Bleeding out and the Frightened Child
My mother is on Coumadin to prevent blood clots. And which, evidently, can thin your blood to the consistency of tap water. I say “tap” because when turned on, the blood will flow.
And I say “evidently,” because when she fell and gashed the back of her head on the corner of an open bureau drawer, within minutes she gushed enough blood to saturate her blue bedroom carpet, paisley bedspread, fleece nightgown, even the medical alert button around her neck which she did still have the panicked presence of mind to activate.
And which most likely saved her from bleeding out, otherwise the necklace would be a truly worthless tacky piece of jewelry.
I live an hour and a half away. I got the call from the medical-alert folk as I was driving to Target.
A sugary-voiced girl informed me that an ambulance was on its way and asked if I would “be able to respond.”
I was thinking errands. Target returns and the flash-drive I had to buy my son for school. I mumbled, “Well, I have to figure out my kids, who’s going to pick them up...”
Silence. And then the question again: “But can you respond?”
I realized I was thinking out loud to someone who was just doing her damn job. Or possibly was just plain disgusted with my indecisiveness, as if I actually wouldn’t respond – when your own 95-year-old mother is on route in an ambulance for literally the countless time, of course you respond.
So I did what I do when, once again, my mother is being whisked back to the emergency room after another fall, as I did just last week when she fell in the bathroom (Coumadin is also infamous for quite remarkable bruisings): I turned around at the next intersection, returned home to pack a bag because I never know whether I’m coming home that night; I texted babysitters who are never available when I need them to pick up the kids (can’t just have my food-allergic son get on a bus with some friend because school regulations do not allow him to carry his epipens, and kids eat Reeses Peanut Butter Cups on buses): I finally fell back on my usual emergency plan, of having my husband submit a request to leave work early which his less-than-compassionate boss reluctantly finally signed off on.
And I was on the road.
A stretch of highway where trees transition to scrubbier bushes as I travel south and east, moving closer to the ocean. A stretch of unbroken skyline that allows for no welcomed distractions from my own thoughts so scrambled, they’re pureed, and I’m reduced to a soupily-thoughtless robot gripping a steering wheel – because I never know what shape I will find my mother in once they finally allow me into her emergency room sea-foam colored cubicle. Where the lighting truly is as subdued as an aquarium’s. Where the sight of her on a stretcher undulates as if I’m peering at her through glass, at a lone stationary aquatic ornament.
This time I didn’t find her in a sea-foam cubicle, but in a too-brilliantly lit trauma room. They hadn’t allowed me in until after they’d stitched up her head, and just before they were about to wheel her down for a CAT scan, to check for any brain bleeds. Then x-rays of her pelvis, hips and chest for fractures.
Before being wheeled away, I saw her just long enough to glimpse her blood-encrusted hair and hands. They returned to me her bloodied alert button in a specimen jar.
The good news was, no brain bleeds. Bad news was, some fluid in the brain. Good news about the fluid in the brain is it’s some kind of normal elderly-brain fluid thing. Bad news was she has a pelvic fracture. Good news was it’s a non-surgical fracture that will heal on its own.
And then I realized my mother was going to be ok – and I tried to ignore that familiar nagging annoyance at this fact, like something stuck in your shoe. A nagging little uncomfortable pebble boring painfully into your heel.
My mother is 95. “I want to live to be 100!” she can exclaim. “I don’t want to leave this earth. I’m not ready.” Then she can look me in the eye. “Sorry, but I’m just not.”
The “sorry” is tacked on because she can sense my annoyance, as hard as I may try to suppress it; “Yes, you just told me that,” I can’t help spewing after the umptieth time she relates to me some story about her aide showing up wearing a sequined shirt barely covering her breasts. Or how she can’t even boil a soft-boiled egg right. Did I know that she can’t even boil an egg?
It’s a hard feeling to feel, that annoyance at the fact that the mother you love so deeply actually wants to go on living, and you can’t imagine how you will survive the next five years if she actually does make it to a century old. I want to whack myself on the back of my own head as I might my eight year old when he says “suck” or worse, in my presence.
To get my mind off that “pebble,” I focus on attending to my mother by annoying busy nurses for alcohol wipes to clean the blood dried around her fingernails, and for bed pans because she’s been labelled with a bright yellow “fall risk” bracelet which means she’s not allowed off the damn stretcher.
And so there’s that shift from the annoyed daughter to the annoying caregiver of an elderly woman helpless on a trauma-room stretcher.
And then another shift – as my mother started talking gibberish. Pointing across the brilliantly-lit room at invisible empty boxes that needed to be packed with napkins because the stove was on fire and we needed to fill socks with sticks.
And then she was mumbling something about me, in the third person (or second?). There was something she needed me to do but I wasn’t here....
I leaned into her face. “Where am I?”
Even as she seemed unseeing, she must have seen my fright and said reassuringly, “You’re right here, Honey.”
Then she nodded off, to wake again and mumble something about my long-deceased uncle, and how they needed to start packing for camp....
Yes, my mother has short-term memory issues. She can retell the same sequined-aide tale from two moments previous. But she’s not senile – something was happening.
The annoying care-giver daughter was now the very frightened only-child running down hospital halls calling out “Something’s happening to my mom!”
I found her doctor. He heard the fear in the frightened child, and picked up his own pace back to the trauma room.
He asked my mom where she was, and she said Staten Island – where we were not, but where I grew up.
He asked her if she knew who he was and she told him no, but he was very handsome, and we could laugh.
He asked her to squeeze his hands and she could. And to move her toes and she could. And then she nodded off.
For the next two hours she dozed on and off, mumbling to herself, and they monitored her oxygen levels, blood pressure and pulse.
No stroke. No brain hemorrhage. The “confusion” was a result of the concussion which in older people evidently (quite so) can manifest itself a bit more dramatically.
My mother is always cold no matter how many paper-thin hospital blankets they can pile on top of her. I stripped off my own sweater and coat to cover her. And I sat in a chair in the too-bright room, staring at a wall of odd stripes:
As my mother drifted in and out, mumbling like a truly old person, the frightened child felt abandoned; even at 95, my mother can still reassure me about my own mothering: “You are doing a wonderful job with those boys,” she will state firmly, when I might express my doubts, my regrets about losing patience, about not always keeping my cool like some Betty Crocker mother who actually bakes cookies rather than stocks up on Oreos.
“Look at a them,” she’d said just last week, when I’d brought them for a visit. They were tossing a football around outside her sunporch window. The wind was blowing, whipping up their hair. “They’re just beautiful.”
And the frightened 50-year-old child waited, watching as her mother slept with her head crooked at an odd angle, her pillow stained with dried blood from her encrusted hair. Waiting for her mother to return to her.
And my mother did, once she was finally admitted and settled into a sea-foam green room. She woke up lucid, complaining about the sea-foam green and why couldn’t they have painted the walls a brighter color? And rightly annoyed herself now, by her perfectly coiffed but deranged roommate who threatened to have, not only her own reflection in the window, but all the “bitch” nurses “arrested.”
And the chicken salad dinner was dry and tasteless.
But the nurses gave the coiffed lady a nice sedative, and my mother ate a bag of salt-free chips and a granola bar I’d bought from the hospital cafeteria, and flicked through the TV channels. We lamented about the typhoon catastrophe in the Philippines. Complained about the Congressional fools sucking their thumbs. About the bigger things outside sea-foam green walls. “The world’s going to pot,” she said, biting into a chip. And my mother was back.