In July a couple of years ago, my mother had a stress test. It was a relief to hear from the doctor that the test was negative. She was more tired that year than she had been before. She had told me the previous winter that she could no longer take care of my daughter, which was difficult for me to hear. My mom was feeling extra stressed that summer, in addition to the fatigue. She said she thought it was because her and my father’s retirement account was losing a lot of money. That summer the financial crisis was brewing.
The following fall I enrolled my daughter in a wonderful daycare/preschool. My mother’s stress over the retirement account was giving her shortness of breath. That’s what she said. After all, she just had a negative stress test the previous July. My husband, a physician, kept telling her to go to the hospital. It’s her heart, he said.
One morning in early December my mother’s shortness of breath was so bad that she called the ambulance herself. She couldn’t go home until she had a heart catherization, they said. The next day I got a call from my aunt, who was at the hospital with my mom. She was choked up. My aunt is NEVER choked up.
Hey! Time for a fun fact! Did you know that stress tests measure discrepancy in blood flow? So, if someone has uniform blockage, of, say, 90% or more in THREE of their arteries, for example, that handy dandy stress test will come out negative as if the individual didn’t have any blockage at all.
My mom had triple bypass surgery the next day. The surgery was successful. They had to harvest vein from her leg twice. The first vein wasn’t suitable–40 years of being on her feet as a nurse had caused too much damage. A year later her cardiologist declared her recovered and told her he did not need to see her again.
The day after the surgery Mom was awake and alert. She really wanted to get up, but her nurse kept reminding her that she had lots of tubes in her still and that walking was not a good idea. She snapped at him, “Now who’s paranoid?!” Evidently this was in reference to an earlier exchange they had had. I could see that 40 years as a nurse had not made my mother a good patient.
I remember something else from that day. My mother’s room was near the nurse’s station, and Mom kept getting distracted by what was going on with the other patients. She couldn’t turn off her inner nurse. At one point she said, “Did they just say that patient was…oh, I’m not supposed to worry about that.” I remember these small bits of conversation because the next day when I came to see my mother it took her 20 minutes to utter one sentence.
Later on we figured out she had had a stroke. I lost a bit of my mother that day. The women who could make quick, sharp retorts like the one to the nurse was gone, never to return. I still have my mother, and for that I am grateful. But I don’t have all of her anymore, and for that I am very, very sad.