Waking up in a Foreign Land without a Map

Reader post by B.R.
Posted: March 12, 2022

I’m not going to sugarcoat any of this. I’m wide awake at 1:30 am after a dinner of Good n Plenty and turkey casserole several hours ago. My hair is matted with dry shampoo and my worry gene just shifted into overdrive.

On Valentine’s Day, I took my Mom to the hospital for a TAVR procedure. A new heart valve with an overnight stay as a precaution. They came out after surgery and said all went well. Relief. Until it wasn’t. An hour and a half later they came out again and said there had been a complication. What? They offered to let me go back to see her . . .

I passed out that day on the floor of a Tacoma hospital’s surgical recovery room. It’s not every day you see your mother being rolled out the door toward ICU after suffering a complication from heart surgery. I was not prepared for what I saw. My own heart raced, I got lightheaded, and down I went. It was my initiation.

Welcome to caregiving.

Since that evening, my Mom has spent 12 days in the ICU/PCU and I was airlifted (figuratively) from the recovery room floor and dropped without supplies into a foreign land. I don’t know the language, I haven’t the right tools, and there is no map. I’ve been blindly wandering along the side of a cliff ever since.

The first hospitalization was three nights. She was discharged home from ICU and it was too soon. Covid made the concern over staying in ICU equal to the concern of coming home.

You don’t know what you don’t know. This isn’t caregiving, it’s firefighting. Every day there are dozens of fires to be put out. Here is my list today after her second homecoming:

Did I brush my teeth?
Take my pills?
Has she had breakfast?
Did I use the gait belt?
Is her BP taken?
Should I worry?
Temperature? Normal?
What drugs get taken in the morning?
What are they?
What are they for?
Should she still take them?
Why the hell is she taking them to begin with?
Have I remembered to measure fluids?
Why are they restricted?
Is she dehydrated?
Should she be this tired?
Is there confusion?
Are there appointments today?
Should I be calling the PT?
Is today the day the nurse comes?
Was I supposed to call OT?
Is the shower safe?
Is there mail?
Is someone looking at bills?
Are the dishes done?
Did I start the laundry?
Do I have enough socks?
Does my dog miss me?
Is there any food to eat?
Do we need shopping help?
Is the diet heart-healthy?
Have we exercised?
Is the sun out?
Have the birds started nesting?
Did the hummingbird feeder freeze?
Is the furnace working?
Is she warm enough?
Did the shows get taped?
Have I forgotten anything?

How does it all get done?
Will it always be like this?

Are there tricks?

In a foreign land.

Send hoses and help.

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Nancy Friedland

Turkey casserole and matted hair, sounds so familiar. Thanks for the gritty detail, and so so sorry. The times I hung out in ERs and ICUs (Before Times) I recall the strangeness of hospital lighting, not knowing the time even, let alone the weather. But not being able to be there is just too terrible.
One thing you left off your list of questions: covid exposure – did you get it from that patient? from that nurse? That was the anxious icing on the cake last summer, though no sweetness involved.

Mary Noreen Bucklew

One. Step. At. A. Time.
You are doing everything you can do, without a net, and with no road map. And you are doing it with LOVE. You are doing it the best way you know how. So many of us can relate, and we can shout from the sidelines, but this is your shared journey with Beth. Breathe – and keep going…*

Keitha Bryson

My mother was diagnosed with a tumor in her right lung when I was still teaching. Mom lived in Boise, Idaho. I was teaching in Seattle. It seemed impossible to be able to help her until a kind woman in the Human Resources department for the school district told me about the Family Medical Leave Act. I didn’t have the money to fly to Boise so I drove. The surgery went well, but cancer had already spread to other parts of her body. We were able to spend time together while I was there. I took her for drives to the city park and to places she enjoyed. At the end of October I drove back to Seattle. It was Halloween day. Just before I left the house my mother handed me a ten dollar bill that she had stashed in the pocket of her robe. She told me, “Buy yourself a hamburger on the way back.” I gave her a hug and told her that I loved her and would be back on Tuesday. I flew back to Boise. By then my mother was in a coma. My brother and I spent the night with her at the hospital. Both of my parents died from cancer several years apart. Mom died in 2003. Dad died in 1995. They both died a few days before my November 9th birthday.

Bonnie Rae

I continue to be amazed by what we humans can bear. And not just bear, but recover from and learn to thrive in as this new normal takes root. It’s no cakewalk, it’s about hard work and direct talk and honesty at every level. So grateful for this place. Thank you for stepping back in to lift the rest of us up. And thanks for creating such a warm and inviting place to vent and question and learn. It feels like a safe, welcoming place and I’m grateful.