I have no idea why I was so polite to the EMT’s. For some reason, it was important to me to maintain a very calm and pleasant exterior while on the inside, I was contemplating pushing them out of the way and putting the pedal to the metal myself. We made small talk, Steve and I. I desperately wanted to ride in the back with the other EMT – who had the benefit of being able to see my mother’s face. “Are you from here?” I asked. “Yep, born and raised. We’ve lived here…” blah, blah, blah… I tried very hard to appear to listen intently, but my eyes were stretching as far as they could around the corner of the seat to catch a glimpse of all that I could see of my mother: a tuft of her hair on the top of her head. Every five minutes I would ask “how are you momma, are you okay?” The EMT would nod back to me yes. She was nowhere near in a position to speak loudly enough for me to hear. I thought the ride was unusually rough. That can’t be good – won’t that jostle around her brain fluids, etc., unnecessarily? For the first time in ten years I regretted not going to med school.
That was the most painstaking twenty minutes of my life. You simply had to wait. There was nothing extra I could do. In between making small talk and checking with the EMT on mom, I would say a silent prayer. Please hurry this man up. Please get us there in time. Please do Your work, God. Show up for us, we need you. Protect her, protect her, protect her…get us there…help these men do their job…please make them go faster (but safely)…
I could see the headlights of the new Santa Fe trailing behind us. My dad. What was he thinking? Could he see her face? Probably. Lucky him – maybe I should’ve volunteered to trail behind. Finally, we arrived at the Community Hospital in Tallassee, AL. Again, I promise you: I have never known – in all my times coming home for the holidays – that such a hospital existed in this extremely small town. This town, which for years, had only one red light. Where “Wal-Mart” was like the mall since it was the biggest store in town (though it’s branding was five generations old). There was a fairly big river (the Tallapoosa River) you had to cross over to get to that side of town, typically. A huge dam loomed underneath the bridge.
Kids from the local high school used to be allowed to spray paint graduation messages on it once a year. I wondered if they still let them do that. I thought it was quite dangerous given how incredibly steep and high that slope is.
Finally. The Haynes Ambulance pulled us up to the Community Hospital. I must admit, I was highly unimpressed with the service we received. The nurses were nice enough but my mother was forced to wait in a small holding room where they first assess a patient’s situation when they enter the ER. I caught myself holding my breath – especially as a guy in the curtained room next to us was apparently hocking up a lung. What does he have?? I just didn’t feel a sense of urgency on the medical staff’s part. We ended up simply waiting in that room a long time as CNA’s and an assigned nurse checked on a few vitals here and there. Thank God my dad had the foresight to grab my mom a robe. She ended up being quite cold in there and the one blanket they offered after request was rather thin. She indicated she needed to use the restroom. The nurse took the opportunity to make sure she took a urine test while she was at it. This is when I learned my mother needed complete help walking.
Between my Aunt Deborah and I, we served as human crutches for her for the first three steps. “Maybe you should use this wheelchair.” Agreed. I’d never seen my mother in a wheelchair before. Really odd. We rolled her the next twenty steps over to the restroom. This would be the first time I could ever say I watched my mother use the bathroom. Can’t say that’s ever happened before either. It was very clear that her left leg was betraying her. Upon trying to smile, it looked more like a mean grimace than anything. I fought back tears as I saw her look at her own attempt to smile in the mirror, only to see that smile break halfway up. God, have some mercy.
She was talking – that was good!! I was so thankful she had that. Vital signs showed her blood pressure was still extremely high. We were notified that she would have a CT scan (i.e. “cat scan”) done. My dad, Aunt Deborah and I had been standing by her while all of the initial assessments were performed. We would have to go back to the waiting room while the CT scan was being conducted. Sitting there was my Grandma Ann and Uncle Ed, along with an unknown family of about 8 and growing. Someone else had a trauma accident with a four-wheeler. Apparently it flipped and sent him straight through a barbed-wire fence, the family said. It’s possible he could die. I’d seen him across the hallway from us back in the assessment area. Bloody, he had several lacerations on his body – from the few parts of him I could see. Some already had bandages on them. His eye was already blackened and puffy, possibly oozing. God, help him make it too.
After she came back from her CT scan (no results ready for us yet), they stated she would need an MRI done but would have to wait until morning. OK…is that normal, why can’t we do it now? Being in that setting, I felt extremely frustrated. We had no way of telling what should or should not be happening. All I knew is that I wanted to get her to a bigger hospital, asap. Tonight, however, we would need to wait. I unhesitatingly agreed to stay the night with my mother. Both my dad and I. I’m sure they only wanted one relative staying in the room with her, but I’m thankful no one turned me away.
At 9:39pm, she was transferred to her room. Number 325. It was small, a little dated with a mega-chunky TV hovering from the ceiling’s crevice. Outside it had been raining. Thunder-storming rather hard in fact. Lord, watch over my sister and brother-in-law as they drive here tonight. I instructed my sisters and cousin, Mindy (who’d heard the news and wanted in on the updates asap), not to call the room so she could rest. I told them they could call us directly on our cells.
Ten minutes after being in the room we learned that the CT scan came back normal. Why didn’t someone show us the actual images from the scan to explain them to us? Does that come later? Hmm. EKG was normal also. Come on people, she’s obviously having or had a stroke. What’s next? What else do you need to verify it? They did note that the scan identified a choroidal fissure cyst somewhere near her eye, but that’s “nothing and a lot of people have them.” Google verified this. “She was admitted tonight to rule out the possibility of stroke.” I suppose that’s medical-speak for saying that they haven’t been able to verify she’s had a stroke yet. The blood tests hadn’t come back either. They checked her blood pressure again – it was coming down: 124/57. Much better.
More texts went out to the family after midnight to update them on mom’s status. We’d noticed that she had severe numbness on the left side of her face and hands. Being a hygienist, she’s extremely familiar with the feeling of numbness in one’s cheek/jaw/lips. She said her hand felt “fat” like those areas of your mouth do after being numbed by the dentist. She kept touching her hands when we were in the ER and her face, trying to be able to feel that they were there.
Twenty minutes after entering the room, she fell asleep. Good. She needed to rest. Her body and mind needed that precious deep slumber to recuperate, to recompose itself. There was a great sense of knowing that everything was out of our hands. I had never seen my mother so very weak before. Though thankfully she could think relatively clear still, it took immense effort to speak. When asked a question, it took nearly a solid ten seconds for her to finally get the words to come out. God, please don’t let this effect her speech or mind long term. My dad and I found an extra chair so the both of us would have a place to sit/try to sleep for the night. I sat as close to her as I reasonably could. I wanted to be able to hear her breathe. See her face at all times. One of the CNA’s came in about every two hours to check her vitals. The main medicine she received while there: Tylenol. Is that the best we’ve got?