Justin's medical school training may not help me when I have a common cold, a very low grade fever, or a funky-looking reaction to a bug bite ("I hope you feel better tomorrow," is one of his oft used lines). However, it helped him do enough tests (looking like a surfer-doctor making a house call, with his casual T-shirt and shorts and his black leather doctor's bag that our best friend gave him when he started medical school) to determine that it was time to take his mother to the Emergency Room this morning.
Her breath counts and heartbeats per minute were double the normal rate and though her blood pressure was normal, which is good, she would not open her eyes, speak, hold herself up, eat or drink, and he couldn't hear her lungs work because she wouldn't take a deep breath when he asked. Non-responsive.
So he and Mark put her in the mini-van, and I followed in our car. The doctors took her right into triage and then put her in an ER bed because a woman who's almost falling out of her wheelchair gets head of line privileges over all the multi-generational families waiting for someone or another in their clan to be seen. Justin and Mark ended up sitting at Toni's bedside while the doctors drained her lungs, put her on oxygen (low blood oxygen levels), gave her an IV to hydrate and nourish her (yesterday all she drank was 8 oz. of orange juice and 4 oz. of water over the period of the whole day, plus three bites of pizza; I think that's the pattern of the last week) and ran various blood tests. Her CT Scan has been moved up from tomorrow to today (hopefully) and she'll be admitted to the hospital and put in a bed.
Meanwhile, because I wanted to put one of the fast-running, loud-screaming younger members of those waiting-room clans into the hospital as an example to the others of what happens when children create unnecessary havoc in the waiting room of a hospital Emergency Room, I decided to wait outside where there were a couple of picnic tables and benches. Turned out to be the designated smoking area.
I'm "home" now--at my parents' house waiting for the call that will tell me it's time to pick Justin up from the hospital or his mom's house. I have a feeling if Mark has anything to do with it, I'll be getting him from the hospital--when they admit her, Mark is going to want to stay with her. "What if she wakes up in the middle of the night, and I'm not there?" he asked.
It would be crazy for anyone to ever doubt the man's love and devotion to this woman who has been in a wheelchair for more than six years.
My mom and dad of course wanted to do something to help and they only live about ten miles south of Justin's family. Fortunately, I came up with the idea of bringing food to the house. Justin doesn't even want to make conversation of any sort with me right now; I think in-laws or any more people would drive him over the edge. He doesn't want to answer any questions and he doesn't want to have to take in any more information.
Since last night we've been doing this holding-it-together-relatively-quiet-holding-our-breath-just-a-little-bit thing. It's probably healthy. We're so used to the hospital routine that it's kind of undramatic for us. The first few times there were tears and worries. This time we just planned to drive up, took our Ambien so we'd sleep through the night and then got going in the morning. This time, when he finally called me from the hospital room while I was outside I point-blank said, "Does she have a DNR or advanced directive signed?" He told me that Mark has power of attorney and that he thought so. I told him he should ask Mark now, while she's stable, just in case something happened--to be prepared. We spoke as though we were discussing whether we had any leftover pizza in the fridge. When he called me again over an hour later and came out of the building to get them some lunch we continued the conversation--the choice is something about not keeping her on a vent, but trying to revive her if necessary because she's stable now.
Brandon and I talked--Brandon is Justin's best friend and first advanced directive person after me. Brandon's wife Oakley's mom also has cancer. He said because I had called earlier and left Oakz a message telling her where we were and what we were doing, since we were in the neighborhood. When I called back he answered and said, "Do you still need rescuing?"
"This isn't the sort of thing I can be rescued from. Unless of course we can throw up the cards and trade-in our mothers-in-law."
"Nah, mine's not any better than yours."
I laughed. "That's true. I was thinking maybe we both could get new ones."
Gallows humor--we were both starting to laugh pretty hard. Then he started repeating it all to Oakz.
"I'll see your cancer and raise you a stroke," he said.
"Nope, I got you on that one too--she's probably had a stroke."
"Well, it's worse for Oakley because she is so far away;" her mom is in Thailand.
"Naw, it's worse for Justin because he's in San Diego and she's in LA--there's still distance but seeing her doesn't really help. I'd give you the second or third world doctors, but we've got the ghetto doctors and terrible medical insurance problem in this country."
"Yeah--we've got witch doctors and you've got bad doctors."
I retold the story to Justin over a burrito from Super Mex, and he seemed to appreciate it as much as Oakley's silence indicated from the other side of the phone. Maybe in the future Brandon and I will keep our mother-in-law jokes between us. Some people complain because their mothers-in-law like to take them shopping at unfashionable stores or call too much.
Mine can't dial the phone herself, and for a while when we called her she'd say, "Happy Easter," no matter what month it was.
My mom wanted to know what kind of food to take over to their house and I said, "Hell if I know."