I had only slept for a few brief hours and it was the morning of November 18th 2016. That day was my husband’s birthday and not only was it his birthday but it was his 40th. I always wanted to throw a huge party for him but that year it was obviously impossible. I didn’t even get him a gift because I didn’t even have the time to think about it.
At 8:30am I was awoken by the sound of my phone ringing. My phone is usually kept on silent but for that past month I actually put the ringer on because I was so worried about my mom. I picked up my phone, which was facedown on my bed, and flipped it over. I was shocked to see my mom’s name and picture on the screen. It had been a while since I’d seen her number pop up on my screen. She was unable to use her phone when she first went into the hospital, and then, she was having trouble seeing. For a second I got excited thinking maybe taking her off the antidepressant had actually helped her. I answer, and on the other end I hear a voice say my name, and it was a voice I didn’t recognize. Then I hear, “it’s [Satan].”. I was even more shocked that it was her on my mom’s phone. Until this day, I do not know why she used my mom’s phone to call me that morning, and not her own. She told me I needed to come down to the hospital ASAP, and that my mom was in really bad shape. I told her that she was in really bad shape when I left the night prior. They hadn’t been there in days and so since the last time they were there, things sort of started to take a turn. She said that the doctors said that they needed to bring her for a few tests. Apparently she had another cardiac episode the previous night and her heart rate went extremely high, again.
I wasted no time. I hung up and called my husband right away. I was crying and telling him I had to get there asap. He left work and came home to watch my son while I was up at the hospital. I got there and my brother and Satan are in the room with their baby. My mom was just sleeping. I was wondering why they were there that early in the morning. It was really strange. Satan was wearing this ugly, navy blue, grandma dress with navy blue stockings. I didn’t know why she was so dressed up. I was there for all of about ten minutes when they told me that they had to leave to go get some Medicare papers or something, and that they’d be back shortly. My mom was sleeping and pretty much non-responsive. Her breathing was very labored and heavy, and you could hear a gurgling sound coming from her chest. It was a sound reminiscent of my dad when he was sick.
I stayed with her as they brought her down to get a cat scan of her chest and abdomen, and a sonogram of her heart. I remember going down for the cat scan and I was just looking down this long, thin corridor at my mom, in her bed, just laying there, not having any idea that she left her room or was being taken down for a test. She was just sleeping. I felt like everything I knew and was fearing for the past few weeks was coming true. I paced down the hallway crying and talking to god inside my head, asking why it was that she had to go through all of this. I had just been down in that area a few weeks prior when she got the radiation. It felt like I knew that hospital like the back of my hand. I had been to just about every testing area in there except for the heart center, which was where she had to go next. My brother called me while I was waiting for her second test to be done. He had gone back to work and said he’d be back during his lunch break. I told him I was really scared. That she really didn’t look well. He really offered me I comfort except to say, “yeah, well….we’ll see.”.
Her second test was finished and I headed back up to her hospital room. The doctor came in shortly after and asked if I could step out into the hall with him. Of course I did. He explained to me that what he was going to share with me, wasn’t the best news. It was quite obvious that something was very wrong and from what I had observed that day and in the days prior, I knew my mom had taken a turn for the worst. I just didn’t know why or what was causing it. He told me he looked at the test results and the good news was that she didn’t have a heart attack. The bad news was that they found out she had perforation in her bowels, something until that day, I had never heard of before. Basically this meant that somewhere in intestines or colon there was a a small opening or tear. They are not sure what causes these kinds of things but it could’ve been from a number of things like, the chemo drugs, the radiation or possibly the cancer itself. He then went on to explain to me that when this happens (and it is common in cancer patients, especially those with stomach or colon cancer) the intestines leak toxins into your bloodstream and you become septic (blood poisoned). The abdomen also fills up with air which would explain why my mom was having a pain in her stomach, and why it looked so distended in the days prior. It also causes breathing problems and an extremely elevated heart rate, which explained the two cardiac events she had the day before. He went on to tell me that in a healthy individual if it’s caught in time, there’s a chance of survival. They normally would do an exploratory surgery to find the hole and repair it if possible, but given all the things my mom had going on between her stage 4 cancer, the fact that she had no kidney function, and the state she was in at the time, they did not believe she would make it through the surgery. He also explained that there are cases where they don’t do surgery because some can close up on their own but it’s extremely rare, and with someone on the amount of steroids and other immunosuppressives, healing takes much longer. Exposing my mom to infection was far too risky with her compromised immune system. In healthy, younger individuals with a small perforation, survival is possible. If an otherwise healthy person didn’t have surgery, then they are then prescribed antibiotics to fight off the infections. He said, again, when it came to my mom, her immune system was so low there’s no way she’d ever be able to fight off sepsis, even with antibiotics. She had been immunocompromised for 25 years. After a transplant, they put you on immunosuppressive drugs. These drugs keep the immune response of the body under control so the body doesn’t see the transplanted organ as a foreign invader and attack it.
After he explained all of that, he explained to me that the best option for her, given her circumstances and how bad of physical shape she was in, and how far her cancer had advanced that we could go into what they called “comfort care”. Basically what that means is that you’re going to stop all treatments, like dialysis and chemotherapy drugs, etc. The goal is to make her comfortable (i.e.; oxygen, pain killers, etc) and leave her be until she naturally leaves this earth.
He told me that given the state she was in, it was pretty safe to say she that she was incapacitated and unable to speak or make decisions on her own behalf, and so as her healthcare proxy, I would have to make this horrible “choice”. I asked him if I could call my brother before making any decisions, and he said, “of course, yes.”. I told him that I believe we should just put her on comfort care, but I wanted my brother to be involved in that as well. I then asked in his professional opinion what would he do if it were his mother? He told me that the comfort care would be the most humane, choice. I agreed. I just hoped my brother was on the same page as us.
The doctor was so nice about it. It’s strange because both me and my mom didn’t exactly care for this particular doctor over the course of the past few weeks, but that day, the way he explained this horrible news to me, it completely changed the way I felt about him. He delivered the news with empathy and compassion and I really appreciated it…..
(To be continued in my next post)