Do you have days whose impressions are so deeply ingrained into your psyche that you’ll never forget them? For some it’s a wedding day. Maybe the birth of children. An exciting vacation perhaps. For others it may be a day where you were hurt or traumatized so badly that the overwhelming stress or pain of that day can be re-lived in almost their full strength just by closing your eyes.
Becca’s MALS surgery was one of those experiences for me.
This was the first of her major surgeries, and we were novices. We didn’t know what to plan for or expect. As no one local could perform it, we had to travel to Los Angeles to find someone with that kind of experience. The first trip down was for an initial consultation. It was a difficult trip, as she was in a wheelchair and the pain of moving was so great, but we tried to keep it fun and lighthearted.
Dr. Lin scheduled her for surgery — but we had to go home and wait for six more absolutely agonizing, painful, brutal weeks first. We somehow survived those weeks and returned. The surgeons were excellent and the procedure went smoothly. All was well. But then the pain set in.
If anyone could even come close to grasping the amount of physical pain that Becca has endured over the years, it would knock their legs out from under them. Truly. To make matters worse, we have learned over time that her body metabolizes most pain medications at such a high rate that they have no impact on her whatsoever. The medications we had tried to tide her over those six weeks between consultation and surgery might as well have been sugar pills as they made absolutely no difference.
Those were the same pills the hospital chose to give her after the surgery was over. We complained to the nurses with no results. We complained to the doctors with no results. No one would listen! The crying and moaning and groaning just ripped our hearts out. After a day and half of this and being treated like a psycho mom by hospital staff, a charge nurse finally conceded that things were completely out of control, and they started her on a fentanyl pump as well as a concoction of other meds to rein it in. She finally had some relief.
As she started to close her eyes for the evening, she made me promise — twice — that I would not let go of her hand. Maybe even three times. She had been traumatized, and I was happy to accommodate. Little did I know that simple request would save her life.
In a blissful, medicated stupor, she fell asleep quickly and my angry mother heart began to be soothed. She rested so peacefully that she didn’t even move. For a very long time. Then her body did the oddest twitch I have ever seen. Not seen, really, because the lights were off and the room was dark. But as requested, I was still holding her hand. So “felt” is probably the better word. I brushed it off at first — it truly had been a long and horrific day. At a hospital you’re hooked up to all kinds of monitors to check your oxygen levels, heart rate, etc. If anything was even close to wrong, I knew those machines would start making all kinds of noise.
But she failed to move again for some time and my mother’s intuition started nagging at me. I put my hand over her mouth to feel her breathing. I felt nothing. I fumbled to find and turn on the lights in the room so I could actually see her. THAT image — and the following 15 minutes — still haunt me, and remembering causes me to struggle to catch my breath to this day.
She was blue. Her skin. Her lips. She was blue. And cold. Perfectly still. Then chaos.
I’m pretty sure that I screamed. I vaguely remember some kind of ungodly noise coming from my mouth, but I can’t hear it when I recall that evening. A nurse came running in. Then she started screaming. Many more nurses came running in. They all started yelling in a language I didn’t understand. I learned later it was Phillipine. One jumped up on top of her on the bed and began to violently slap her face and pound her chest. They gave her CPR. They continued to beat her and slap her for several minutes and gave her multiple doses of NARCAN. They screamed at each other. They screamed at me. It was insanity and I was completely paralyzed, unable to move a muscle. Becca finally came to in an instant, and hurled projectile vomiting that I won’t describe because you don’t want that mental picture, trust me!
They screamed at me a little more. They screamed at Becca a LOT more. They cleaned her up. They took a minute to hook her up to all the monitors that should have been alerting them to the fact that she was dying, but had negligently been left unattached. They yelled at us even more.
Then they left as quickly as they came. It was over. It went from sheer chaos to total silence in mere seconds. We were alone again. My brain couldn’t process what had happened, and I probably would have been paralyzed for some time had Becca not been crying unconsolably and needed comfort.
So you may be thinking, “Why in the world were they yelling at you?” The answer is simple. She had overdosed on the Fentanyl, in combination with the other meds they gave her. They were blaming US for that. Saying we gave her too much for her body size, etc. OK, seriously, though… anyone who has worked in a hospital or knows about pain pumps can tell you that you can press the pump periodically as you feel the need for relief, but they are set at time intervals so that one CANNOT OVERDOSE! Their function is to provide you with pain relief, but not allow you to overmedicate yourself at the same time. Nor was it our fault she wasn’t hooked up to the heart rate, oxygen level monitors, etc. That’s not the patient’s job!!!
Instead of taking responsibility for their failures on so many levels, they took it out on us. Never an apology or admission of wrong-doing on any level. With the exception of one very nice and professional charge nurse, we were treated like pariahs for the rest of our stay and mostly ignored. They did call in a pain management doctor who was awesome, though, and validated everything we had already been telling the nurses. He was a godsend. An angel from above.
I have thought about that juxtaposition a lot. The hospital was the same. It was the individual practitioners who had made a choice to either neglect their responsibilities and blame others for the resulting failures, or to provide service above and beyond what was required and provide unimaginable relief. It has made me re-evaluate myself quite a bit. Do I skate by hoping other people will show compassion or do what needs to be done? Or do I truly give my all to my responsibilities and those who need it, making sure no one suffers when there’s something I can do about it?
Just some questions for you to chew on during your Thanksgiving feasting…