Tragediary VI

Posted by – January 30, 2010


For some reason I check my phone in the middle of lifting weights at the gym and see I’ve missed two calls. Calling back I realise right away something bad has happened, but I’m still very confused to hear it’s happened to my mother.

I’d thought about terrible things happening to most people in my life, including myself, but never really her. She’s got too much going on for that.

She’d come home with a debilitating headache, even worse than the ones she’d been having lately. This one turns so bad that my sister calls an ambulance. My mother passes out before it arrives. Apart from briefly waking up during the trip, this is the last she knows of the world for over a month.

I rush to the hospital: she’s had a subarachnoid haemorrhage due to a ruptured aneurysm. It’s very serious. We see her briefly before surgery. The doctor looks serious and refuses to give any prognosis, but I still get a confident feeling from him. Once you get to the hospital alive, you win, right?

In the night I can’t get to sleep and start reading Wikipedia articles about the condition. They convince me that she’s going to die within a couple of days. In the weeks to come, my assumptions go between safety and imminent disaster several times.

She has another haemorrhage during surgery, but they manage to complete it anyway. The cerebral ventricles are flooded with blood. They leave a hole in her head to drain it out. The tube stays in for a month or so, there seems to be no end to the amount of blood in there. For all of that period she stays unconscious.

Eventually, in early November or so, she starts to wake up a little. A tracheotomy tube prevents her from speaking, but she seems to be fairly cognisant. We’re very happy. Before her breathing becomes independent enough to take the tube out, she blacks out for a couple of days due to vasospasm, a condition where blood vessels in the brain contract in response to the bleeding. This seems to result in some kind of brain damage – on waking up later she seems considerably less present.

Still, physically she makes progress and tries to mouth words all the time. This is very promising and we assume she’ll be able to communicate, at least a bit, once the tracheotomy tube comes out. We try to lip-read, but never quite manage.

When the tube finally comes out, I understand why we couldn’t: she’s lost the ability to form words. Sound comes out as she tries to speak, but it’s a garbled sound salad with no meaning. It’s extremely depressing to watch.

As she’s moved out of intensive care and finally to Malmi, the indignities of sickness get worse and harder to bear for all of us. The nurses are impatient and rough, force-feeding her far too fast for her to swallow. She suddenly seems so old. This period is probably the most heartbreaking – there’s not a lot I can bring to mind from it now.

As the year draws to a close, she’s been fitted with a gastric tube for feeding and still tries hard to speak. A couple of words come out right. We’re unsure as to how much she understands, but it seems that the worst is over and the long struggle of recovery is beginning.

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