Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dodging the Bullet

Dodging the Bullet

My mother, Maxine, was blessed with good health for most of her life, so I was surprised when I received a call from her neighbor informing me that Maxine was rushed to the hospital and was in serious condition. I packed quickly and drove the two and a half hour drive from Columbus to Toledo in record time. My sister, Linda, did the same, but her drive from Hammond was closer to four hours. This was in the 'olden times' when we had no cell phones, so the questions and concerns racing through my mind were many. I can’t even remember who made it to the hospital first…Linda or me.

We met Maxine’s neighbor, Jill, who told us what she knew  Maxine had not been feeling well for a couple of days. What Jill did not now was “Maxine Language” which is this. Maxine says she is not feeling well….translation is: “I don’t fell well, which means that I must be really sick because I never tell anyone if I feel ill because I do not want to go to a doctor. In fact, I have not been to a doctor since my final check up after the birth of my second daughter because doctors are in business to find something wrong with you, and in order for them to stay in business they will do their best to find something wrong.” I had heard that statement many times from Maxine, and up until that day it had worked well for her. But at that time she was getting prepped for emergency surgery.

Maxine had gone to a potluck at church and left early because she “did not feel well.” The next day a number of her friends called to see how she was feeling, and she assured them that she was just a little “under the weather.” She had talked with me via phone and told me that someone had brought some ginger ale and that tasted good and she would let me know if she began to feel worse. What she had not told any of us was that she was unable to eat anything, unable to urinate and had to have been in extreme pain.

This is one of my favorite pictures of Mother.
She was in her early twenties.

Fortunately, Jill had a key to the house.  She found Mother on the couch looking very ill. She gave Maxine the choice of letting her drive her to the hospital, or calling the emergency squad. Maxine chose going to the hospital with Jill…but only after she took a bath and fixed her hair. (Those of you who know Maxine, know that she never left the house unless her hair was perfect and her clothing coordinated with purse matching shoes.) Jill finally was able to get Mother to the hospital where she was rushed through emergency. Jill had called Linda and me while waiting for mother to finish her bath, so both of us were able to make it to the hospital before she went to surgery.

Linda and I met with the surgeon as he as going in to talk to Mother before surgery. He let us join him as he asked Mother a few questions.

“Maxine, you have pancreatitis. Your gall bladder has burst and we need to remove it. Can you tell me your age?”

Mother, “75 years old.”

Surgeon, “Do you drink alcohol?”

Mother, (with a look of disdain) “I’ve never let a drop of liquor pass my lips.”

Surgeon, “Do you smoke?”

Mother, (another look of disdain) “No!…and let me answer your next question without you asking. I have only had one sexual partner in my whole life.”

Linda and I exchanged glances as the surgeon was taken a bit by surprise. But he was not at all prepared for her next comment.

Maxine. “Doctor, what is causing my stomach to puff out like it is? I have never had a puffed out stomach and don’t intend to ever have one.”

He assured her that the puffiness was caused by swelling that would go away after surgery... only to have her reply.

Maxine, “Do you think that you could do a tummy tuck while you are in there?”

Linda and I exchanged glances again…rolling our eyes...biting our lips, but neither of us was surprised at this. The doctor assured Mother that the swelling would go down and that this was an emergency surgery and they would be unable to do the tummy tuck. They rolled her out the room after we gave kisses and hugs and the doctor paused to speak to us.
Top picture is my parents and bottom is Maxine.

“Your mother is very sick. Her kidneys have failed and she may be on dialysis the rest of her life. When I read her vitals sent from the emergency room I expected to see a dead person. I could not believe that someone with such vitals would live, but when I walked through the door, she was sitting up in bed fixing her hair, smiling and told me she was doing okay.”

Of course, Linda and I were not surprised at this behavior and assured him that “that’s Maxine.”

Linda and I had lots to think about while Mother was in surgery. Linda was upset that Mother had not told anyone how sick she really was. I was trying to convince her that maybe Mother just did not realize how bad it was. Whatever... we both knew we needed to make arrangements to be at home to care for Mother when she returned home. We tried to be positive because, at that time, we were not even sure she would live through surgery.

Finally, the surgeon walked up to us and told us that Maxine had gone through surgery well. He had a jar of her gallstones to show us. To my surprise the jar contained many little brown balls that looked like rabbit droppings. I was expecting to see marble sized gross ill shaped stones. It turns out that Maxine had pigment gallstones, which only about 15% of people get who have gallbladder problems. My father had had cholesterol gallstones…the more common type…the ugly kind. Of course, if Maxine was going to have gallbladder problems…she had to have the tiny “cute” type stones.

Her surgery went well. They were able to do the simple laparoscopic surgery where the gallbladder and stones were removed from tiny incisions. She was still very sick and her kidneys were still weak, but they were beginning to work and the outlook was good.

I forget how many days she was in intensive care. Every day Linda and I talked with the nurses and doctors. They all expressed disbelief at Maxine’s recovery. Her kidneys were back to normal and soon she was released to go home. On our last visit the doctors met with us to explain her home care. One of the last comments the surgeon made was, “You know, your mother dodged the bullet this time. We did not think she had a chance to pull through. We have a new name for her: Super Woman.”

As we left the hospital, Linda was muttering….”Oh no, now we have to convince Super Woman that she needs to get regular physical checkups. I fear what they have created giving her that name, Super Woman.”

1 comment:

  1. Didn't she also pass out in the kitchen and come to when someone called, and when that person asked what she was doing, she said, "just lying around" or something along those lines? Couldn't possibly admit that she had passed out.