Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Open Heart

Here's what not to do if you find out that your mom is going in for open-heart surgery in 18 hours: go on the hospital's web site to look up the procedure and see graphic full-color illustrations of exactly how they will hack her chest open, jam in a rib spreader to yank her rib cage apart, and clamp off her aorta to stop her heart while they cut out the existing arteries to replace them with a vein they pulled out of her leg.

They're going to do that to my Mommy?!

We found out on a Friday evening that she was having coronary bypass surgery on Saturday morning. The surgery actually took the better part of Saturday as they found four blocked arteries and had to replace them all. She was in intensive care that night, but on Sunday afternoon I was able to speak to her on the phone. And she sounded great.

Sure she was a little weak and out of breath, but damn -- she was alive and talking! I was pretty amazed. Not only by the fact that medical science has reached the point where they can cut somebody open, repair their heart and sew them up again, but also by the fact that the human body can withstand such an incredible trauma and be sitting up in bed, eating solid food and talking on the phone the very next day.

Mom stayed in the hospital for the rest of the week. Dad was there with her most of the time. Apparently they really enjoyed the hospital food. That's all I heard about when I called, "we're having roast beef with potatoes and vegetables -- it's so good." My Dad basically ate all of his meals at the hospital.

My sister Cindy flew down to Florida be with them for the first week home from the hospital. They came home on Cindy's birthday, which I guess is a pretty nice present. Being so far away, I was really glad to know that Cindy was there to lend a hand. Mom was already well on the road to recovery: up and walking for a few minutes two or three times a day, breathing exercises six times a day, eating lots of protein and getting plenty of rest. She has a nurse that comes by every few days to check up on her progress. Everyone said she was doing remarkably well.

Still, it was hard be unable to see her.

My younger sister Susan took the second shift with Mom. She brought special foot-massage socks that show you where all of the pressure points are. Susan's foot massages were a big hit with Mom. Her recovery was proceeding extremely well and she was up and walking about a half-hour each day. That's more than I usually walk. People from Mom & Dad's church came by with casseroles and hams and Mom was amassing a pretty sizeable collection of cards and flowers. One of the most difficult aspects of the recovery is maintaining a positive spirit. After suffering such a major injury, it can be difficult to summon up the energy each day to keep up with the regimen of eating, exercise, medicine etc. But my Mom is a real trooper and when the going gets tough, she rises to the occasion.

Finally it was my turn to visit. I packed up a load of organic grains and protein powder and the SuperFood blend of algae, seaweed, alfalfa and wheat grass that I swear by and flew out for a week with Mom & Dad. What a great relief to see her at last. She looked fantastic. Despite having spoken to her many times since the operation and hearing the glowing reports from my sisters, it was a pretty big deal to be able to see her and give her a hug -- but not too hard.

I started right in the next morning preparing her my special SuperFood fruit smoothies. As it turns out they have a health food store called "Richard's Whole Foods" within walking distance of their house. I fixed them my favorite whole grain pasta with veggies and ground turkey for dinner one night, which they seemed to enjoy. We took several long walks -- Mom was up to 45 minutes at this point. One night we walked down to a fish house on the nearby inland waterway. But instead of fish, Mom ordered a beer-battered hot dog with fries. She said the Doctor told her to eat whatever she wants, and that's what she wanted. Who am I to argue with medical science?

Even though she was doing quite well, Mom was still having a little trouble catching her breath. When her nurse stopped by she learned that she needed to have some excess fluid drained from her lungs, a normal by-product of the healing process. The nurse told her to take it easy and not to worry, but for the next couple of days she seemed to lose a little of her energy. On Monday, we took her to the hospital for the procedure, it doesn't take that long, but they like you to rest for a while afterwards. Dad and I sat in the waiting room for a couple of hours -- I actually fell asleep. Suddenly, I felt someone touching my arm -- it was Mom, she was done with the procedure and didn't feel like waiting around there anymore, so she told them she was ready to go. We stopped and picked up a chicken salad sandwich for her from the hospital cafeteria -- "the food is so good here!" -- and we were on our way.

I had to leave the next day, I really wish I could have stayed longer, but that's another story. Fortunately, Cindy's husband Angelo picked up the fourth leg of our relay and is spending another week or so with my parents. They've been keeping him busy with plenty of little chores around the house, plus he's and excellent cook, so I'm sure they're being well fed.

It was good to feel like I was able to help take care of my parents when they needed a little help, after all they took pretty good care of me for twenty-odd years. And still do. In fact, my trip to Florida did a lot more for me in some ways than it did for them. I'm sure they could have gotten along without me, they have tons of friends who would be willing to pitch in and help them with whatever they needed. But I needed to make sure they were OK for my own peace of mind. And they were. They're doing fine. And the fact that they are doing fine is just another way that they are still taking care of me.

Keep getting better, Mom.
Love, Rich