Double Whammy

A little after 12 noon this past Thursday, while working with the chief financial officer and in-house computer network specialist at a client site, I got a phone call from my sister. She started off with, “I got bad news and worse news.”

Earlier that morning I got into the car to drive out to a Western suburb of Chicago that was at least a twenty mile destination requiring two tollway fares. All the way there I fretted about temporarily running out of stories to add to this blog. To my dismay, that didn’t last long.

“I’m listening.” I said in a hushed tone. She said,“ma fell down in the house and broke her hip. She is in the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston.” That was the bad news. Now came the worse news. “Mrs. So-and-So (my sister’s mother-in-law) had suffered a massive stroke resulting in heavy hemorrhaging and was at death’s door. She was lying in wait, so to say, in ICU, also at St. Francis Hospital.”

My sister’s mother-in-law had come home from playing cards after 10pm Wednesday night. She lives in the condo down the block from mine, the one fancy enough to be able to afford a doorman. The uniformed fellow let her in and she proceeded in the hallway to the elevator but never made it to her apartment. She was found lying on the floor in an unconscious state.

On late Thursday afternoon I finished visiting with Ma on the fifth floor of the hospital listening to her mentally prepare to have surgery on the right hip where a surgeon would place a rod and bolts underneath the skin. This gave her a sort of symmetrical artificial reconstruction of her torso. Five years earlier, she broke both her left hip and shoulder.

Now it was time to take Elevator A down to the second floor to stop in at ICU cubicle 14 and commiserate with my brother-in-law’s sister as she sat vigil for her mother. I looked at the lady as she lay peacefully oblivious to all the equipment hooked up to her. I asked the daughter what she thought her mother was thinking. She looked at me like I was nuts. To her, it was plain and simple- no brain activity, no thinking, no sitting between two worlds reviewing her accomplishments. No getting orientation to the next world before it was time to permanently close the door to this world behind her.

Before I left, I took one last look at the lady who had spent part of her teen years hiding from the nazis in Hungary, who lost her parents and six siblings just like that and who somehow managed to make a comfortable life anew in a strange country learning another new language. Her granddaughter, the daughter’s grown child, sat their transfixed to her smart phone scanning through comments made on her Facebook friends’ walls. I turned to her and wished her a very ironic happy birthday. I then turned back to the dying one and asked her for forgiveness for anything I might ever have said to upset her. The daughter wondered why I bothered to speak to a practically dead person. I left with a feeling of emptiness as well as helplessness but believing that she did not suffer so much in the end.

It was also time to get back to being concerned about Ma. We knew that she would have the operation either that night or the next morning but nothing had yet been written in stone. After calling the nurse’s station, I found out that they wheeled her out to surgery a little after 8pm and that she was in recovery by 10:15pm or so. It had been a relatively quick operation.

Friday morning after getting the nurses to turn on the ringer on her phone, I called Ma’s room. She told me that all she remembered was at night asking for more morphine and the next morning it being 7am when she awoke. She was obviously in a lot of pain but they would not give her morphine as it conflicted with other medical issues. She thus became quite ornery to deal with until they could find a reasonable pain killer to give her.

Around 5:15pm the doctors officially pronounced the mother-in-law no longer among the living. During the past hour they slowly removed each layer of artificial life support making note at each point of her failure to respond to life on her own. Eighty-one was too young to die but decisions elsewhere had been made that this was indeed her time.

After the funeral Sunday morning, instead of heading to the cemetery, I went to see Ma, knowing that I would later have an evening wedding to attend. Too much to do that day- really. On the way driving to the hospital, Ma calls me and tells me that they are moving her back to ICU because of complications in her recuperation. Sunday afternoon was spent handing her checks to sign as well as bringing her glasses so she could read papers I brought to keep her occupied. As I left, her brother and sister-in-law were just coming to visit her so I felt good she would have company to distract her from feeling sorry for herself.

Sunday evening around 10:15pm driving home from the wedding in a flash flood, Ma called and sounded quite chipper- the best she had been in a couple of days. She also expressed aggravation
with the Bulls losing again to the Heat. It’s a good thing I didn’t tell her the Cubs also lost to the Red Sox or the blood monitoring machine she was hooked up to would have gone berserk. Time would tell who would benefit from rehab more- Ma or the local sports teams.

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