My mother’s life was violently interrupted this month by bacterial meningitis. Of all things that might befall this hardy 71 year-old woman, I suspected a landscaping debacle involving a palm tree, hedge clippers, and a ladder would bring her down. Great genes, great bone density, good BMI, physically activity – health concerns shadowed the recesses of my brain with a taunt of ‘someday when she’s old.’ She had a brief episode of cancer 20 years ago and has never been seriously ill since. But a handful of days and a chance encounter with a carrier landed her in the ICU intubated, sedated, and experiencing renal failure.
A splenectomy, 18 years ago, left her more vulnerable to meningitis than the rest of the population. The fight of her life began after being discovered on the floor of her bedroom by the police. I wept when the police officer described the entry and rescue, but I had no clue of the emotional nightmare to come. As I was pelted by phone calls states away with urgent decisions and approvals, my brother raced to the hospital through seven hours of rain. We quickly began to see how tenuous life the hold on life is and how heartbreaking it can be to make life-saving decisions for a loved one. Sixteen days later all I can recall clearly are the plethora of times my brother and I have said to each other ‘What do we do now?’
I have to admit I barely listened when my mother spoke of her ‘arrangements.’ My brother knew all those details for when she passed and I thought it inconsequential to think so far ahead with her so healthy. I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I was in the moment. I couldn’t ask my mother if she was allergic to penicillin, her blood type, the name of her primary doctor, or tell the police which neighbor was okay to leave her purse and keys with since they’d broken a window and left the house vulnerable. I didn’t know the difference between being on a vent for life support and being intubated or if either of those procedures violate the DNR. I had to learn the difference between EEGs, EKGs, and MRIs quickly so I could keep up. Initially the prognosis appeared optimistic at the weeks start; it became a ping-pong game of stabilize one symptom, create another problem, over and over again.
The situation vacillates between overwhelming and humbling with chaotic days plus an uncertain future created by the meningitis, the hospital-supplied MRSA, and erratic levels of care. But I’m not the one laying there fighting for her life. I pray she’s truly not in much pain and that she hears our voices. I pray for peace for her mind and body.
Life is on hold and out-of-state until then.