News and Views from the world wanderings of Pj Kwong.  Finally!  A place for all of the things I write and think about!

Posted By SkatingPj
I will admit the weird and wonderful world of hospitals is a bit of a mystery to an outsider like me. My knowledge comes from watching one too many TV hospital dramas which will explain my reaction to th following:

The scene was set with my mother looking somewhat less than a faded beauty rose and more like a wilted dandelion as we headed into the 12th hour of this visit to the ER. She was “resting” (by resting I mean sitting up wide awake) on the “bed” (by bed I mean large flat rectangle; covered in plastic with matching plastic pillow thing in the middle of the room) attached to a myriad of wires and finger clamps dedicated to recording her every erratic heart beat. I will admit that for “yuks”, we occasionally put the finger clamp on my finger just to see if anyone would notice the rate change and then collapsed around the place laughing at the naughtiness of it. 

Out of nowhere, my mother’s heart monitor number started to jump around. So I watched and tried to appear normal as the number went from 87 to 132 to 52 to 67 to 13 to 90 to 0!!!!  ZERO ?!??!!! What the..?? I had certainly learned over time to say lots of medical buzz words and knew how to toss them correctly into sentences without really understanding what they meant BUT I did understand one thing and that was as far as hearts go, zero wasn’t a great number. What to do? What to do? I said tentatively over top of the beeps "How are you feeling Mom?” She said “Cranky. This noise is a little wearing could you go find someone and make it stop?” Thinking quickly, I said sure. Hmmm..where were those crash carts? Where were the people running in at breakneck speed to yell things like STAT and CLEAR? Surely a ZERO heart rate had to be worthy of some extra attention?  As I walked (scampered?) looking for Nurse Cathy to turn off the damn monitor OR bring in the paddles or whatever else they had to do to stop the beeps and/or revive my mother whose heart rate was a ZERO. I thought to myself that the brain, seemingly unaided by a beating heart, was a marvelous thing. Or maybe it was a case of and/or her will to live being so strong that although her heart rate said ZERO she hadn’t acknowledged it yet and was therefore upright in her “bed” frowning at me when I returned without anyone. I was relieved to see that her rate was up to 71, then 132, 64, 89, 13, 47, 63, 7..”beep, beep, beep” “What’s my number?” said my Mom who couldn’t see the screen. “Um .um 88!” I said triumphantly (and at that moment, it was). “PLEASE go get someone” she said. Out again I went and I was not going to be deterred this time. I mean, it would be way more embarrassing if my mother died because I didn’t want to disturb someone. How would I explain that in a well-written G & M Obit?

 Suffice to say, I found a warm body who assured me that a heart rate bouncing between 158 and ZERO was nothing more than a loose wire somewhere between Mom and the monitor and definitely not worth a “Code Blue Hair” or whatever they say over the loud speaker when a senior goes for a little in-house cardiac excitement. 
I returned to the room confident in my newly-found knowledge and secure in the fact that her body wasn’t going to slump over in a heap when her brain finally caught up with her heart’s ZERO reading. Whew – paperwork and tricky questions averted! 
“What number is it?” my Mother asked me again as the monitor resumed its’ incessant beeping. 
“Funny enough, it’s ZERO but you look like a 93…so it’s all good.”

Posted By SkatingPj

As some of you may or may not know, my mother is battling ovarian cancer for the second time and we seem to spend a fair amount of time at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.  Today was one of those where I had to concentrate on finishing my "work" writing ( in order to be able to have the time to take my Mom to her doctor's appointment before going to the rink where I coach until almost 9:30pm.

Her doctor, Marcus the Magician, needed just one more vial of blood so it was off to Dracula's Lair (Mom's euphemistic expression for the lab.)  There wasn't much of a line and I sat down and saved her a seat while she stood in the queue to drop off her hospital card and collect the number which would be called when it was her turn.  She was behind a woman about my age-ish who was pushing a HUGE wheelchair with a person huddled within under a mountain of blankets.  In thinking about it, it wasn't really a wheelchair as much as it was a Laz-Y-Boy on wheels or at least the size of one.  Regardless, the lady in question pushing the chair was a daughter looking after her own mother and we started to chat.

She shared with me that her mother was suffering from dementia, and in fact whispered the word "Alzheimer's" even before peeling back the layers of blankets to reveal an apple doll of an older lady who was now awake and looking around.  She has lost the ability to speak and understand and yet still has the ability to make sounds and to her daughter Debbie, it encourages her to think she can still bridge the gap. "When Mum got sick about five years ago, we put her in a nursing home and my Dad would go every day to feed her and look after her until he dropped dead."  She stops to stroke her mother's cheek and coos "Mum, the lady says you look pretty". She smiled at me when I said I liked the colour of her mom's cardigan.  "I bought it for her.  I like her to look nice. I put clothes out for her at night so that the nurses know what outfit to dress her in."  She turned her attention back to the woman in the chair; smiling and stroking her hand.  Debbie told me that her mom's health had improved to the point where she was only at PMH for some blood work and that because of her work with the school board she had been able to be by her side for every step along the journey. She told me that the cancer had caused her mother's skin to break down but that with her remission, her skin was back to normal.  Debbie looked lovingly at her mother and wanting to validate her success pulled back the blanket from her leg to reveal smooth and soft skin that is clearly benefitting from lots of Jergens lotion.  As her mother starts to make noises and squirm, her head falling to her chest, Debbie jumps up and in a soothing tone says "You can't be comfortable Mum, let's see if we can make things a little nicer for you" and proceeds to shift her and prop her head at a more comfortable angle." Debbie removed her mother's knitted cap. She felt it was important for me to acknowledge that her mother still had pretty hair.

Debbie smiled and patted her mother's hand and stroked her cheek again "I want her to have dignity. She raised eight kids.  She did a good job." was all she said.

Today it was the sweetness and not the suffering that moved me to tears.


Posted By SkatingPj

A friend wrote to tell me that tonight is a blue moon. The kind of full moon that occurs twice in a month; rather than the customary once. In other words: an anomaly.

What makes this blue moon so unusual is that is also New Year’s Eve and the close of one of most trying years in the life of my family. So many things to be grateful for and yet so many reasons to wish that this year would come to a close.

My mother, Grace Elliott started saying a year ago that she wasn’t well. In her words “I think I am in trouble again.” At this point a year ago, she had already faced cancer in the eye six times over the previous  21 years and insisted that she “wasn’t well”. It was ultimately discovered after lots of testing for vague sounding complaints that she had ovarian cancer and would require some pretty hard core treatments including 6 chemotherapy sessions and surgery that would include a hysterectomy and some intensive de-bulking.

Every time there would be some new wrinkle and she would ask her surgeon/oncologist (I like to think of him as Marcus the Magician): “will this hurt?” He would always laugh and say “Are you kidding? After all that you have been through with your prior surgeries, there is nothing that could be as painful/difficult or whatever.” 

I’m here to tell you that none of it has been exactly a walk in the park but also not as bad as it could have been.

We spent the better part of today in the chemo unit at Princess Margaret Hospital in chemo daycare where my Mom received her final treatment.    We always do a couple of things just for fun. I always get her a Tim’s coffee with 3 milk and double sweetener, catch her up on what I’ve been doing (like Bolzano) and what’s new in skating. We silently play scratch tickets (her favourites are the crosswords) and with the winnings, I go to the gift shop and buy new ones.

Two things, aside from the blue moon, make today memorable:

The first: Grace got to ring the bell; the great big brass one by the door on the way out of the unit that signals a person's victory in their currrent battle and hopefully their war against cancer. She rang that damn bell so hard that she pulled off the rope. 

As many nurses as are around witness this for every patient and it is quite moving in its’ own way. I took pictures of them, they took pictures of us and I cried.

The second:  She found a lucky penny on the way out in the waiting room. Lucky pennies have their own place in our family history, but those stories are for another day.

Wherever you are and whatever your battles, I hope that the last day of 2009 is where you get to ring your bell too.

Here’s to a great 2010!

Posted By SkatingPj

So...we sat there...waiting as you do in the hallways of the hospital. My mother and I passed the time with crosswords and chat and idle observations.  "Hmm" I said "What's with the rubber boots?"  She said "What rubber boots?"  and I said "Well that woman is the second person I have seen today wearing "serious rubber boots"; sturdy and official looking and with the name HUNTER emblazoned across the front."  We sat silently and watched as this woman passed in front of our hallway chairs.   What could this mean?  Well, we were there for Mom's tummy to be drained or stuff to be siphoned off and/or tested and the details surrounding this appointment had been a little vague. My imagination started to work over time and I had in my mind a tiled room with a drain in the center because if you need knee high rubber boots this had to be a "splashy" job.  I said "Do you think her feet get wet?"  to which we both nervously giggled.

Fast forward, actually make that "slow forward" to the "procedure room" about 2 hours later and the arrival of the rubber booted doctor. "Hello" she said "My name is Dr. Newman" and as she hurried out of the room to get the chart she had forgotten, my Mom said "Hello Newman, it's nice to meet you".  I started to laugh, she did too.  "Newman? Do you not think she deserves the title Doctor?  Or, do you think you're in the middle of a Seinfeld episode??"  We were still laughing when she returned.

Dr. Newman was warm and friendly and adept at the small talk we all wanted while she prepared her procedure.  I was surreptitiously still looking for the drain and a little worried about the open-toed flip flops I had on and the possible impending ickiness to the feet resting within them.  (You see, I am all about appointments and note-taking and keeping it all moving forward and not much for the whole medical/procedural thing; that's usually my sister's gig)  I couldn't take it anymore and HAD to ask.  "So, Dr., does everyone wear the rubber boots?" She stopped what she was doing, looked up quizzically at me. "We were just wondering and you were the second person today who had them on."  She said "What do you mean?"   I said "Well, Mom and I saw you in the hallway with the lab coat and the hard core rubber boots and we were wondering if this a "splashy" job?" She said ”Actually no.  It was raining today and I have been so busy I haven't had the chance to change into my shoes yet." 

Gotta love Newman.  Life sometimes is just like a Seinfeld episode.




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