Monday, May 25, 2009

hair loss

Around 6:40 this evening, we saw Mom in the recovery room, lying on her gurney, wrapped in blankets, pressure cuffs on her calves, her eyes closed, her body mostly still. Mom's scalp was again wrapped up in another white turban, much as it was on April 21, the night of her first operation. Tonight, however, Mom was far more reactive, post-surgery, than she had been last month, despite the fact that tonight's procedure was almost as invasive as the debulking procedure had been. The nurse in charge of Mom, who noted how quietly we three sons were standing around Mom's bed, told us to talk to her: Mom wasn't exactly asleep, and she could hear and understand what we were saying.

So I loudly told Mom she looked like a Q-tip.

The nurse talked about why anesthetized patients don't get solid food right away: the anesthetic tends to slow peristalsis, making it difficult for a patient to process whatever food she consumes. Without peristalsis to move the food through the digestive tract, a person can suffer from blockages and other problems. The nurse said that the normal procedure was to start the patient on bits of crushed ice, then to move her, slowly, back up to normal solid food. All the while, the doctors and nurses would be monitoring the patient's vital signs and listening to bowel sounds, including gas, to determine whether the patient was ready to move on to the next type of food.

So I loudly told Mom, in English and Korean, that it'd be good to hear her fart again.

Yes, of course that was in poor taste, but transgressive humor is my particular talent. You have no idea how well-behaved I've been on this blog, especially since April 16.

Dad had gone in to see Mom first; David and Sean stood by Mom's bed, touching her hands and talking with her. Sean jokingly told Mom that she had to get better because he needed a haircut (Mom has traditionally been the family's barber). David commanded Mom with exaggerated sternness not to touch her head. Both brothers showered her with love.

And Mom was indeed responsive, just as the nurse had said she would be. She squeezed our hands in reaction to what we were saying, which included tiresome commands like "Squeeze my fingers"-- commands that Mom had heard all day long before the operation; they had been issued by a parade of doctors and nurses checking neurological responses.

I had been holding Mom's left hand for a while; when I beckoned Sean to take over, I moved to the foot of Mom's bed and asked her to wiggle her feet as I gripped them. Her reaction was weak, but distinct: she wiggled each respective foot in response to my requests.

Mom's skull is currently missing a rather large polygon of bone-- the infected bone that had to be removed, and which will, if I understand correctly, be replaced by synthetic bone. This new "bone" will be crafted according to CT scans of Mom's head, and will be fitted into place like a puzzle piece at a later date (I'm unclear as to when). The Q-tip turban hides the crater under her skin, and also hides her new set of stitches or staples. I was mistaken, by the way: her first set of staples did not penetrate her skull; they were purely for her skin.

Mom will be in this vulnerable state for a while-- at least a week, probably longer. The hospital will be monitoring her very closely, taking great pains to make sure she eventually becomes totally free of infection. Even after Mom comes back home, she will be visited either daily or every other day by someone from the hospital, whose job will be to monitor Mom's status as well as her PIC line, which will be in place for 6-8 weeks.

Meanwhile, we've been given to understand that more of Mom's hair has been shaven off, and that it might not grow back in the area of scalp that will cover the future synthetic bone. I can only imagine what this is going to do to Mom's self-esteem, so tonight, I'm finally taking the plunge and shaving off all my hair. Assuming I do this well, I'll post a photo of my chrome-dome soon.

It promises to be a liberating experience, being bald: for one thing, my dad will be happy. He has unpleasant memories of my sophomore year in college, when my hair was down to my shoulders in a pitiful attempt to emulate the Mel Gibson "Lethal Weapon" look. Ever seen long, half-Korean hair on a fat half-Korean before? The overall effect is far from Mel Gibson but uncomfortably close to that of chunky rock star Meat Loaf.

So Dad will, at long last, see my scalp worthy of his old-school "high and tight" military standards, and I'll be free of this stifling mane of hair that I'm currently sporting. I've been hiding the hair under a bandanna, but the net effect is an overheated scalp, especially in this warm, humid Virginia weather. Better to shave the whole thing off and enjoy the cool breezes. The bandanna will still be a fixture, but now I'll be able to cinch it tighter to my skull. That, or I can buy a gray monk's robe and pretend to be a Korean Buddhist monk-- or a ddaeng-joong, a fallen monk. (NB: Very few Buddhist monks are plump. Sure, there are exceptions, but I've met a lot of monks and visited a lot of temples in Korea, and I can attest that most of these people are thin, thin, thin. In other words, I'd never pass for a real monk.)

Eventually, the time came for us to leave. Mom needed rest, and there was little more that we could have done for her in her current state. We each said our goodbyes to Mom after hanging with her for the better part of an hour. She weakly squeezed our hands and even managed a sort of good-bye wave, gently batting the fingers of her left hand against her mattress, as we called out our final good-byes and I-love-yous and sleep-wells. I had the impression that Mom was, despite this awful travail, in better spirits than she had been before the operation, when she was mostly sullen and resigned.

We guys-- Dad plus his three sons-- went out to dinner at a Silver Diner close to the hospital, then went our separate ways. For Dad, the day had been especially stressful. While we had all been taken aback by the discovery that Mom's infection had been so extensive, Dad in particular took the news hard. In seeing Mom's disposition in the recovery room, though, Dad's spirits lifted considerably. When Dad and I got home-- after having spent over 13 hours in the hospital-- Dad went down a list of names of people to call: relatives and friends. He didn't manage to reach everybody (and we apologize for having awakened one gentleman with a 9:45PM call), but he got most of the people on the list. Right now, Dad's asleep after a thoroughly draining day.

We hope that those of you who insist on calling our home and leaving multiple messages (I'm speaking more of friends than of relatives) will understand that, because we have to stay at Fairfax Hospital for lengthy periods, or because we have to shuttle back and forth between home and the hospital, we cannot possibly respond in an absolutely timely manner to your many messages. We appreciate your understanding, and hope you will be patient with us, not frustrated. In the meantime, please get your updates by reading the blog. The blog, now that it's been repurposed since April 16, is a courtesy extended to people who want to know how Mom is doing. Its purpose is not only to inform, but to reduce phone and email traffic.

I also encourage you to leave your reactions in the form of comments to these blog posts. Leaving a comment isn't difficult; just click on the "comments" link at the bottom of any post, select which type of commenter you are,* write a comment in the comment window, then hit the "Publish Your Comment" button. Your comment will not appear immediately: I have to screen all comments in order to weed out anything rude or otherwise offensive. You would be well advised to read my comments policy, which can be found by clicking the link on my blog's right-hand sidebar, below the picture of me. One other suggestion: if you are worried about your own privacy, please do not leave your address or phone number or other contact information in the comments. All such information will be visible to the public.

OK... it's now 11:50PM, I've got laundry to do and a head to shave. I hope your Memorial Day weekend went well, and that you took some time to honor those who risked their lives to protect and defend our country.

*Listing yourself as "Anonymous" is OK, but please leave your name at the bottom of your comment. This is consistent with my comments policy, which requires people not to comment anonymously. Using a screen name or nickname is fine; see my comments policy for details on why this is permissible.


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