Holiday, Blood Clots, and no Pulse in my Mother's Wrist

Life can be too damn interesting for the sake of my own fragile sanity. You know, the kind of fragile sanity that winds up dangling by a thread. A fragile thread, one easily shed from some gossamer heirloom dress in your great-great grandmother's attic....

Ok, so I can carry a metaphor far past its limits. Limits that can be well tested, by the way, by the new pup who got his new teeth into my brand new Paperwhite KINDLE… limits are for another post.

Back to the interesting – I'm ready for the far less interesting. Never mind a respite from the usual holiday hoopla, of freshly-hung tree lights only to find they're burnt out; the setting up of the handcrafted wood Christmas manger only to discover baby Jesus is missing; poor Mary's stiff wooden arms outstretched and empty; the wrapping of presents, down to the last tiny junky Christmas stocking ones of light-up Rudolph reindeer noses….

Speaking of wrapping presents: My now built-in pessimistic instinct for crises served well this year, to get that task completed well in advance of Santa's annual visit down our wood-burning stove pipe ("How does he fit?" my skeptical nine year old has to ask. "He's magic," my thankfully still-less-skeptical seven year old answers).

As this year, the holidays started off far more interesting than I ever would have hungered for. During a simple lunch of onion soup pre-Christmas Eve Day, with my mother, as we were planning just that, the holidays: Christmas dinner. Should we roast our usual eye-of-the-round? With string beans and mashed potatoes? When her right arm began to ache.

Within ten minutes that right arm was in agony.

In another five, she began to lose all sensation except for a tingling in her hand.

And her hand turned ghostly. A delicate light blue.

I called 911.

To confirm she wasn't having a stroke, the nice 911 lady asked my mother to repeat back  some stupid sentence about bees bumbling in a blooming bush something or other....

She could repeat it back better than I even could.

Then the nice 911 lady asked my mother to smile.

My mother obliged, as she had in all our wedding photos, by smiling her thin tight grin, considering her less-than-perfectly straight teeth too unsightly to be photographed.

“Is the smile equal on both sides?” The nice calm lady asked. I imagined a steeping cup of green tea at her elbow.

“Yes! It’s equal!” I yelled, really yelling more at the damn pup I was trying to restrain on a very short leash. This was all too great fun, and he really wanted to dig into the red emergency bag of the police officer who arrived within a reasonable amount of time.

Good thing, since the actual ambulance arrived a good unreasonable half hour later; long enough for me to call back and yell at the nice 911 lady who, calmly sipping that tea, said they were having a hard time “pulling together a crew.” What were these on-call volunteer folk doing? Sucking down the last sip of some Starbuck’s pricey specialty Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappuccino? Letting the washer finish its cycle?

My mother could have been dead.

She actually would have been dead if the blood clot had travelled up rather than down.

But she did eventually make it to the hospital, and emergency surgery was quickly scheduled for an arterial occlusion; a blood clot that had shut off all blood flow down her arm to her hand – If you were to check her pulse in that wrist, you'd assume she were dead. Except for her complaining about the TV remote, for how long we had to wait for not only bedpans, but for the actual so-called "emergency" surgery that was delayed three hours....

“How is this an emergency if they can delay emergency surgery?" she asked. Not an unreasonable question...

"And why won’t they just let me get up to go to the bathroom?” A less reasonable question perhaps,  waving around her lifeless blue wrist tagged with a bright yellow “High risk for falls” bracelet.

I thought of explaining to her why she was tagged with that bracelet, but have learned not to talk sense into my mother especially during nonsensical times like waiting for delayed emergency surgery and bedpans.

The surgery was a “cinch,” as the surgeon later told me, sucking out the clot through a tiny incision above her elbow.

Keeping my mother pacified in the hospital for a few days while they monitored her Coumadin levels proved not such a cinch. “They leave me forever sitting on bedpans,” she complained, and the salmon dinner was cold. The coffee, dishwater.

Who wouldn’t complain. Maybe only those lucky enough to be doped up on morphine and hallucinate monarch butterflies fluttering around their beds.

The good news with holiday crises is sometimes the holidays still can go on; my mother got out in time for Christmas and to see her grandchildren open Santa’s presents, even as I realized in my wrapping rush I’d forgotten to scrape off stocking present prices. Ones my Santa-skeptical-nine-year-old likes to point out with glee: “Oh, boy, thanks Santa, id="mce_marker".99 from Michaels” he said, holding up the reindeer nose.

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