Tuesday, May 26, 2009

she's talking

We're home now, as of 10:00PM.

Dad and I had a slow morning, though Dad got up much earlier than I did and accomplished much more. He ran errands and gassed up the car at Fort Belvoir, where prices are far cheaper than off-base. I woke up at the crack of 10AM, after only six hours' sleep. Not long after, while I was still groggy, I heard the loud beep of my BlackBerry: a text message. The message was from Sean, who was wondering whether we were at the hospital yet.

As things turned out, Sean arrived at the hospital first, sometime between noon and 1PM. Dad and I arrived around 1:45 and found Sean and Mom in the ICU. Because Mom is again on infection protocol, we gowned and gloved up before going inside. I noticed a tray of solid food sitting outside Mom's ICU room; once inside, I saw another tray of food-- either it was breakfast, or lunch. This second tray of food was all liquid or near-liquid: broth, coffee, gelatin, etc. I assumed that there had been some confusion about what sort of food Mom should be eating. Later, we discovered that Mom was supposed to have the solid food, though we never learned whether the liquid food was a botched lunch or the remains of breakfast.

Sean was sitting with Mom, holding her hand. Mom turned out to be awake and responsive, though still groggy, slow, and prone to wincing in pain from the sensations in her head. Her cranium was wrapped up, still Q-tip style, with a sort of white, knotted sock-like net over the bandages to hold the dressings together. As was true last night, Mom responded well to touch, squeezing our fingers and wiggling her toes. by the time dinner rolled around, though, I noticed that Mom's hands seemed to be trembling. As I watched her eat, I further noticed that some of her previous coordination issues had returned: she occasionally stabbed at her food with exaggerated force, and had to slow herself down in order to guide her fork to her mouth. The problem wasn't nearly as bad as it had been several weeks ago, but it was there. I assume this is because Mom's surgery once again involved her brain.

Mom wears a drain that leads out of her head, collecting any excess fluid that might be forming inside the cranium. The drain was essentially a thin tube that ran out of her bandages and past her left shoulder, culminating in a little squeeze bulb where the fluid collected. One nurse told us that the fluid wasn't analyzed, but it was measured: ideally, Mom should be producing less and less of it over time.

Mom had her PIC line put in (the hospital uses the other acronym, "PICC," peripherally inserted central catheter), had a CT scan done, and had some X-rays taken. The PIC line now allows Mom to receive IV fluids through this one port, and the port can also be used for drawing blood. This saves Mom the pain of being stuck repeatedly when having multiple IVs attached to her. She'll keep the PIC line for 6-8 weeks; much of the time, she'll be receiving vancomycin, an antibiotic, through the IV. We family members will probably learn a great deal about the care and maintenance of the PICC line over the next few days, but when Mom finally comes home again, a hospital staffer will be visiting us every day (or every other day) to check up on Mom's status.

As for the big picture: we're hearing that the replacement of Mom's bone flap-- i.e., the piece of skull that had been removed during surgery-- will take around two weeks. The CT scan she'd had earlier in the day was done to allow the makers of the synthetic bone to know in what shape to craft the new flap.

Mom will therefore be as vulnerable as a baby during those two weeks. A large section of her head is currently covered only by skin, like a gaping fontanel. For this reason, Mom will be required to wear a special helmet whenever she needs to move around. Sometime in the afternoon, a lady came into the ICU and matched Mom up to a helmet-- one that's larger than normal in order to accommodate Mom's bandages. The fitting process was hard to watch, as it caused Mom a great deal of pain. Because the white, sock-like net on her head had a large knot on its top, the net had to be removed to allow the fitting to occur. Although the lady was as gentle as she could be, Mom was in obvious agony from the gentle pressure of the helmet's interior on the sides of her skull. Once the sizing and adjustments had been completed, however, Mom felt better.

Pastor Jeri stopped by in the afternoon and talked with us a bit. Mom was initially asleep, but she woke up for a bit. The pastor asked to see my new hairdo, which I obligingly revealed to her. Pastor Jeri is also a police chaplain, and she remarked that I now look a bit like some of the police offers she's seen. I hypothesized that baldness made the officers more aerodynamic when chasing down perps on foot. Pastor Jeri prayed with Mom, then left. She's off to Cleveland for a few days, and I wish her safe travels.

I didn't have to mention to Mom that I'd shaved my head: she saw that fact right away, when I first came into the room. I made a show of ripping off my bandanna to expose my bald pate, and Mom was caught somewhere between instinctive disgust and laughter-- a common situation between us, as I've never exactly been "couth" around her. I placed my palms together, assumed a pious expression, and did a jokey version of the "Amitabul" chant* from Pure Land Buddhism, which made Mom chuckle.

Sean left around 4PM, and David popped up around 6:20PM; he sat with Mom a few minutes, and then he, Dad, and I went off to dinner. We ate at the hospital's decent but uninspiring basement cafeteria, and got back to the ICU's front door around 7:40. We weren't allowed to go back in: doctors' rounds are from 7PM to 8PM in the evenings. We loitered in a waiting room down the hall; David trained his cell phone on my head and mercilessly took pictures of it. I assume these will be used for blackmail later.

When 8 o'clock rolled around, Dad and David sat with Mom while I grabbed my laptop, went to my traditional quiet spot elsewhere in the complex, and tried to answer some emails. Sean came back to the hospital around 8:30PM. Some time later, Dad called me and told me that Mom was shooing us all away, and that I should come back and say my goodbyes. I had intended to hang with Mom a little more, but she's become very good at shooing people away, including family members. We all left the hospital sometime after 9PM, and some of us will be back there again tomorrow morning.

*Amitabha is the Buddha of the Western Paradise in Pure Land Buddhism. This Buddha is called "Amida-butsu" in Japanese and "Amita-bul" in Korean (butsu/bul = Buddha). The basic idea behind Pure Land Buddhism is, as one of my professors joked, "salvation by grace through faith": one relies on Amitabul to save one by calling on his name. This doesn't assure one of nirvana, but does grant one access, through rebirth, to the Western Paradise (Sukhavati, Land of Bliss, the Pure Land), where one can then meditate undisturbed until nirvana is achieved. There isn't much organized Pure Land Buddhism, per se, in Korea, but Pure Land tropes are prevalent in much of Korean Buddhism.


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