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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Job More Important Than Brain Surgeon

I haven’t been posting with my normal frequency. A couple of posts back I went into great detail about my Mother-in-Law’s diagnosis with a brain tumor. For any of those of you who are wondering, the prognosis is good. Let me start off by giving a big thanks and kudos to the staff and doctors of UPMC Shadyside. Anyone familiar with medicine and hospital care has probably heard of the UPMC Health System. Being a resident of the Southwestern Pennsylvania area, we have access to some of the most cutting edge technology in hospitals. Granted, there are bigger and more advanced facilities but we hold our own here. The care my Mother-In-Law received was excellent and the staff should be commended on their skills. I’d also like to send a big shout out to Wendy’s for their Baconator Combo Meal and PBS Kids Sprout, but more on that later.

Last I had stated, my wife’s Mother went through an MRI and was admitted to hospital for testing. Two days in the ER and two days in the Neurosurgery wing later, she came home and prepared for surgery. They had given her steroids to reduce the swelling which had caused the loopy behavior. Now, they were going to go in and remove a tumor, roughly 5 cm in size. She was going to endure about four hours of surgery, three to four days of recovery in the hospital and two weeks’ worth of home recovery before going back to work. Truthfully, that’s not too bad. They don’t expect any rehabilitation or adverse effects from poking her in the head. They’re were off on their estimates.

Now before you start to sink and think the worst, realize I said they were off on their estimates. I didn’t say how. It turns out she was in surgery for little more than an hour and a half and was awake immediately after. She spent Wednesday evening and most of Thursday in ICU recovery and then got moved to a room in the Neurosurgery wing. She came home on Friday. The only hurdle we have left to clear is the two weeks of home recovery. See, no doom and gloom.

While I can’t go into any great details about her experience I can give you a glimpse into what it is like as a spectator to the event. Because, as you know, it’s all about me. From my perspective, I’ve had to watch from the outside looking in on the ups and downs of my Mother-in-Law’s health issues. Only recently have I become a more active player but the recent events have been more of an exercise in child management than moral support.

When I got the call from my MIL, as she will be referenced here on out, I was sitting at my desk like always. I had been conversing with her cousin about her impeding MRI and she had mentioned about my MIL stopping at mailboxes and running red lights on the way there. She had been acting rather distant and confused for a month. She seemed meek and this is a woman that is a mama bear. She will knock you down and tell you like it is. For her to have this look of confusion on her face when trying to eat her dinner, you know something is wrong.

And the MRI almost didn’t happen. She had an appointment with her PCP and was planning on telling them everything was fine. My wife, a new mama bear on her way to full membership, was going with her to make sure they understood what was really happening. She helped to get the MRI in the works. Then, my MIL coworkers kept the wheel spinning when my MIL decided she was going to just cancel or reschedule the MRI because she felt fine. They forced her to go…but nobody offered to drive, unfortunately.

So, there I am twiddling away the afternoon when I got the call. “You need to go home now. I need to go to the ER and you won’t have a babysitter for the afternoon.” I didn’t really understand how it all worked. I just did what I was told. I left work, and started home. She called me on my cell and asked if I was on my way. I missed part of the message. Originally, I thought I was going home as her husband, our babysitter, was going to be on his way to pick her up for the trip to the ER. Apparently, I was to take her home, first. Luckily, I was only at the other end of the road her office is on and turned around.

In the car, she quickly tried to contact some people and seemed with it more than usual. I asked her if her or her husband had told my wife, yet. They hadn’t and I specifically told them not to. I would take care of it when I got there. My fear was that one of them would call and tell her on the phone while our daughter was in her presence. Knowing my wife, I was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face and her distressed look would upset the baby. Since our daughter is still less than two years old, she doesn’t quite understand what is about to happen but she does sense tension and despair and her empathic ability carries over into her mood. Her world was going to be thrown upside down and I wanted it to try and stay clear of the debris.

I dropped my MIL off and headed home. The three minute drive from one house to the other wasn’t long enough in my opinion. Here I was about to tell my wife that her Mother was going to the ER and that she needed to contact her oncologist and have him consult with a neurosurgeon. There’s no easy way to cram all that medical jargon into a more digestible chunk without sounding insincere or flippant. I practiced again and again how I would tell her. Not to mention, I was going to have to somehow deliver the bad news with a smile and upbeat demeanor so that my daughter doesn’t catch onto it. I decided to wing it as I pulled into the driveway. My wife was just getting out of the shower and was puzzled as to why I was there instead of her Dad. She had already sensed something was wrong and I immediately asked her if the baby was napping. Luckily, she had just gone down and my wife had every opportunity to act naturally.

She only caught three words out of my entire speech. “ER”, “Oncologist” and “Neurosurgeon.” Everything else was white noise. She began wandering around the house not making any logical motions. Putting things away that didn’t present any issue being out. Trying to get ready to teach lessons that she was going to have to cancel because she was going to go to the hospital. I asked her if she wanted me to take her or to stay with our daughter while she went. She needed me to be there so, I called my Mother to come and sit with the baby. While my wife called her students, I made every possible provision to ensure a smooth stay for my Mom because I didn’t know when we’d be back. I filled up the gas in our car so that if she had to travel, she had a baby seat. I moved all of the cats, their food and their litter box into our room. She’s allergic. I got out different foods and snacks for them to have for dinner and I started listing all of our cell numbers and what hospital we’d be at on the refrigerator.

Our daughter woke up right before my Mother arrived which is nice because she sees us first. That keeps her life simple and normal. We left for the ER and found out that there was some kind of mass on my MIL’s brain and that they needed to reduce the swelling first. This was the cause for her mental state. That state seemed fine to me as she and the nurse attending to her in the ER had a very upbeat and snappy banter about needle sticks, health care, and all around bedside manner. I don’t know if she was using humor and snarky comments as a defense mechanism but it worked. The nurse was laughing hysterically as were we.

After three more days in the hospital, my MIL came home with a plan of action. The surgeon was confident about procedure and she was scheduled for a Wednesday surgery. I took off work for the last half of the week and got the marching orders.

Wednesday: My wife and FIL were going down with my MIL for surgery. I was staying home until the baby awoke and then will transport her to my parents and join my wife at the hospital.
Thursday: My daughter had a doctor’s appointment, so I was going to be with her, then probably wouldn’t see my wife until late.
Friday: Everything was probably just status quo in recovery and I could go to work and then take over watching the little one while my wife goes to the hospital.
Weekend: Play by ear.

I did what I could to keep busy in the quiet of my house while my daughter slept. I fiddled with my computer, caught up on my DVR recordings and generally became bored out of my mind. Meanwhile, my MIL was having her head cracked open like a walnut so that they could look inside for something that didn’t belong. Once the baby was up, I fed her, packed her whole world into the car and left for my 40 minute drive to my parents. After running down the list of things I could remember, I parted with my daughter and headed for Pittsburgh. One thing I will share with you about this experience. I’ve acquired some new skills. I am now able to eat a full meal from Wendy’s, including a frosty, while driving 65 mph on the Turnpike. Previously, I had always required two hands to eat a Frosty. They require a fork. A straw just doesn’t cut it. I managed to be able to place it in the cup holder and spoon out the frosty goodness without dripping. Both Friday of the last week and today I had to grab my lunch on the go from Wendy’s and I have gained a huge love of the Baconator sandwich. I highly recommend picking up one…or three.

I got to the hospital around 4pm and sat with my extended family in the ICU family lounge. As I stated earlier, surgery was abnormally quick. It was the kind of situation where you think the worst. The kind where the doctor informs you that there was no way to do the operation because of the tumor or that she arrested before they could even get it all out. Seeing a doctor that quick is enough to make your stomach fall out of your ass. Luckily, it was just a quick surgery.

We were allowed to see her in ICU soon after and she looked like a reject from a punk show or someone that had passed out at a party before removing their shoes. Her hair was all messed up with red and yellow patches of color and there was marker writing near her temple. I couldn’t read what was written but in my sick and twisted sense of humor I asked if that was where they notated to “DO NOT CUT” or “CUT LEFT OF HERE.” She had a pounding headache which was normal but had very good cognitive skills.

My wife was a bundle of nerves and constantly needled the doctors for more information prompting my FIL to ask for some Duct Tape. I could understand her state of mind. She and her Mother are very close and ever since her first diagnosis of renal cell cancer in 97, she has become very attached to her. I fear one day it will be very, very hard. I just hope that it’s a situation where she goes in her sleep as a very old woman from natural causes. It’s never easy to lose a parent but this is a connection that transcends normal Mother-Daughter relationships. You have to admire that. One of the aspects of this family that I have grown to love is how Daughters take care of their Mothers, young and old alike.

Finally allowing her to get some much needed rest, we went to pick up our Daughter to get some normalcy in our evening. She was very good for my parents and my wife decided and her parents recommended that she needed to stay home on Thursday as nothing new was going to happen. No test results were going to come in on the tissue that was removed. She wasn’t going to have any changes in care. She needed to just rest and my wife needed to let her. She also needed to go with me to our Daughter’s doctor appointment as I am still a novice when it comes to handling all the particulars.

Come Friday, my wife was simply going in with her Father to help get her Mother home. This was a highly improbable event. After having major brain surgery on Wednesday, she was coming home on Friday. I understand that patient turnaround in a major hospital is essential to maintain, but I just couldn’t believe that she was cleared for this. Granted, when my wife was in for the birth of our child, she opted to come home a day early because she was ready to climb the walls. This was something she regretted as she really needed another day of recovery in a hospital setting. You live and you learn. However, cesarean births and brain surgery are two different matters, yet my wife was in the hospital longer than her Mother in this respect.

While my wife got her Mother settled in and cleaned up around the house in preparation for the inevitable guests and well wishers to arrive, I stayed home once again and watched our Daughter. Since I wasn’t going to be dropping her off anywhere it was just a Daddy-Daughter day and we watched television. First there was Zaboomafoo. Then there was Barney & Friends. Next, was Play With Me, Sesame. Finally, there was Caillou. My Daughter was enthralled and sat on my lap with her “Blangy” (Blanket) and her “BaJoose” (Bottle of Juice) during most of the block of kids programming. Otherwise, she was playing with her Mrs. Potato Head or other toys scattered about our living room.

By Saturday, things were returning to normal. My wife was slowly getting back into her routine. My MIL was slowly recovering all her faculties. And I was slowly recovering from all the junk food and Baconators I had been eating over the last week. Wanting to do something special for me in all this, my wife said we should go shopping and said it was time to get the Wii. This is the same Wii I have mentioned in Free Wii 4 Me: Parts One and Two. I finally got it and boy are my arms tired.

So, while I wasn’t an active participant in all my wife’s family drama concerning her Mother and the tumor, I played, what I felt was an equally important and vital role. Because sometimes, the biggest impact and contribution you can make in any stressful and complex situation is to just keep the status quo for the smallest of affected individuals. In any crisis there needs to be that one person who maintains a unified front, calming those who need it the most, even if it’s just being a chauffeur or a television buddy. That was me. You may be the brain surgeon, but I am the Daddy and that makes me more important here.

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