Tuesday, February 01, 2011

when it rains it shits (and other tales from the front lines of suburbia)

Aaaaand my mother had a stroke.

Ba dum bum!

Seriously folks, is this any way to follow up the last three posts I wrote?

Did I mention the lice is back?

Oh she's killing them. Killing the lice that is!

So Sunday morning, I'm standing around the kitchen counter fretting over the looming day. I've got the green light to take myself to a cafe with my laptop and work on the novel, which, and I thank thee o lord, is still in progress, ten pages away from 200 (can she make it?) when the phone rings.
I answer.
"Elishe?" says my mother, who sounds suspiciously drunk on a Sunday morning.
"I think I had a little shtroke," she says.

And my heart drops into my mug of Roma, a caffeine-free coffee substitute made from roasted malted barley and other brown things. I like to add a sprinkle of cinnamon, a teaspoon of cocoa powder and some raw milk. Usually I don't think to add my heart, but this morning, there she is, bobbing like a bloody apple in the muddy broth.

"I called Joe but I'm mad at him because I know he'sh going to call Nancshy. You're the shecond one I tshold." Joe is my step-dad. He's a Harley riding scientific glassblower. And Nancy? She's my sister. The M.D. my mother doesn't want to worry.
"So um, What happened?" I ask.
"Well I was tshalking on the phone lasht night and I felt this tchingle on my right csheek. I had the phone on my right shide. And now the left shide of my faish is drooping and my left arm is weak. Oh Elishe, my faish looksh sho horrible."
"Oh Mom," I say tenderly, and mean it. Again, it turns out I love this woman, no matter how much Vaseline she smears on her face, no matter how many bowls of ice cream or hours of television she allows my children.
"I took shum Bufferin and went to bed. Do you think you can you call your mother-in-law and come over? I don't want to be alone."
"Sure, okay."

We hang up and I promptly break down into tears, and scream for Bryan who's in the basement watching TV with the kids. They are a cozy trio. He comes up, sees me in a state, I tell him the news, and he hugs me, then starts packing a backpack full of clothes for the kids. I start packing my new totebag with all our leftovers, because in my dawning shock, my mother's instructions sound logical and reasonable and she never has any food, save for salad dressing and mango juice. We'll just not call my doctor sister, hang out at my mom's and talk to my mother-in-law on the phone, who's a dialysis nurse in Brooklyn. Who said anything about a hospital?

It takes forever to get everyone ready. Like trudging through creamed honey it is to get out the door.
My mom calls back.
"You know, why don't you call Carolyn now? And it's so icshey out there. Don't bother coming over. It'sh okay. You're not going to find a parking shpot anyway. Oh wait. I shee shum shtreet out there." My mother lives in South Philly, land of the narrow streets, copious stop signs and iffy parking.

I hang up and decide that maybe going against my mother's wishes and calling my sister is actually a good idea.
"Mom had a stroke," I say. I add this bit of superfluous dialogue because saying it out loud was weird and terrible.
My sister is brilliant. She says to go to the hospital. Why hadn't I thought of this before? Maybe because I don't have an M.D. from The University of Pennsylvania. It turns out that when you have a stroke you need to go to the hospital RIGHT AWAY. I am so in the dark about these things. A stroke, people, is a medical emergency.

I call my mother back.
"We're going to take you the hospital."
"Okay," she says, mildly defeated. "Can you bring me something to hold up the shide of my faish?"
"How about some Scotch tape?"
"Perfect," she says. But is it? It probably won't adhere to the Vaseline. But I don't realize this till later, and I forget to pack it anyway.
"Maybe I should just call 911 for you?" I say.
"Oh no. I don't want the neighborsh peering out their windowsh."
Again, this sounds reasonable. It's none of their business. Let's not cause a scene. It's only a shlight shtroke.
"Okay, we'll be over soon," I say, and lug the totebag, filled with chopped liver, gluten-free pasta, hummus, guacamole, chips and other assorted tidbits we will not eat this day, to the minivan.

Bryan and I realize that it's probably not a good idea to take the kids with us, who knows how long we'll be at the hospital, but who can watch them? Because for freaking out loud, Stella has lice. Again. Our heroes turn out to be our artist friends who live conveniently near an entrance to the expressway. They have two kids the same ages as Hamish and Stella. I pull my daughter's hair into a ponytail and get her a hoodie and a hat to wear the entire time she is in their care. We owe our friends gold. We owe them a basement-to-attic deep-clean, a massage, a Caribbean vacation, a bottle of your finest Scotch. They reign supreme. Thanks E & D!

At my mom's my twenty-five year old niece is just pulling up in a taxi. She's a gem. We share more than a few smirks and twinkly eyed smiles at my adorable stroked out mom, who's ambling around at low speed, slurring—"I managed to brush my teeth. Can you believe that?"—and not nearly as droopy as I'd anticipated. (Phew.) My mom whispers to me how much money she's got in her bank account, waving her checkbook in my face, and shows me the bills that need to get paid but tells me she's having trouble writing, and darn the luck, she's left-handed. She has trouble buttoning her coat because it's too tight and she's just had a stroke and keeps dropping her keys. She says, "Aren't I fat?" and lets the coat fall to the floor. "I want to wear the green one anyway," she announces, and shuffles out of the kitchen. Catie and I look at each other and laugh.
"It's like she's herself, but magnified," I remark and we nearly trip over ourselves getting my mother and her pills and her cell phone and her library book and her giant cataract sunglasses packed up.

Bryan digs a path to the van and we help my mother in. She tells Bryan how to get to the hospital. I quiz my mom on everyone's birthday. This stroke did not affect her cognitive skills. She remembers every one.

Bryan drops the three of us off at the emergency room. My mother tells the nice lady at the desk, "I think I'm having a shlight shtroke." She manages to sign over her life on the forms, very well I may add, considering she's lost a lot of mobility in that left arm of hers, and then mutters something about schvartzas, which Catie and I, filled with horror, demand that she cease. Then we crack up.

We speed through triage with the help of Alan, a lovely nurse with a bad toupee that the other nurses and doctor make fun of openly to us. Alan insists that my mother be wheeled to a bed which she eventually agrees is a good idea. When the doctor strokes my mother's face, asking if she can feel his touch, she tells him with doe eyes, "I can feel everything and it feels very nice." This, after asking him if he's old enough to have even completed medical school. I cringe, seeing myself in her coy ways. Bryan sees it too, and laughs it off as a Classic Elise Move. I am, of course, mortified.

Then the lady in the bed to the right of us, a wizened witchy bag of bones with an explosion of gray hair and crusty feet, starts her lunchtime show. She shouts for help. Her pleas go ignored and we learn that this is because she's insane. When no aid arrives she gets out of her bed, spilling tea, falling out of her gown, clutching god knows what to her sunken chest. Wide-eyed with terror, she peers into our little beeping lineoleum cove where my mother lies prone (so her head can receive as much blood as possible). My niece and recently arrived oldest sister (not the doctor but the English teacher) and twenty-one year old nephew and I sit surrounding my mother (bryan's gone to retrieve the kids by now), cracking inappropriate jokes and checking our cell phones. The shrunken old woman looks pleadingly into my eyes (why me?) and says, "Can you help me?" I swallow, and look around for someone to rescue me. How can I possibly be of service? My mind reels for ideas but comes up blank. The twelve year-old doctor thankfully witnesses the commotion, escorts her back to her bed and I remark that he must have gotten an A in bedside manners because this lady does not ruffle his feathers at all.

When she pulls out a stash of cigarettes and lights up, it's another story. The cigs get confiscated, the nurses and doctor roll their eyes to us because we are sane enough to be in on the joke with the staff, and we have a good old time, feeling well cared for and entertained. My mother pleads with us to open the curtain so she can see the show. She's having a hard time feeling in the loop flat on her back. My family's faces shine with a mixture of mirth and acceptance into the scrubs-clad fold. We belong! our hearts sing.

A few minutes later the old woman whips out her second, hidden stash of smokes from where I can only imagine, and lights up again. The nerve! We howl with laughter. This time there are words. "Jerkoff!" she calls Jim, another nurse on duty. "Go get your own cigarettes!" she spits.
"I don't smoke, ma'am," he responds professionally, staring into his computer screen and typing furiously.
"That's what I thought," she mutters, as if his non-smoking ways betray a paltry lack of character she obviously possesses in spades. Then, "When am I getting my own room!"
"That's what I want to know," he says, without hiding his disdain. "I'm trying to find out right now."

We were sad when they finally took her away. Then my mother got moved to her own room, after some tests which determined that her stroke wasn't slight, but a full-on regular-sized stroke. The lovely neurologist reported the effects to be moderate to medium.

Her speech slowly returned to its usual cadence and even her droop undrooped some. Rehabilitative therapy for her left side began that day. Nancy arrived and it was a nice little reunion, studded with terrible food, the loveliest staff you could ever hope for, save for one overworked and stressed out young nurse, and a lot of wires emanating from my mother like rays of electric sunshine.

She's seen the nutritionist, the physical therapist and has a lot of work to do. But the mood is light because she's still herself and she's alive.

She goes home today, my newly minted stroke mama. Get well soon. I love you. And, poo poo as my mother would say.


Justicia said...

front lines for sure Elise! Keep hangin' tough; there is nothing you can not handle. Sending you warmth and a hug...

Vashni said...

I am so sorry for the shitstorm of 2011. let me know if you want to go out for coffee or scotch or girl scout cookies.

Claudine said...

I completely loose myself in the story and forget for a moment that it's real and laugh-out-loud (scotch tape was a brilliant idea!). It was a relief to read she's not lost and going home. My dad had a stroke and his pride never recovered and neither did he. Wishing you all the best.....

Anne Sherman (TCC Group) said...

I am glad to hear your mom is doing better. Incredible post. Thinking of you.

Hubby said...

Is that our yard in that picture? What's all that green stuff? Where's the snow? It sure has been a low start. Hoping the rest of the year is up. Love.

Elise Abrams Miller said...

J! thanks for the boost and the warmth & hug. if you think i can handle it, then it's got to be true!

Claudine, that sucks about your dad. thanks for the props and wishes!

Anne, great to have your comment and support as always.

H, i always love getting your comments and knowing that you read even if I have to nag you.

hearts and love all!

kristi said...

i'm with claudine--i got really sucked into this while i was reading, it's so freaking well written, that i did forget it was really YOU you were talking about.

is that your mama in the picture, i assume? oh--my favorite part by far was when she said the strokes on her face felt nice and you saw yourself in that. isn't that just how it is with girls and their mothers?

i love you friend, and i am so grateful you write and share these things. you inspire me.

hugs and a glass of scotch + girl scout cookies, as justicia suggested.