What I’ve Been Up To

You may be wondering why the blogging has been light recently.

It’s because I’ve been dealing with a bit of a family emergency.

A couple of weeks ago, my mother complained to her doctor of having respiratory problems. The doctor did some tests and discovered a spot on her lung that turned out to be a malignant tumor. Additional tests indicated that the tumor was operable and hadn’t spread into the bone, so last week they went in to remove the tumor.

To make a long story short, once they got in there they found out it was more complicated of a situation than they thought. The end result was that they could only remove the tumor by taking the entire lung with it. This isn’t a great outcome, but it’s not the end of the world either — you can live just fine on one lung, as it turns out.

That is, you can if the remaining lung continues to work reliably after they wheel you out of the operating room. And my mom’s didn’t: two days after her surgery (this would be last Friday) her condition deteriorated in a fairly frightening and dramatically rapid fashion. The next morning, my father told me that I should probably come out to Ohio to be with the family, just in case the deterioration didn’t stop — so I booked a flight and four hours later I was on a plane home. (One way ticket to Dayton: $65. Thank you, Independence Air!)

I had only been in the house for a couple of hours when the hospital called, telling us to get down there right away: her condition was getting worse again. We rushed over there and listened to the doctor as he told us the news: they had her hooked up to a ventilator to do her breathing for her, since her remaining lung wasn’t doing it, and this had stabilized her — but by this point the ventilator was maxed out, and she was only just barely getting the total amount of oxygen she needed to stay alive. If she didn’t rally, he explained, “we really don’t have anywhere to go from here.” All we could do was hope and pray that this was the worst it would get.

We were in the hospital until 2 in the morning that night. She didn’t backslide any further, so it seemed the immediate danger had passed and after talking with the medicos we decided to go home and try to sleep. I can’t speak for my father and my brother but I know I was pretty well convinced, that night, that it was only going to be a matter of time until we lost her. (If you saw the looks on the nurses’ faces as they tended to her, you’d know why I felt that way.)

Then, apparently, a minor miracle happened: that night was as bad as it got. After they got her condition stabilized by maxing out the ventilator, she held stable for the rest of the night and the next morning, and they gradually started easing back on the ventilator to let her lung start to take up some of the slack. The process of ramping down the ventilator is a slow one — as I write this it’s been three days since that night, and the ventilator has only come down to providing 60% of the pressure in her lung, from the 100% it was giving when things looked darkest — but ever since, she has been slowly but steadily improving.

It’s waaay too early to say that things are all good — she’s still hooked up to a huge bundle of machinery in the ICU, with her whole body paralyzed (they give some ventilator patients paralytic medications to keep their body from struggling against the ventilator’s respiration cycle), and nobody can say how things are going to turn out in the end. But when you consider that just a few days ago the doctors were essentially writing her off, and now they’re willing to start talking ballpark figures about when she could leave the ICU — well, you can understand why we take our optimism where we can find it.

Her recovery from this is going to be a long one — but any recovery is better than none at all.

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on. So you’ll have to understand if I’ve been a little tardy on the blog front.

P.S. If you smoke, let me know so I can send you pictures of what it looks like to be unconscious and hooked up to a Goddamned ventilator while your loved ones bawl their eyes out in the waiting room over the thought of you dying before you reach 55. Maybe that will help you understand what’s in that crap you’re sucking down, even if the Surgeon General’s Warning can’t.



September 1, 2004
5:37 pm

fingers crossed and prayers said for you mom. with her wonderful wacky sense of humor i can’t wait to hear what she has to say about all of this.
also, for the photo album, i’ll be happy to add some pictures from the chemotheraphy room.
take care of yourself.