Forty-seven days I’ve been doing this. And the only thing in my mind relating to 47 is, was Mom hospitalized for 47 days and her hospital bill was $49K, or was it 49 days and $47K?*
I don’t remember anymore. It was a long time ago.
I was most of the way through my junior year at college — although since I wound up, inadvertently, on the five-and-a-half-year plan, “junior year” doesn’t really mean anything.
Mom was very much a workaholic; 50 to 60 hours a week was standard for her, and she hadn’t taken a vacation since her 30-year class reunion eight years before, preferring to take cash in lieu of vacation. And she was at least 40 pounds overweight, although I’m probably underestimating that, considering she was a couple of inches taller than me. Plus being a smoker, at around a pack a day, give or take a little, but I might be underestimating that as well. So, in general, a woman whose identity was wrapped up in how hard she worked and how much money she made, not because she was greedy or a spendthrift but because she grew up during the Great Depression and that was her way of making sure she could take care of herself and her family: having extra money saved up in case of that proverbial rainy day.
I have this moment realized I remember the month and the year this happened, and that it was a Sunday, but there are things that don’t track, so to speak.
What I mean, for one thing, is that I was home when I didn’t expect to be. Steve had come up with tickets to a Sunday baseball game, and we drove out to the stadium and were in the queue into the parking lot. I remember that before he could pay to park, the lane attendant asked to see the tickets, and when Steve handed them over, the attendant said, “Sorry, but these are for next Sunday.” So we u-turned out of the lane to go to lunch, and I distinctly remember Steve saying, “Well, I guess these were wasted, since next Sunday is Mother’s Day.”
The thing that doesn’t track, though, is if it was Mother’s Day when she had her coronary, why were we home instead of with Steve and his folks? But we were definitely home, and Mom was definitely outside pulling weeds in the midday sun on one of the hottest days of the year to date, so maybe we were going to do Mother’s Day dinner instead of brunch. That’s the only idea that makes sense. Unless Coronary Day was Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day, which is also possible.
Memory. It’s a tricky thing, especially with stress hormones gumming up the works.
At any rate, Mom, outside in the yard when it was at least 90 degrees, and me inside because I wasn’t stubborn and a bit of an idiot. Seriously, Mom was not a stupid person, but she had a stubborn streak a mile wide about some things, and if the weeds needed to be pulled, then by damn she was going to pull weeds and to hell with it being as hot out there as the hinges of Hades. She may also have been trying to guilt me into joining her in weed-pulling, which didn’t work. I also have a tendency toward stubbornness, and I get it from both sides of my family.
I don’t recall how long she worked on the weeding. An hour, maybe two, before the heat finally beat her down enough to get her to come back inside. She got herself a glass of milk and sat down on the sofa, sweaty and her face the shade of a ripe tomato. I think she was breathing the way people do when they’ve been active and are trying to catch their breath. She said both her arms hurt and kept stretching them to work out the soreness.
For the record, the most common heart attack symptoms in women?
- Discomfort/pain in one or both arms, upper back, jaw, neck or stomach
- Cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness
- Shortness of breath (with or without pain/discomfort in the chest)
- The classic: chest pain, either intermittent or ongoing
Pretty much all of which can be masked by the normal expectations of how someone would look/feel after farting around in the yard for two hours or so on a hot day.
She finished her glass of milk and said she was going to take a nap, went into her room and closed the door. Maybe a half-hour later, maybe a little less, it occurred to me to look in on her. I don’t know why; wasn’t something I did as a regular thing, to quietly open her door when she was napping and peek in. But I did that day, and she lay there wheezing and gasping for breath. I tried to wake her up, and couldn’t, so I called 911.
Fortunately, we lived three blocks away from a fire station. The paramedics arrived in minutes. They put her on an epinephrine drip almost immediately, and then it was a matter of waiting for the ambulance. As they maneuvered the gurney from her room to the front door, they bumped the needle for the drip, and the epinephrine flowed into the tissue of her lower arm on the inside of her wrist; while she was hospitalized, the tissue necrotized, so they had to debride (de-BREED) the area and do a skin graft from the upper leg.
Less medical-ese, the epinephrine poisoned the tissue, it died, and they had to remove it. She said the donor-graft site itched for months…if not years. She also ended up with a round scar on her upper-middle chest; between the paramedics and the emergency-room doctors, they had to defibrillate her more than 70 times. Because her heart kept stopping.
But I’m getting ahead of things, although I’m really not sure how much more of this I want to write. Mom survived this, despite needing a relatively new treatment — a balloon angioplasty — two days later. I got the call at work and one of the librarians drove me to the hospital because nobody wanted me to risk driving, and I remember that was a Tuesday, which does settle the question of whether the heart attack was on Saturday or Sunday.
It was Sunday. It was Mother’s Day. Her “gift” for Mother’s Day was a massive coronary that turned her from a 60-hour-a-week workaholic to someone who was pretty much unemployable due to the short-term memory damage she suffered when they couldn’t keep her heart going, not to mention that she was an insurance risk. It undercut, it destroyed, everything that she felt gave her worth, and I think there was a span of time she hated me for calling the paramedics instead of just letting her die. I was afraid for years after that I’d come home from school or work to find she’d killed herself.
But she was a tough old broad, I’ll grant her that. She plugged along another 13 years, fought Social Security for her disability benefits and won, found a little side job to keep herself occupied rather than sitting around the house feeling sorry for herself, hell, she survived a mastectomy and said it was less traumatic than her heart attack.
And what I’m grateful for, in this case, is the lessons she taught about how I didn’t want to be. How I didn’t, and don’t, want to live my life.
*Oh, in case you’re curious, in today’s dollars her hospital bill would be between $154K and $160K.