Family Relations

The joke’s on me, and it isn’t funny

I don’t like April Fool’s Day. I don’t like pranks or the silly jokes that populate that day. I don’t like malicious lies told for fun. I don’t like misleading other people, and then telling them your impending pregnancy, cheating spouse, diagnosed disease or extravagant plans were all in jest. I just don’t like it at all.

And then, on April 1, 2015, I fell victim to a horrible prank. Yet, it wasn’t a prank at all.

On that day, almost two months ago, I received a text message from my sister saying that she was worried about our mom. Mom had been suffering from a “bad cold” for a couple of weeks. When I visited her a few days before, she looked horrible.

I treated her cold with some essential oils, something to simply make her feel better, and encouraged her to go to the doctor. She wouldn’t. She insisted on a last-minute trip to attend her niece’s funeral.

On April Fool’s Day, I went by to check on Mom. She sat on the couch in a trance, lethargic, combative. Her complexion was gray and her eyes without shine. I tested her blood-oxygen levels. She tested 55, and then 50, and then 45. I begged her to go to the doctor. She lashed out.

After a series of stressful events, Mom finally agreed to go to the doctor. He took one look at her from across the room and called an ambulance.

As I sat in my car watching the paramedics load her in the back of the ambulance, I called my husband to let him know. He, in turn, told me that emergency crews were working an accident at the state park entrance, in the path the ambulance had to take, and our two grown sons were fighting a fire at our neighbor’s house. Excuse me? I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. Our sons? Who have zero firefighting experience? Carrying buckets of water? Pulling out garden hoses? Protecting our home and the woods surrounding it?

Stupid April Fool’s Day.

But none of it was a joke.

All of it was real.

It was real when my mom crashed in the emergency room.

It was real as I watched the doctor intubate her.

It was real for five days and nights as I watched her on life support.

Random texts: Are my kids OK? Tell them I love them.

Numbness kept me going.

I sat in a chair and watched. I shivered in the overnight coldness of the intensive care unit. I absorbed the names of medicines and bags being hung on poles and liquids pumped into her body.

“We’re going to induce paralysis so she won’t fight the intubation.”

“She’s very, very sick.”

“We’re doing what we can.”

“She’s a very sick woman.”

Mom loves jokes. She jumps out at people to see them jump. She snarls at them to catch them off guard. She probably would have liked a good joke like this one.

But it wasn’t a joke. And it wasn’t funny. And it didn’t feel real.

Except it was.

And reality was grim.

From the moment she entered the emergency room, doctors voiced concern about her blood. She had a whole mess of problems: congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), severe bilateral pneumonia, diabetes, severe edema and a 40-year smoking habit.

But something was wrong with her blood.

Soon after being admitted to the hospital, Mom’s platelet count dropped. Her lowered blood cell counts were already a concern. Heparin administered early in this process caused a reaction in her body that mimicked a disorder called Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia (HIT), which causes the body to make antibodies to the Heparin. Instead of the medicine thinning her blood, it put her at risk for blood clots.

She spent five days in ICU and moved to a room on Easter. At that point, the waiting game really started. The test for HIT took about eight days to process. Although the result was eventually negative, doctors said to never, ever, allow anyone to give her Heparin again.

She improved every day. Slowly, but steadily, a miracle.

Thirteen days after that horrible day, the day of jokes, the day for fools, Mom left the hospital. She wasn’t 100 percent, but she was better. For the first week. And then, she slowed. She seemed a little paler. She started coughing. Her oxygen levels decreased.

Two weeks to the day of her release, a different ambulance loaded her up.

“Just to warn you, we’re gonna run hot.”

Mom was in distress.

I’ve always considered myself a strong person. I tried so hard to take care of things for Mom. I tried to make the whole process easier on her.

I realized just how human, how broken, how tired, I was when the red lights started flashing, when the siren blared, when the ambulance sped away and out of sight. I wasn’t prepared for the emotion.

And then the numbness settled in again.

Antibiotics. Steroids. Shots. IVs. Oxygen. Breathing treatments. Blood tests. Pills. Bedpans. Nights sleeping in chairs. Juggling work with worry. Visits from doctors and nurses and care partners and social workers and respiratory therapists.

Through it all, her blood still wasn’t right.

Six days later, she traveled home again. She was better. She could breathe. She had a bi-pap machine and could tolerate it. She knew it made her feel better, so she used it. She resigned herself to the oxygen cannula. She had more energy. She felt better. Her mood was better.

But her blood still wasn’t right. In fact, it was very wrong.

A new numbness, a new worry, settles in when you hear the word cancer. It’s like life suddenly stops. Like you can’t breathe. All the worst-possible scenarios surface and you grab like you’re drowning for the moments that won’t happen or the ones that dwindled away too quickly. Fear catches in your throat and steals your thoughts, from the first moment of the day before your eyes open to the last one right before slipping into a horrible nightmare-filled state.

The hardest part is not knowing. Doctors run tests and delay office visits. They leave questions unanswered. We remain in limbo.

It’s like fate played a horrible joke on us. I know this is part of life and many people go through much worse. I know all the cliche comments, the words of advice.

But this is my mama, and I don’t like jokes. Especially cruel ones.

Now I really do despise April Fool’s Day.

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