Archive for November, 2011

Bedside Vigil…

November 14, 2011
       Life is constantly throwing you curve balls. Sometimes it can be serendipitous, wonderful surprises, and other times… well…
       Last Saturday I received a call as I was getting dressed to head to an awards banquet, where BRUISER was being honored. It was my father. Right away, I could hear in my father’s voice that something was wrong. I could hear the drone of an ambulance siren in the background. My mother had had a stroke. No warning. One moment she was fine, the next she was slumped, unable to speak and unable to move her left side.
       I remember pacing around my bedroom like a chicken without a head, trying to finish getting dressed, but ending up with one sock on one sock off, unable to think clearly enough to figure out what to do next. I had my daughters with me – do I take them to Las Vegas, where my parents live. Do I drive? No, it would take too long. Do I fly? How soon can I get to the airport? And how do I let them know at the Awards ceremony that I’ll be a no-show?  And how could I be worrying about such a thing when I didn’t even know if my mother was alive or dead. When you get such crushing news, it takes a while until your brain absorbs it and realizes just how crushing it is.
       Ultimately I asked my friend, Eric Elfman go to the ceremony in my place, and hopped with my son Jarrod on the next Jet Blue flight out of Long Beach to Las Vegas, and was at the hospital within a couple of hours.
       The situation was grave. The doctor’s said they were surprised she was even alive – but my mom’s a fighter. They operated to relieve the pressure in her head and to stop the internal bleeding. Then she was in a medically induced coma for three days, to let her brain start to heal. According to the doctors, the kind of stroke she had – a “wet stroke” is most dangerous during the first few hours – but if you survive the initial stroke, your prospects for recovery are much better than that for a “dry stroke” (which is the kind where the brain doesn’t bleed).
       By the fifth day she was awake and alert, but couldn’t even attempt to speak, because of the breathing tube. Each day my father and I would sit by her bedside from early morning until the evening. Each day I had come with all the writing, and rewriting I need to do, figuring I could work by her side when she was asleep, but all I could do was stare blankly at the computer, and the pages unable to do a thing. How can you focus on fiction when real life is assaulting you so brutally, just holding it together takes a massive dose of will?
       So rather than sitting here in a stupor today, I decided to write about the reality, and not the fantasy that usually gushes unchecked from my head.
       Right now I sit near the window. It’s dark. Six in the evening. The nurse enters wearing electric-blue scrubs so bright it hurts the eyes. I had a car like that once. Dodge Durango. Loved that car.

electric blue durango

electric blue scrubs

.

.

.

.

.

.

My mom now communicates with me by gripping my hand. One grip for yes, two for no. Yesterday a doctor came in to tell us she wasn’t responsive, and her grips were random – that her mind wasn’t really working, so I said “Mom hold up two fingers.” And she did. Then I said “Mom what’s two plus two?” And she held up four fingers. I could tell she enjoyed showing the doctor he was moron. I’m actually surprised she didn’t give him one particular finger!

machine that goes "bing".

machine that goes "bing".

She plays with a cord leading to the heart monitor. The nurse says she’s just bored, and has nothing to do but play with the cord. My Mom is a busy lady, always doing something.  The boredom of lying in a bed with a tube down your throat, with nothing to do but play with a cord must be horrible.  I wish I could find a way for her to pass all this waiting time more easily.  Another nurse comes in, this one in a bright red Hawaiian shirt, and I try to figure out what’s up with the uniform code here? The new nurse is the respiratory specialist. There are more specialists here coming in and out on a regular basis than I can count. Respiratory, pulmonary, physical therapy, circulatory, neurology, lab technicians, and the guy who takes care of the machine that goes “bing.”

Looking at her in that bed, it’s hard to imagine that just a week ago she was perfectly alright, talking to me on the phone, giving me far too many details about a subject I can’t even remember. I was trying to work on the Unwind script, and I remember politely asking her to get to the point. And now we don’t even know if she’ll be able to speak after the stroke. How often do we take for granted the conversations we have with the people we love? What I would give now to hear her talk about anything for as long as she wanted to.

The care here seems to be very good, but to a layman it’s like being at the mechanic’s. “We need your consent to introduce a picc-line because the venal approaches are not as clear as the arterial blood-gas line, and she may need a new carburetor.”

Picc-line

carburator

.

.

.

.

.

.

By now, though, my dad and I are beginning to feel like experts in, at least the specifics of treatment for stroke victims. (The medication she was on, by the way, when she was in the induced coma, was propyphol – the same stuff that killed Michael Jackson. It’s powerful and dangerous stuff if not monitored 24/7 by professionals in a structured hospital setting. Conrad Murray should rot in jail.)

I hold my Mom’s hand now. I can tell she’s glad my Dad and I are here. She’s also frustrated, as we all are, that the pulmonologist won’t take out the breathing tube yet. Today we were told she’s developed pneumonia. From the breathing tube. Yet they can’t take it out, because she has pneumonia. It’s maddening.

It’s very difficult to be patient when you can’t be sure what the next moment is going to bring. When you’re not sure if the alarm going off is just a lose connection, or cardiac arrest. When you have to unplug your hard-line phone and turn off your cell at night, because you can’t sleep due to your terror of the “middle-of-the-night call” from the hospital.

Right now every day seems to be two steps forward, one step back, but all we can do is hope and pray that those forward steps will all begin to add up to recovery – and that when Thanksgiving rolls along, we will have something to be truly thankful for.

My mom