For what seemed like the millionth time, I watched my mother casually bend down and pick up a penny from the sidewalk. I had never questioned it before, such a simple act. But, today I asked, “Why do you always pick up pennies?”
She stopped walking and looked at me with a relaxed expression and replied, “Why not?”
At the age of six I had no comment. Nothing clever or wise to say, so we just kept walking.
Looking back, I don’t remember what I was thinking. Did my mom embarrass me? Was a penny worth more than I thought? Was she a hoarder of copper?
Recently, my mom had a massive stroke. I would give anything for the opportunity to walk along the sidewalk and find the occasional penny with her.
Monday, January 14, 2013
My mom was taken to the emergency room with stroke-like symptoms; numb arm, disoriented, slurred speech. While at the emergency room they determined that she indeed, had suffered an Ischemic stroke. This is an obstruction within a blood vessel in the brain, the most common type of stroke. It can range from minute to massive. Although her’s was small, they kept her overnight for observation.
At approximately 3:30 AM, mom suffered another stroke. This time it was a massive hemorrhagic stroke. A rupture of a blood vessel in the brain…the kind that fills the brain with mass amounts of blood, resulting in severe swelling. It was this type of stroke that sent my family into utter panic and distress.
Although 700 miles from Winnipeg, Canada, when the phone rang at 4:15 AM with a 204 area code, I instinctively knew something was wrong. My dad was on his way to the hospital along with my brothers, Ike and Will, sister-in-law Monica and nephew Matt. My dad’s call was brief and to the point, “Call your brothers, let them know what’s happened. It’s bad, Sharyn. She’s not expected to make it.”
I sat on the edge of the bed in shock. My husband, in the background, repeatedly asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
I tried to speak, I choked, then I cried. Slowly, we moved from the bedroom to the kitchen, habitually making coffee, letting the dogs out; everyday morning routines. When the coffee was ready, I poured a mug full and sat with the telephone in my hand. I took a few sips of the warm, familiar liquid, the steam finally bringing me back to reality. I composed myself then went into autopilot. My first call was to my brother Mark. There was no answer, so I left him a brief message to call me back. My next call was to Dave, who answered immediately. After a quick exchange of words beginning with, “We need to go, there now!” We somehow managed to arrange flights for everyone.
Tuesday, January 15
My brother Mark and I arrived in Winnipeg after a flurry of activity, leaving our families, calling the office, and scrambling for exuberantly priced airline tickets. But we made it. We were in the hospital walking towards my mom’s room knowing the situation was serious, but not really knowing what to expect.
From here, I will focus on my perception of the situation. Obviously my family members are key characters, but I cannot begin to write about what they were feeling.
When I first saw my mom, I gasped. She was so still, yellow-colored, a seemingly cold shell to the warm-hearted woman I knew. She was hooked up to tubes and monitors that bleeped and buzzed continuously. Our family hugged, then cried and spoke of the prognosis and her chance of surviving this invasive tragedy.
That night, most of us slept on chairs keeping a constant vigil, looking for any sign of improvement.
Wednesday, January 16.
With the advice of the neurologist, we took her off all life support. My dad, four brothers, one sister-in-law, nephew, and my aunt all said our private goodbyes. For the next few hours the room was filled with gut-wrenching sadness. And while we gave one another privacy, the air surrounding her room was heavy with grief.
After my private moment with my mom I darted out of the room and found a lone chair at the end of the hallway. Here I sat and unleashed all the sadness, shock and despair that had built up inside of me. I knew I was hysterical when a nurse knelt down beside me and offered a box of tissues and some words of comfort.
We all sat around her bed and watched and waited. I’m not sure what we were expecting to happen next. Death? Letting go with her family by her side?
But that’s not what happened. Life isn’t that cooperative.
Much to our surprise, she started to improve. She regained consciousness and while she was limited physically, she recognized us all and tried to hug us. This turn of events completely shocked the neurologist. He later explained that perhaps the lack of hydration helped reduce the swelling on her brain.
Hell! I thought my mom was a fighter.
Over the next week she continued to make small strides. Light movement with her right side, recognition of faces, and small attempts at speech. We continued our 24-hour bedside vigil by taking shifts. No one wanted her to be alone.
My brother Mark and I shared the day shift. And while we were usually good with conversation, we passed a lot of time solving crossword puzzles. At the time my mom was sharing a room with a young man with severe cystic fibrosis and an incredible sense of humor. When we were stuck on a clue, he often yelled something hysterical from the other side of the curtain. This would make us all erupt with fits of laughter. It was a pleasant break from the sadness.
After a week, she was stable enough for some of us to return home.
Leaving my mom at the hospital was difficult. I felt like I was abandoning her. Here was a woman who cared for and nurtured others throughout her entire life, and I left her at her weakest moment.
The rest of the story is gloomy and less eventful. To this day she remains in the hospital four months after her stroke. She is on a wait list for a long-term care home. Or should I say long-term care place. It’s not home.
On good days she can stand or walk with the assistance of a walker. Most days, she sits in a chair or lies in bed. She tries to speak and hold a conversation. At times she is clear and lucid, and at other times the words are incoherent.
Her emotions are alive and well. She cries a lot. She consistently asks to go home. I think she knows and understands enough to know her predicament. I think she’s depressed.
When she’s not sad, she watches people, gets upset or laughs.
During my visit in March she actually made a joke and we laughed out loud.
When I left, I gave her a big hug and told her I love her. She replied, “you better”!
Oh, the ole girl still has her spunk.
It’s now May and close to Mothers Day. I am eternally grateful for having such a loving, nurturing and spirited mother. However, I feel a lot of guilt for not being with her, trying to help her improve. And then there is the sadness, knowing the stroke has caused irreversible damage.
Everywhere I go now, I see pennies. They are in the washing machine, on the sidewalk, left on counter tops and at the bottom of my purse. And then I think of my mom and the hospital and soon-to-be nursing place. I feel like she’s been discarded and it makes me incredibly sad.
Happy Mother’s Day mama… I love you and always will.
NOTE: While I am far away … my dad is doing an incredible job of caring for his wife, my mom. Eternal thanks.
RAVE: My mom
PHOTO: 1967 Circa – California.