Saturday, October 08, 2005

Paying Mind to the Woman Behind the Curtain

It is like the entire mafia lives next door to my mother. Women with big hair and patterned shoes parade through our half of the room, tossing either nasty or sympathetic looks to my mother's less glamorous entourage-- my grandfather in his Dickies and worn workshirt, my brother in his "Keep it Real" Nintendo shirt, the Whatever toting his heavy laptop bag, and me, a girl wearing a purple vest and a wan face. When we first arrived there were no chairs for any of my Mom's visitors. We gathered around her, and I teared up at the sight of my mother in her Johnnie, her hair sticking up like a punk-rock halo on the pillow, her face pale, oxygen tubes still in her nose. I collected myself and woke my Mom up, and she smiled as broadly as she could from under the anesthesia. My brother and grandfather patted my Mom's arm while I kissed her forehead. The Whatever said hello, and began to examine the various bags of liquid entering my mother's arm.
This operation didn't take nearly as long as the previous hip. From the time we tearfully bid my mother good luck in the elevator on her way to the OR to when my Mom's socially awkward surgeon came down to the waiting room was about four hours, and she was in her room two hours after that. Last time she spent ten hours parked in the recovery ward on a hard stretcher.
Eventually my feet got sore from standing, and my grandfather was leaning against a wall to hold himself up so I went across the hall and grabbed a chair from another room. There was supposed to be a recliner in my Mom's side of the room, but the woman next to my mother had taken it to her side. I was too tired to argue with the big-haired woman who I assumed was the patient's daughter. My brother and I stood (the Whatever had to return back to Boston for a meeting) and my grandfather sat in the plastic chair until the nurse came in and grabbed the chair away from the other woman, B. My grandfather took the recliner, my brother took the plastic chair, and I sat on the edge of the bed opposite my Mom's operated leg. B's maybe-daughter kept shooting us looks when I could see her from behind the curtain.
My mother was in and out of consciousness as we kept her company, waking up only to ask if it was time for her to press her PCA and inject more morphine into her IV. The display on the machine would display three asterisks when the machine would allow her to take it-- otherwise, it wouldn't do anything. My brother would tell her, but he didn't get much sleep before her operation and he nodded off from time to time. My grandfather watched CNN (he doesn't have cable) and would occasionally sleep too. I was the only one who was still awake, so I kept watching and eavesdropping on B's activities.
In our first day in the room, B's phone rang no less than fifteen times. She had her cell phone and the room phone, both of which rang as she did physical therapy. Both rang as she tried to nap. B's maybe-daughter, who I learned was named Jan, started answering the phone with a stern "she's not available to talk right now, why don't you call back in an hour?" Women with big hair came and went. A young woman, maybe a couple years younger than me, walked in with her backpack on. A great-granddaughter, I thought.
"Hi, B, I'm Dr. F's daughter and he sent me to come in and say hello."
"Oh, hello, dear. You look great. Did you get those oranges I sent you?"
"Yes, I did. They were excellent. It's great living in Florida. Dad's away on vacation right now himself... let me give you my new address at college."
My Mom, in one of her more lucid moments, heard B answer the phone and talk to a woman who's apparently a big-name political commentator in Rhode Island. I assumed B had connections with bigwigs on all levels. I told my Mom to make nice with her.
But Jan kept shooting us looks. She came over as I asked the nurse to bring my Mom some more water (her throat was sore from the trachea tube she'd had during the operation) and took the small pink pitcher from me.
"Come with me. I'll show you where the nurses get the water."
Jan walked briskly in front of me, not looking at any of the nurses. We walked into a door marked "staff only" and a nurse asked if she could help me.
"She's showing me where the water is," I mumbled in reply, afraid any bad behavior from me would make the nurses less willing to help my Mom. The nurse just shrugged and let me go.
"This is the machine," Jan said, dumping ice into the pitcher. "If your Mom wants anything else tonight while you're here, come here. She's probably just on liquids tonight, but if she wants there's ginger ale, diet ginger ale and cranberry juice. I don't know if she's diabetic or not, but there's other stuff to. Like this punch."
I tried to answer Jan's statements, but she handed me the pink pitcher and started to walk out. "I'm a private duty nurse," Jan said, "so I know about all these things. Let me know if you need anything."
I thanked her, and took the water back to my Mom. She smiled and sipped her water slowly, afraid to drink too quickly and get nauseous. We watched the news, lamented the fact it's apparently going to rain for the next five days, and my Mom passed in and out. I heard B talking to Jan about B's daughter's honeymoon.
What a shitty kid, I thought. Who plans a honeymoon for when her Mom has surgery?
Turns out I was wrong. Friday, when I went to see my Mom on her first full day in the room, Jan went out while B slept, so my Mom whispered what she knew about B to me.
"Jan's a hired nurse. B's had a fall or something, so it wasn't planned far in advance and her daughter had already planned the honeymoon, so she told her to go. There's nothing she can really do here. B's been widowed. Her husband was a doctor. Some kind of obstetrician. B had horrible nightmares about being out of bed and falling. I had to call the nurses she was crying so much."
I looked around the room. There's a small closet, a semi-private bathroom, a recliner, a TV, tray table and a bed. I'd visit my Mom wherever she may be, but sitting in the room for even four or five hours is maddening. I can't imagine being stuck in bed, at the mercy of a weekend crew, needing to ask in advance to be helped to the bathroom. It's one thing when you're older like Barbara, who's forty-eight year-old daughter just got married. It must be terrible for my Mom, who's just met her twenty-four year-old daughter's first proper boyfriend this summer and expected to have a few years before she needed to go back again for another hip. The surgeon said this one was completely shot.
B left this afternoon, after waiting all morning with Jan for the resident to read B's x-ray and make sure she was safe to travel to a rehab place for a few days. Jan sat on the edge of the bed as B sat in the plastic La-Z-Boy. Occasionally, Jan would get up and check at the nurses' station to see if the resident had read the x-ray yet, when the rescue would be there to take B to the rehab place. While she was running around, I saw that the sixty-something Jan was wearing pink G-Unit low-top sneakers. I snickered.
A while after I came, a couple of nice guys came in with a stretcher to help B into the rescue. Jan gathered B's stuff up, and B smiled at us as she was wheeled away. She was a frail woman, tall and thin and probably was once a beautiful young woman, and she smiled broadly at my Mom.
"You take care now. It was nice to meet you."
"You take care too," my Mom replied, waving weakly from her bed. "I may be seeing you in a few days if I keep having trouble moving."
"Hopefully not. Good luck to you."
So things go on. I watch crappy cable TV with my Mom (she bemoans the loss of both Food Network and HGTV in the hospital-- she wants to keep up with Paula Deen's antics) and she smiles at me between naps. This hip is more sore than her first replacement-- she just walked to the bathroom tonight, which she did in the morning last time. Before they send her home, she needs to be able to walk up small flights of stairs and use the bathroom without help. Hopefully she'll be able to do this tomorrow, or else we may see B and Jan at rehab. Thanks for all your thoughts-- I'm sure they're helping out. Hopefully when my Mom's back home, I'll be able to write more about interesting things and not hospital-related events. Or, perhaps write more clearly about hospital-events. Because the resident's characterization of the surgeon as "really smart-- he'd rather be operating than home with his wife. Although, I'm sure he loves his wife" was hilarious.
Also, the same Yankees-fan RNA as last time is helping my Mom. I almost requested someone else.
I watched the last few innings of the Sox Squared game with my Mom, who kept waking up and asking "Did they lose yet? Did they come back? They do that sometimes." Unfortunately not. I am in a sense glad that my leaving Boston did not tip the sports karma scale to "awesome, now that Amy's gone."

No comments: