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Prisms of Hope

Fear, loathing and a 911 call

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There is nothing like the uncertainty of a doctor's appointment to generate both fear and fury. It was late afternoon by the time Mother and I returned home, each of us swimming in both. I had made tentative plans to go out with an old symphony friend/colleague -- we had worked together many years ago at the Colorado Springs Symphony and eventually gone our separate ways; she to hospice nursing, and me to orchestral management. By the time we reached the house, I decided to cook Mexican food at home. I called my friend, postponed our visit, and then called my sister to see if she would join us.

Alice arrived with my 5-year old niece, Kyndall, and 18-month old nephew, Hayden. It was a mellow evening -- enchiladas, a glass of wine. Alice and I tried to distract Mother, but the children did a much better job, effortlessly bringing laughter and joy to the room. At about 8:30 p.m., Kyndall and Hayden were playing, running between the living and dining rooms, while Alice and I cleared the table. I heard a cry now etched forever in my memory. "Help," cried Mother. I turned from the kitchen, rounded the corner and found her on the floor. She'd fallen from her chair at the table and was wedged between the table and the wall in the midst of a grand mal seizure. "Oh my God what's happening?" screamed Alice. My response was immediate: "Call 911."

The scene was sheer bedlam. The children were terrified, crying and hovering in the hallway. While Alice called for paramedics, I slipped into emergency response mode. The chairs, table -- everything moved away. Mother's breathing was labored, she seemed unconscious, and the left side of her body was gripped in tremors and shaking. Alice tried to speak to the operator, but couldn't; she gave the phone to me and I described the situation to the operator while talking to Mother.

Time stood still; the seizure seemed to last forever. As quickly as it started, it stopped. Mother slowly came to. "I want to get up, I want off the floor," she said. "You're OK, just relax, the paramedics are on their way," I tried to soothe her. Alice had moved the children into Mother's room, calming them, and called our brother Tommy. I don't remember when the paramedics came. Someone tapped me on my shoulder and I moved away. The paramedic and the fire department team were perfect -- calm, kind, professional. They moved Mother off the floor and gently placed her on the gurney. Kyndall, who witnessed it all, was holding on to Alice. She turned to one of the fireman and said, "You're a policeman; I'm not afraid of you." We laughed and Alice told her "That's a fireman" -- to which Kyndall replied, "I'm still not afraid of you -- you help people."

Mother was transported to Memorial Hospital Emergency Center. Alice took the children home; Tommy was to meet us and I rode in the ambulance. I remember making two phone calls -- one to Mother's doctor who by sheer coincidence was on call that night, and another to Aunt Cynthia. It was a fairly quiet night at Memorial ER. Alice made her way back and the three of us were joking and laughing. Mother was her old self -- making the best of a frightening situation. The doctor ordered a CT scan of the brain and told us to sit tight -- in all likelihood Mother would be admitted later that night. Mother requested some things from the house and I was going home to get them. No sooner had I kissed her goodbye, and taken a couple steps from her curtained off "room," when I heard Alice, in tears, cry out, "Help, my mom is having a seizure."

I never left the hospital that night. The second seizure prompted the CT scan to happen quickly. The hours crept by slowly. After the second seizure, they gave Mother Ativan. It knocked her out. And so we waited -- Tommy, Alice, and I.

The news came around 2 a.m. Just the facts, or so it seemed. The doctor said, "The cancer has metastasized to the brain. She has multiple tumors -- one of which is causing the seizures. We'll be admitting her to the Oncology Unit tonight. I'm so sorry."

Stark clarity followed by an unbelievable burst of pain. The dragon was here, present and at work on Mother's body. Damn the news, damn the dragon, damn the cancer.

-- Subtitled "One family's journey to living," Prisms of Hope is Carolyn Carroll's diary of adult caregiving for an aging, sick parent. This is the third of a multiple-part series. Domestic Bliss will return when the series concludes.

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