On January 15th (2020), I received a text from my brother at around 6PM while I was at work, telling me to call him. Usually when he texts me like this, it's to ask what we are doing for supper. But... this time felt different. When I called him, I was not expecting him to tell me that my mom was in the back of an ambulance on her way to the hospital.
My mom had previously suffered two mild heart attacks, but she had always been able to say "I don't feel well, take me to the hospital." and have us drive her there. This time was different. She had never needed an ambulance ride before.
It was another hour before I was able to leave work. My current job site is an hour away from home, and we ride in the company pickup. We couldn't leave because we were unloading a truck into the silos and couldn't just cut the guy off or let him handle it on his own. To the drivers credit, he unloaded in record time.
As much as a prick as my boss is, this was only the second time I've ever seen him be a true human. He was genuinely concerned, and as soon as we hit the road he hammered down on the gas peddle. And I don't mean 5 above the speed limit either... It wasn't until I received an update about 30 miles out that I told him to slow down, because at that point all I knew was my mom was stable and undergoing evaluations in the ER.
When I got home, I changed into clean clothes and grabbed my brother, my son, and my daughter, and we headed to the hospital. I can't say I did the speed limit, and I can't say I didn't blow any red lights.
When we got to the hospital, my mom was getting her second CT scan since she arrived. My dad was down with her, apparently because she was combative about going into the CT machine. My mom *H A T E S* enclosed spaces like that, and even though she was under moderate sedation and largely unresponsive otherwise, she knew she was being put into "the tube" and wasn't having any of it. So, they had my dad come down to help restrain her. A strong woman to the core...
Once she was back in the ER room, our dad gave us as much info as he could. All we really knew at that point was that she was largely unresponsive. My mom was largely unresponsive and was displaying all the symptoms of a massive stroke.
In that tiny ER room, and for the first time in my life, I was overwhelmed to a point of stupidness. My mom was lying there, virtually unresponsive. My father was beyond concerned. My brother was...*there*, and not much else. My son was taking it hard on the inside, but his outsides were a blank slate. My daughter was holding it together, but looked as if she was about to break.
I honestly have no idea what outward appearance I was displaying, but inside... fuck if I know.
We stayed for a few hours. All I wanted was to hear her speak. My dad wanted to see her eyes again. The others were mostly just there. We decided to go home since there wasn't anything we could do other than be in the way.
The following morning, we were getting ready to head back to the hospital when my dad called. He said we needed to get to the hospital, because we had a decision to make. I couldn't bring myself to tell the rest of my family what my dad said. He didn't say it, but I knew exactly what he meant.
After my moms second heart attack, I had prepared myself for what was to come. I had a few conversations with my mom about such possibilities. And I had made peace with those possibilities, and with my self, that if the time ever came, I could make that decision knowing what my moms wishes were.
When we got to the hospital, my mom had been moved into the cardiac ICU, which I knew wasn't good. When we got there, the ICU doctor and my moms cardiologist was there as well. My mom was hooked up to a 2D echo-cardiogram, and it wasn't a pretty picture on the screen.
The cardiologist showed us my moms heart. The top half of her heart was barely moving...more like it was jiggling. And there was a new massive blood clot in one of the upper chambers of her heart. It was plain to see on the screen. In addition to what we were seeing on the screen, the ICU doctor and cardiologist both said that sometime between riding in the ambulance and the morning my had another heart attack, and that they estimated her heart function at 20%.
The cardiologist was frank when he said that if he took my mom into the OR to try and remove the clot it would likely "grenade" and go *EVERYWHERE* in her body. As in, operating would be 99% certain to be fatal for her. The ICU doctor said that my mom had suffered a major stroke along side the heart attack.
We excused the doctors and staff while we discussed the options. My whole family was there. My dad. My brother. My son. My daughter. Me.
With heavy hearts, we made the life shattering decision to stop all life saving medications and to keep my mom comfortable. You read that correctly. As in, this was the end.
I wanted to be sure this would be the right decision, so I tickled the bottom of my moms feet. She is *EXTREMELY* ticklish on the bottom of her feet. So much to the point you would be threatened with death for even thinking about tickling her feet. I got no response, at all, not even a twitch.
And so, we made the decision. And we started the long wait for the end to come.
We moved my mom into a private room a few hours later. I wasn't leaving my moms side at this point. Everything I did was for her. My primary concern was keeping her comfortable. I knew what was coming, and I didn't want her to suffer.
After the first day, I started to have doubts. My doubts weren't out of a selfish desire to keep my mom around for "us". My doubts were for her. I was noticing behaviors from my mom that made me doubt the severity of my moms apparent stroke. I couldn't help but feel that there was more of my mom left than the doctors told us, and we were keeping her so sedated that she couldn't show us how much of her was left.
And then I had the worst revelation of my life, ever. We were effectively starving my mom to death. She hadn't really eaten the day she went to the hospital. She hadn't eaten that day.
I still haven't made peace with this demon yet. I might never, and I'm ok with that. I have no words to describe this demon and how it affected me. I said it above. I don't know any other way to say it.
It bothered me so much I had to talk to the ICU doctor when he made his rounds that morning. He was able to assure me that my mom wouldn't suffer during this...decline. He was certain the stroke had taken her from us.
I still had my doubts. So much to the point I talked to my dad about it. But we remained steadfast in our decision. We had no reason to change our minds now. We knew what my moms wishes were. We had seen the evidence. I was fully committed to making sure my mom would suffer no longer.
The following day, we moved my mom into Hospice and setup a transfer to the Hospice facility less than two minutes away.
For those of you who don't know, Hospice is a quality of life service here in the US. Most people associate it with "end of life", and it technically is. But it's much more than that.
We moved my mom to the Hospice facility at 2PM on Friday, January 17.
And then two things happened...one somewhat important...and one that is...well, I'll explain it later.
During the move process, I missed the 3PM round of the meds we were giving my mom to keep her comfortable. Or as I had come to accept, the meds we were giving my mom to keep her unconscious. By the time I noticed it was almost 3:45PM. I ran down to the nurses station to see about getting her next dose on time, which the nurse was already working on a drip with said meds in it.
That was the somewhat important thing. When I came back in the room, my mom was SITTING UP and lucid enough to tell us she was thirsty and wanted water.
She said "thirsty, water"....
I nearly lost my shit.
After helping her get some water to drink, I grabbed my daughter and raced back up to the hospital to try and catch the ICU doctor. We were told to not expect her to come back. At all.
HOLT SHIT SHE CAME BACK.
I wasn't able to catch the ICU doctor, but I talked to the charge nurse we had just left. I didn't get much from her, so we raced back to the Hospice facility. When we came back in, my mom wasn't just lucid, she was SITTING UP, AWAKE, WITH HER EYES OPEN. I had to RUN back to the car to get her glasses. We hadn't brought any of her personal effects in with us because we hadn't expected to need them.
This was the very important thing. VERY IMPORTANT.
When I came back in with her glasses, I put them on her face. She looked at all of us once. And then she started taking more time on each of us.
And then something happened that both fills me with joy and regret. As my mom looked at each of us, she stopped on me, smiled, and said "smart ass".
My mom, who supposedly had suffered a major stroke and heart attack, with a heart that was supposedly only working at 20%...called me a smart ass and started giggling.
After giggling, my mom looked at everyone else. She had such a wonderful smile on her face the entire time.
We spent the next hour or so spending time with my mom.
Sometime later, my mom woke up again, and again was looking at all of us. In doing so, she called us a "motley crew", because in her opinion we were all disheveled and unkempt.
At this point I knew my mom was "still in there", and I was determined to bring her back.
The next day, we talked to the Hospice doctor, and the great revelation was given.
We were describing everything that happened to my mom, and being detailed about EVERYTHING since she had woken up from something we were told she wouldn't wake up from.
The lynch pin, the smoking gun, the eureka moment was when we told the Hospice doctor that my mom had been complaining of a MASSIVE head ache the day she went to the hospital. When I told him about this, he said "Ah" and proceeded to tell us about a *complex migraine*.
TL;DR a complex migraine presents symptoms of a stroke, but it's not a stroke. It's, for all intents and purposes, a *fake stroke*.
The Hospice doctor left the room for a moment to check something and when he came back, he stated he was 99% certain my mom had suffered a complex migraine.
Later that night, I was up watching over my mom, letting my dad get some much needed rest, and was reading up on complex migraines. Weird things those complex migraines. There are like 8 different complex migraines, and my mom likely suffered several of them at the same time. I spent nearly 7 hours reading up on them before my dad woke up and forced me to get some sleep. What I learned is...THERE ARE FAKE STROKES!
How the hell are there fake strokes?!?!? I had never heard of such a thing. You either had a stroke, or you didn't. But my mom says, quite often, if it's "medically weird", it will happen to her.
Everything after that day, everything since then, has been steered towards getting my mom better. We have a lot of questions, particularly about the "heart attack" and the fact that one of the complex migraine types is centered in the brain stem...which controls your heart and breathing. But she is getting better each day.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don't subscribe to the theologies of organized religion. But I'm enough of a skeptic to accept things I cannot explain. That being said...
I do believe in angels and demons, miracles and tragedies.
On Friday, January 17, 2020, I witnessed the miracle of life being restored to my mom. And I am humbled by it.
There's a great deal of detail I've deliberately left out, because this would be a novel otherwise.
To those of you I didn't tell about this, it's nothing personal. So much happened in such a short time. And since then, I've been extremely focused on my mom.
To the medical professionals who took care of my mom, thank you. To the family who came to visit, thank you. To the friends who came to visit, thank you. To everyone who provided support, thank you.