21 days in ICU: a journey on sacred ground – I saw my mom

The surgeon explained that if the 2nd surgery went well we should see a quick change in mom’s alertness. Within 24 hours he would expect to see her responding to commands, shaking her head yes/no, squeezing hands, moving toes, etcetera. He also explained that if this didn’t work, he didn’t know what else they could do.

The 2nd surgery lasted about 2 hours. By this time, I had returned to work and to my home with my children. I was an hour away, trying to find the balance in being there for my mom during this most awful time and still provide some sort of normalcy for my children. Lynda and Gloria were in the old familiar surgery waiting room with the seating pods and the colorful mural of surrealism reporting on mom’s status: “patient is doing fine.” I spoke to the surgeon afterward. He explained that once again, all had gone well. He removed her gall bladder and washed out her abdomen.

Now we wait.

Being an hour away was a challenge but the Doctors and ICU nurses were great at keeping in touch with me. I spoke to them several times a day for updates. I hadn’t planned to go see my mom for another day or so but the day after her 2nd surgery I left work early on a whim – the desire to see my mom too great to deny.

My life was falling apart. My job was ending with no other option in site. Things with my boyfriend had become worse. Instead of us becoming closer through this situation, we became further and further apart. I was working so hard to be a good mom to my own children who very much needed me and of course, my mom was so sick. All I wanted was my mom. I needed to hug her, to cry to her and to feel her love and support.

The updates from the nurses that had been inspiring. My mom was awake and much more alert. She was responding to commands consistently and tracking with her eyes. As I drove I dreamed of walking into my mom’s ICU room. I would walk in, she would turn her head and she would recognize me. Each day, as this nightmare wore on, the hope that kept me going was imaging the day when I would walk into her room and she would know who I was again – and I would have my mom back.

I walked into the ICU unit. I walked passed my mom’s room to gather the gown and gloves required for entering. I walked into my mom’s room. Slowly, I watched for her eyes to turn to me. I greeted her, as I always did

“Hi mama.”

She turned. She looked at me. Her eyes locked on mine and I could tell she knew who I was. I started sobbing. I cried to her telling her how much I had missed her and how much I loved her. I cried and her gaze remained fixed on me. At times, her face shifted and she almost cried but didn’t. I could tell that although she wasn’t able to emote or fully respond, she was there. My mom was behind those piercing blue eyes and it was the most beautiful site I had ever seen.

“It is so good to see your eyes, Mama.” I kept telling her.

I told her everything that had happened. I told her they removed her colon and she had an ileostomy. I told her how sick she had been. She stared at me – never leaving my gaze. I could tell she was hearing me and processing the information. Her face winced at times and she seemed overwhelmed.

I turned on CNN for her just as the nurses came in to “turn her.” The nurses would turn my mom every hour to avoid bed sores. For the last two weeks my mom was mostly asleep or extremely out of it when they did this. On this night, she was more present – still far away – but much more present. As they awkwardly turned my mom I could see her discomfort. I could see her pain. They laid her back with freshly placed pillows and my mom’s face was bright red and tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Look at her,” I said. “She’s in pain.”

I proceeded to tell them how important it was to treat my mom with more dignity and to use the lift in the room instead of manhandling her. They were responsive and apologetic.

I looked back at my mom. Her eyes fixed on the ceiling. Tears still streaming and CNN still on in the background.

A while later, when mom was sleeping, the surgeon came in unexpectedly. It was his night off but he wanted to check on my mom. We stood at her bedside and traded comments on the improvement she had made that day. We started to talk about recovery and what that might look like. For the first time, I realized just how sick my mom had been and what 2 weeks without nutrition, 2 weeks being bed ridden and 2 major surgeries does to a person. We were looking at months of rehabilitation. Mom would need to learn to walk again, talk again, eat and just about everything else. I stood there stunned, taking it in, mentally preparing for the second leg of this marathon. I glanced over at my mom and was surprised to see her eyes open. She was awake….and she was crying.

That night I saw my mom’s pain and suffering. She told me with her eyes that she was suffering. Just as I had cried to her and told her about all my pain and suffering, she cried to me. She held that gaze with me and told me.