Many years ago, my mum had a triple by-pass following a heart attack the year before. She had no idea why she would be at risk for a heart attack despite being a smoker and drinker with a mental illness… No matter what I said, she was unhappy about her diagnosis of a three blocked arteries and the prospect of a triple bypass. She was 57, slim and gorgeous. It took a full year of persuasion but finally she agreed to have the operation. During the by-pass, her lung was nicked unknowingly causing a pneumothorax some hours later. This is when the lungs suddenly deflate causing your body to react adversely. In her case, she almost died, was put into a medical coma and remained in Intensive Care for a further 10 days flitting between life and death.
The first funny episode was when the youngish surgeon told me the circumstances and I immediately said, “She wants all her organs donated”. He was horrified, telling me that she wasn’t dead yet but things were looking grim. No matter the circumstances, I remain pragmatic. After a few awful days, my mum regained consciousness somewhat but was still heavily medicated. She was the worst patient in IC, hands down. They had to put the blood pressure monitor on her foot because she kept ripping it off her finger. When she became reasonably coherent, she said very loudly that the man in the bed across the unit from her was brain dead. His family was horrified, desperately asking the staff if this was true. My mum had no idea whether this was true or not but had just watched too many medical documentaries. She had no idea that she was on the same lifesaving machinery as him – she couldn’t see the ventilator.
Then she told me that she had been evacuated from the unit. At first I wasn’t sure if this was real because we were in the middle of the first Gulf War and some hospitals were being evacuated because of bomb threats. Then she said that they bumped her all the way down the stairs in her bed…she was on the 10th floor. Before she could talk, she had my aunt and me driven to distraction with instructions that were incomprehensible. For some reason we were still afraid of her negative reaction even though she was near death… She just wanted her hair combed; once a model, always a model. In the midst of all this angst, a very nice nun had been visiting various patients in the unit. She noticed me coming every day and asked if she could pray over my mum. I was conflicted – she was wearing a white habit and I was pretty sure my mum would think she was in heaven. 🙂
Eventually, she recovered enough to be released and I could never figure out if this was a good thing or not. She was the worst patient in the world and it was my fault. She was convinced that smoking had nothing to do with her heart or lungs and she should sue the hospital for malpractice. Sigh. I almost wished the organs had been donated… I stayed with her for a few weeks but eventually had to pass the care over to one of her friends as I was about to commit matricide. She lived for a further 12 years or so with relatively good health and I was a good daughter – most of the time.