had IVs started and they let me go back to be beside Mom. They give her baby aspirin to chew and administer heparin and plavix. The pain in her back goes away. They tell us there are clots or blockages that need to be cleared in the cath lab, that the cardiologist on emergency call is getting ready to do that, that the aspirin and other blood thinners have relaxed the vessels enough to help the blood circulate better so that the back pain went away, that we are lucky she was already in the hospital when she had the heart attack so that treatment was started very quickly because that tends to lead to better outcomes, although not guarantees. Mom tells me I should still go to the funeral; she is worried about my sisters, who are together on a Florida vacation, and Dad. I tell her that I will handle everything, that she needs to concentrate on herself right now.
She is wheeled up to the heart catheterization lab – on a much cushier and more shock-absorbent ER gurney – and a nurse brings me first to the OR waiting room to tell them what has happened and then to the cardiac waiting room. Although it feels like a long time has passed, it’s not yet 8:30. My dad’s in the OR, my mom’s in the cath lab, and I’m alone. I call my husband, Brent. I guess the first words out of my mouth were, “I need you to come home.” Because I did. I tell him what is going on and that I would call back as I know more. He needs a couple of hours before he can leave anyway. As I wait, I am making lists in my head of how and when to tell people. I knew I couldn’t tell my daughter until after the funeral. I was hoping she wouldn’t get too worried when she realized I wasn’t in the congregation; the choir is in the front of the church, so she would be able to see that I hadn’t arrived. I post a vague Facebook message asking for prayers/good thoughts for my parents. I couldn’t be specific because I didn’t want our older daughter, six hours earlier in time zones so it was still the middle of the night, to see a post that her grandmother had had a heart attack first thing when she woke up in the morning. I needed to make sure that my sisters didn’t find out via social media, too. And I needed to be able to give good news about what I was praying would be successful treatment. As much as I wanted company in the frightened, shocked place where I was, I didn’t want to subject anyone else to it, although I had already, by necessity, dragged my husband into it. And I wasn’t sure if I would need to be the one to tell my father after he was out of recovery. And, more than anything, I needed to have two successful outcomes to report.
Dr. T, my dad’s surgeon comes in at ten of nine. Dad’s surgery had gone well and he is in recovery. Dr. T knew what was going on with my mom and had decided to admit him for a day or two, because he is 89 and because it would be easier for us. Obviously, the plan for him to go home with my mom to look after him was not going to happen. He had tried to see if he could put them in the same hospital room, but my mom would have to go to the cardiac unit, which only has private rooms. Dr. T says that it was very lucky my mom had already been in the hospital when the heart attack happened. I call my husband with the update and resume alternately pacing or sitting, staring into space. I had reading material and my iPad but couldn’t concentrate enough to use them. The CBS morning news on the waiting area television finishes and a repeat of Queen Latifah starts. She is congratulating Boston on the successful marathon. Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts was originally April 19th. My parents’ wedding anniversary. Sixty years. More prayers.
At about 9:25, Dr. K., the on-call cardiologist comes out. Mom had had two blocked arteries that they had opened through angioplasty and that were now being held open with stents. Another report of how lucky she was to have already been in the hospital. I need to wait there and they will come get me when my mom is ready to be moved to her room. I call my husband again with the news. We are so thankful and relieved. Our conversation is brief; he needs to finish getting ready to leave. I am alone again, but feeling an intense need to talk to someone. Someone with whom I am used to sharing personal and spiritual issues. I want to call my friend and spiritual companion Yvonne, but I can’t remember her phone number, which is stored in the cell phone my husband has with him. I use my iPad – and the hospital’s free wifi – to search for her home phone and call. She is home and we speak for about ten minutes, which calms me down a bit, helpful as I have gone from the paralysis of numb anxiety into a phase where I am feeling jittery.
While I was speaking to Yvonne, my sister Kathy had called the cell phone that my husband had, because it is the one I usually carry. She was looking for news on my dad, as she had expected a call by then. He had to tell the story to her. It was a blessing that she hadn’t called until Mom was out of the cath lab, so that he could tell her that she and Dad were both okay. I missed Brent’s call while talking to Yvonne, so I call him, find out that he has spoken to Kathy and call her, using my mom and dad’s cell, which is in my mom’s pocketbook. We only speak briefly because a nurse comes to take me back to my mom, who is being moved to the cardiac care unit.
The nurse tells me that my mom and dad have met up in the hallway outside of the recovery area. They got to talk and hold hands for a moment. They got to see that they are both all right. My dad says not to make him laugh because laughing makes his belly hurt, but just saying it makes him chuckle. The nurses all think that they are an amazing couple. I know that they are. Later, my mom, who was only under sedation in the cath lab, will remember this hallway encounter. My dad, who had been under anesthesia, loses the memory from this point in his recovery process.
I ride up in the elevator with my mom and wait in another waiting room while they get her settled in her room and attached to all the monitors. When a nurse comes to get me, I first have to stop at the desk for a phone call. Another nurse is calling to tell me my father’s room number. She had also been witness to their hallway meeting. My parents are adorable and we were so lucky that my mom was already in the hospital when she was stricken. I thank her and tell her that I know how lucky I am to have them.
Other than the fact that my mom is not allowed to move her right leg where the catheter had been threaded from her groin up to her heart and that she needs to keep her head back on the pillow and still, she is amazingly chipper. We talk about everything that has gone on and I let her know of the few people that know what has happened. I need to make more calls and I need to get to church after the funeral to tell Trinity. Mom says that she will make phone calls so I can make a visit to Dad’s room and then head to church, where I can tell Trinity and we can attend the luncheon.
Dad is resting in his room, still a bit groggy from the anesthesia. We talk about how lucky we are that Mom is okay. He says they are the talk of the hospital. They have promised to take him down in a wheelchair to visit her a bit later in the afternoon, after they have both had a chance to rest. I let him rest and head out to the church. It’s a little after 11:00.
As I near the church, I see the funeral procession on its way to the cemetery. I go into the church hall and ask the choir member who had driven Trinity to church for choir warmup before the funeral if she knows where Trinity is. She is still in church. She has a worried look on her face and I tell her that Nana and Paco are both doing fine. Then, I deliver the first of several shortened renditions of the story. Right before Paco was brought down to surgery, Nana had a heart attack. They took her to the ER and then the cath lab and put in two stents. Paco’s surgery went well. Now they are both in the hospital for a couple of days, but everything is fine. We are very lucky her heart attack took place at the hospital. Trinity gives me a long hug, which I definitely needed.
We only told a few people at the funeral luncheon what had happened. Several people that we had known for a long time. Three priests whom we asked for prayers. Most importantly, Millie’s daughter Nancy, our good friend and Trinity’s godmother. I told her I was sorry to have missed the funeral, but, of course, she understood, reminding me that her father, who was sitting close by would not have survived a cerebral hemorrhage years before were it not for the fact that it had happened while he was already in the hospital.
In a way, even though I was not physically present at the funeral, I was there in a spiritual sense. I had written the universal prayer that closes the liturgy of the word before the liturgy of the Eucharist begins. Nancy, all three priests, and a friend who had also participated in reading the petitions thanked me for the words I had written. I was heartened to know that my words enabled me to have a presence in Millie’s funeral in my absence.
Trinity and I leave the luncheon a bit after 1:00, which meant that our older daughter, Beth, would be up and about in Honolulu. While I drove to the hospital, Trinity calls Beth to fill her in. We go to Nana’s room to visit and to Paco’s room. Brent arrives and we alternate rooms for visiting. My dad’s room in particular can’t easily accommodate three visitors at once.
The next two days are filled with visits back and forth to the hospital. My dad gets a couple of visits to my mom’s room, which are good for both of them. They are both discharged on Saturday, a process which winds up taking over five hours.
Last night, they got to sleep in their own beds. They need to take it easy for a few days. Mom has some new meds added to her daily regimen. Follow-up visits need to be scheduled. Dad’s incisions and muscles will heal. Due to the speed of re-opening the arteries, Mom has no damage to her heart. They have very few restrictions and will be able to ease back into their social and exercise routine over the coming days/weeks. We are so thankful that they are doing so well and are very grateful for the care they received.
But my dad still wants to know, as he kept joking, if the hospital gives discounts. He thinks two for the price of one should apply.