I went down to see Aunt Debbie at the nursing home on Tuesday evening. She had been in there since last Monday. We stopped in and she was sleeping in her wheelchair with her daughter by her side. She had been sleeping alot during the day and the staff thought she might have her days and nights confused. The night before when my uncle came in after working 2nd shift, she was talking his ear off. So I just rubbed her hair and told her we were there and to open her eyes and say hello. She was out cold, sleeping like a log. She would take some deep breathes in and kinda move her lips like she was trying to mumble but then just went back to the peaceful sleep. Grandma said the last few days she occasionally would wake up and mumble a few things in a really soft voice and told her that her head hurt. So it didn’t startle me when she kept sleeping, it has to be tiring fighting cancer everyday.
I wanted to make sure it was ok to bring in balloons in to the nursing home and her daughter said yes, so we ran out and picked up some mylar balloons, I thought when she opened her eyes that might give her something shiny to focus on. We were gone about 20 minutes picking them up and when we got back, they had moved her into her bed and she was still asleep. Annie, her daughter, said that she was able to get a few spoonfuls of juice down her when they moved her because she kinda woke up then. She hasn’t been able to swallow much lately and was holding stuff in her mouth, so they had to start thickening any liquid that they gave her, including water. If she were to hold it in her mouth, it may go down into her lungs and cause her to get pneumonia. So I went over to her bed and told her that I brought her some balloons and toopen her eyes and let me know if she liked them. She kinda frowned a little and moved her eyelids but never opened them. I told her they were straight ahead so when she woke up they would be there. I sat and talked with Annie for a little bit before giving Debbie a hug and kiss and telling her I would see her soon and to wake up and look at her balloons cause they were really pretty.
Last night my phone rang about midnight, I had just gone to bed and heard it before I had a chance to look at the caller id. It was Tiny Dancer which meant it was my Grandma. I grabbed the phone with my heart starting to race.
Grandma:”Hi honey, its me. I’m at the hospital. Hold on a minute….Let me call you back in a little bit.”
Me:”Grandma are you ok???”
Grandma:”I’m fine, it’s Debbie. I’ll call you back.”
So I tell my husband about the call and then try to lay back down and get some rest, breathing deeply as my heart rate slows back down from the shock of getting a phone call in the middle of the night. My Aunt Billie calls me back about 12:30am and I can tell she is crying, she said Debbie had a bad seizure at lunch that day and hadn’t waken up and her blood pressure dropped on them so they took her to the hospital earlier that evening about 9ish. They had to put a tube down her throat to help her breathe. They wanted to do a brainscan, but there wasn’t a neurologist on duty to do the test, so they were sending her to Ohio State Medical Hospital in Columbus to get it done. (Don’t even get me started about how this is the second time they were unable to do a scan in the middle of the night and had to send her elsewhere, this a place that is supposed to be a level 2 trauma hospital!) So they got her ready and put her into a semi coma for transport to Columbus, which is about an hour away from my hometown where she lived. My uncle was going up with her and the rest of the family was going home and heading up in the morning. Annie was in Kentucky and started her way back home about midnight when she found out they were transporting her.
Debbie had another seizure while in transport to OSU and I guess that she was still having a light one when they arrived. They put her in MICU, which meant there were limited visiting hours. So I got up there when the 1-2 today when visitation started. When I got there, Annie and her husband was there. My Aunt Linda and her husband Randy, Aunt Billie and Grandma had all rode up together, Aunt Joyce and her husband Joe had followed them.
I sat down and Joyce told me that they were testing Debbie for Spinal Meningitis. I stopped in my tracks…that is so scary and dangerous, not that cancer isn’t frightening enough ,but that is dangerous to anyone who has been around her! She said that if they found it they may have to give anyone who came into contact with her fluids, so those were feeding or changing her shots and medicine. I hadn’t done any of that but still would need to be suited up and scrubbed to go visit her. Thankfully for Debbie and for all of us Jim came back and said that the test came back and she didn’t have it so we all were fine. I opted to wear a mask back anyway because of all the sickness floating around a hospital and I had just gotten my flu shot. And I coated myself in sanitizer.
A few minutes later, Jim said that people could start going back to visit 2 at a time. So Annie and Matt went back, then Grandma and Billie went back, then Linda and Joyce, then me and Randy went. When we walked back to see Debbie my heart was kinda in my throat. I knew she would be on a ventilator and would have tubes and wires all around her but nothing prepares you for when you actually see her hooked up to everything. She was lying propped up against a few pillows and had dozens of wires hooked up to her head to monitor her brain activity for the EEG. They had a video camera on the side keeping track of her eye flutters and body movements to see if there was any correlation between brain activity and the times her body moved. She was on the ventilator and every handful of breaths you would see her left side kinda lift up like she was trying to breathe on her own along with it. Then she would just lay back flat and kinda start to twitch her eyelids but never opened them.
We each took turns talking to her telling her that we all were praying for her and were out there thinking of her and wanted her to know we all loved her. We told her we knew how strong she was, that she was a fighter but we knew her body was tired today and to just keep fighting and come back to us and open her eyes. I told her that I loved her and would see her soon….that I knew she loved us and we had people all over the country praying for her. We slowly walked out so the next group could come in, but it was hard saying goodbye, not knowing if she even knew we were there.
After we got back to the waiting room, Joe and Jim went back to talk to the nurses. Joe is a respiratory therapist so he translates some of the medical jargon to us. By that time my Uncle Tom and his wife Cheryl and their son Conner had come in and were followed soon by my Uncle Bob and his wife Teresa but it was after 2 so they just waited in the waiting room and then wentwith everyone when they took off to go get some lunch and wait till the next round of visitation at 5pm. Before I left I gave Annie and Uncle Jim a big hug and started to cry. I whispered that I loved him and we just kept hugging each other. I could tell he needed that hug. I grew up staying with him and Debbie on Saturday nights and going to church with them Sunday morning, spending the day with them and then going back to church Sunday night and Grandma would pick me up at church. They were a big influence on me growing up, so he was kinda a father figure to me. I hope he could feel all the love and support I was trying to give him. Sometimes holding out a hug can say some of the words that you can’t mutter out when your heart is in your throat.
I talked with Grandma a little bit ago who just got home and here is the status as of tonight. Her heart and lungs look good and are functioning properly. Her blood pressure has stabilized and she is having occasional spikes in her blood sugar, so they are considering giving her insulin. She is on 40% oxygen and has a oxygen level of 99%. Breathing along with the ventilator but isn’t on any other meds at this time. They found some small pieces of food in her lungs when they put in her breathing tube, and she has a some aspiration pneumonia. They have doing the EEG most of the day and will see how her brain activity looks and if it points to why she is having her seizures. She is scheduled for an MRI in the morning. A few aunts said that she squeezed their hands today but she hasn’t woken up since yesterday afternoons seizure. The tests will tell us if there is any brain activity, and then we will know a little more about where we stand. But until then…we just wait. Pray and hope that we get good news tomorrow and appreciate every extra day that we have had with her and pray that we get one more chance to look her in the eyes and tell her that we love her.