In hindsight, I should have pushed back on Mom’s release. We were nervous and unsure about caring for her at home, she most of all. They’d switched her from IV to oral pain meds in the afternoon just prior to discharge and without much instruction, we didn’t know how tricky it would be to manage the dosing and stay ahead of the pain curve.
She started throwing up Saturday and couldn’t get any relief from the nausea or pain. After many hours, we called the hospital and asked for different meds and because of the class of drugs she needed, Dad had to drive back to the hospital where they treated him like a criminal who was pill shopping to pick up the prescription. (AND I’M NOT STILL ANGRY ABOUT THAT.) She was worse on Sunday, stopped eating, wouldn’t get out of bed (she’d been able, with assistance, to get out of bed at the hospital), and wouldn’t stop throwing up. I was starting to get very nervous that maybe the doctors had missed something but tried to encourage Mom to be patient and let the medicine build up in her system. When I got up Monday morning at 5:00, Dad was waiting for me in the den and took me back to see her. In a trembling voice, she told me she thought she needed to go back to the hospital because she didn’t feel stable. When I asked her what she meant, she told me her heart was beating erratically and she felt like her very life and being were in a precarious place. And so again, an urgent call to 911 and firemen and EMS workers in the house and standing on my bed to transfer her to another backboard and ride to the hospital. This time, though, given our negative experience with the first hospital, I requested they take her to a different one. And after we got her settled and medical professionals were in the room, I stepped outside into the hallway and had myself a little full-blown panic attack.
I don’t know how to describe what brought it on other than just feeling the full weight of responsibility for my mother’s life. I was scared that I’d waited too long to bring her in, that I’d given her the wrong dosage or mix of medicine, that I’d taken her to the wrong doctor, that it’d been my fault that she fell at my house, that I’d not done enough to secure her safety, that my brothers would blame me if she died, that I was the baby of the family and not old enough to make all of these decisions, that in times like these my default question always is “WHERE IS MY MOTHER???” and I was all too aware that where she was and what she couldn’t do.
After several minutes of flat-out bawling in a corner, I decided these feelings were too much to keep inside and so I called my brother Jonathan and did the ugly cry on the phone with him and told him everything I just wrote in the previous paragraph. And he listened so very well (and all of us will freely admit that he’s the best of all the Greenwood kids) and said, “You are not in this alone.” And I cried all over again. He encouraged me by telling me all of them believed and trusted in me to make the best decisions I could and that if I felt overwhelmed, not to keep bottled up but call a family meeting and they would help me.
Why I hadn’t thought about pulling them in earlier escaped me at the time but in the ensuing months as I’ve pondered what/why I did/thought/said, I’ve learned (again) that I am intransigently hard-wired to handle things by myself without asking for help, and while that may be good in many circumstances, there are others LIKE THIS ONE where I can avoid a lot of grief just by saying, “This is more than I can handle.”
By this point, it was becoming clear that Mom was feeling better and the doctors determined that off-the-chart pain levels were to blame for making her feel sketchy. They added some meds they thought would be helpful, scheduled an appointment with a spine specialist later in the week to see if there was a surgical solution, and sent us home to try, try again.
To be continued…