Friday, February 12, 2010

When the phone rings

When the phone rings in the early hours of the morning, it can only mean bad news. Half-asleep Tara answered the phone in the early hours of Tuesday morning - it was my dad. Mum had collapsed a few hours earlier and had had to have the paramedics attend and take her to the hospital. Dad warned me that it was looking very bad. Tara and I got a cab to University Hospital where we were met in a room by a doctor and the head of surgery.

The doctor explained that mums lungs had stopped working. She'd been suffering from a throat infection for a while, and that coupled with her leukaemia just made things worse. The head of surgery was just there to confirm with us that as a life long smoker and sufferer from lung problems, that there wouldn't be any point in operating. The doctor told us to expect the worst. Her heart had stopped twice in the ambulance and the outlook was very bad.

A few minutes later we were allowed to see her; the frail little old lady we saw in the Resuscitation unit being kept alive by machines didn't seem to be my mum. My mum is a strong, opinionated and feisty woman - this weak helpless little old lady attached to an ECG, drips and a ventilator had pale paper-thin mottled cracked skin and looked like she'd lost every ounce of fight.

We sat with her as long as we could; holding her hands and just being there for her. I gave up looking at the display on the ECG simply because it was terrifying. Figures were fluctuating wildly, and scrolling bars just looked way too low. Machines were bleeping and red lights were flickering on and off, and mum just lay there in the middle of it all completely unconscious.

In the afternoon one of the doctors from the respiratory unit came to have a chat. He sat us down and closed the door behind him, and told us the situation. They had a new respirator unit they were going to try her on, to see if this could kick some life into her lungs. They'd leave mum on it for five or so hours, until the doctor had finished his rounds, and then a decision would have to be made. If the machine wasn't doing its job or failed to have the required results, all we could then do is dose mum full of pain killers and switch it off to avoid distressing her any further.

We waited, and it was the most terrifying few hours in my life. I felt so utterly helpless - my mum was lying in a bed fighting the most important fight of her life and there was nothing I do to help her.

The time passed and we were told the brilliant news that the machine was working; it was forcing air into her lungs and breathing for her but it was working nonetheless. She was still critical, but would be moved to a private room in the respiratory unit. She was semi-conscious as she was being wheeled up, and asked for a cigarette. She was wheeled into the room and after a few more hours was taking off the new bit of kit and put on a nebuliser.

She was tired but awake and able to speak. She wasn't very coherent - the amount of oxygen they'd given her saw fit to that - but we were able to sit with her and talk to her for a while. She was insistent that she needed to go the toilet despite the fact she was cathetered up, and wanted to go outside for a cigarette. The doctor came around and told her in no uncertain terms that she didn't need to go to the toilet, and the machine was a one-shot operation. If she smoked again, the machine wouldn't work a second time.

Dad and I had to have the unpleasant but necessary task of what would happen if the worst came to the worst. Mum and Dad had discussed this eventuality between themselves in the past, and the last thing mum would want is to be stuck as an invalid in a bed tied to machines for the rest of her life. The cancer along and the problems with her bag destroyed her; in eighteen months she went from being an independent strong woman to somebody dependent on others for getting around. She's physically aged in that period, looking more and more like the 72 little old lady that she is.

Now it's Friday and we've spent all the time we can with her. I'll be going to see her again later. She's still on the machine but it's doing a little less work for her every day. She's not out of the woods yet, but it's looking a lot more promising that it was four days ago. She's be in the hospital for a long time - in all honesty, it might be forever - but my mum is fighting. She's slowly and surely returning to her old self, and fingers crossed everything is going to work out.


  1. Sorry to hear that mate. Tough times. Thinking of you and your folks. Say hi and all the best from me.

    Chin up.

  2. Thinking of you all hon,


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