Most readers of this blog know the story but I’ll put it here for posterity.
Betty had been complaining about her thyroid getting larger for many months so they finally scheduled surgery for December 23rd. A Thyroidectomy is normally an out patient procedure where they remove it in the morning and by the late afternoon you get to go home. That’s what would have happened with Betty but because of her history of heart trouble the doctor decided it would be best to keep her overnight. That turned out to be the decision that saved her life.
We drove to Tarzana Hospital on Friday morning (Dec 23rd) and she checked in for surgery. They told me it would normally take 1-2 hours and I should wait in the hospital lobby. I had thought about going home since we only live about 10 minutes from there but I did have the nice handicapped parking space so I just stayed and started to watch TV. There was a woman there who started chatting with me and telling me all about her husband’s health issues and how he was there to get a bypass. She didn’t seem to be very interested in the reason I was there but only wanted to talk about her husband. I finally mentioned Betty had been through 3 stent surgeries and had experienced one heart attack and 2 quasi-heart attacks. She seemed to talk a little less after that.
Finally about 10am the doctor that performed the surgery came out to talk with me. He said her thyroid was about 4-5 times normal size and that there were no complications from the surgery. He said she might even get to go home that day. He said I could go see her in an hour so I went home to grab some brunch and came back an hour later. I went in to see her in the room she would spend the rest of the day in. She seemed okay then but of course she was still a bit out of it. I stayed for about an hour or so and then went home to grab a nap since we had both gotten up very early.
I came back later that day and brought Jenny and Patrick with me. We sat and talked to Betty but she was still in a lot of pain and they had given her some medication that upset her stomach. She kept reaching for the bucket to throw up but never really did much while we were there. Ann showed up later and stayed when we left. Betty was still groggy so we figured she would be better in the morning.
That night I had gone to bed around 10:30 to watch TV. About 11pm Jenny knocked on my door and said the hospital was on the phone and that there had been an “event” and they needed my permission to take her back into surgery. I talked to the nurse who had called and said yes of course if there was a problem. She had me tell another nurse the same thing. They told me the doctor would call me after surgery to tell me more. They also said they had tried the other phone and gotten no answer. I checked my phone and saw no call so I checked Betty’s phone. It had a few missed calls from Tarzana. I took both into my room and watched TV till I finally fell asleep.
I was awakened by Betty’s phone going off around 2am. It was the doctor and he explained what had happened. Apparently Betty’s vomiting had torn the stitches in her neck and she had started bleeding internally. The nurses who were taking care of her realized there was a problem and got the emergency room doctor on the case. I never did hear where they did it but he realized he needed to get a breathing tube into her or she was going to die. The doctor who performed the surgery later that night told me a day later that it was the emergency room doctor that actually performed the miracle of getting the tube into her. Of course they could have performed a tracheotomy but the tube was much better and she would recover from it quicker. The doctor told me she was in the recovery room and that she would have a tube and be sedated for a few days while she healed but that I could come see her the next day (Saturday Dec 24th).
The next morning Ann and I went to see her. I’m not sure if Ann was prepared to see her mom like that and I wasn’t sure what we would see. We walked in to the ICU and Betty was lying there with all kinds of tubes and wires connected to her. She had the breathing tube in her mouth and tape was wrapped around her head to hold it in. Her hands were tied down to keep her from pulling the tube out. They told me if she pulled it out they would never be able to get it back in and would have to perform a tracheotomy. They told us she would come out of the deep sleep once in a while and she would be “agitated”. I wasn’t sure what that meant until I saw it happen later that day. They also had her on Propofal which we all know is the famous drug that killed Michael Jackson. I knew Propofal is safe if it’s administered in a hospital setting and she also had the breathing tube so she wasn’t in any danger.
I took Ann home and sat down with Michelle and Jenny. I told them what we had seen and told Michelle I didn’t think she would be able to handle it. She thought she might so I showed her a photo I had taken. She changed her mind and said she couldn’t handle it. Jenny also said she wanted to wait until Betty came out of sedation and looked more like Mom. That sounded like the best idea to me too.
Later that day I went back and sat by her side for a while. She came out of sedation and started moving her hands trying to pull the tube out. She was also fighting the breathing machine which made it sound the alarm. The nurse came in and gave her some more morphine and she eventually calmed down.
The next day I was there when several of the doctors came by. A couple of them asked if Betty used narcotics at home for pain because she had a very high tolerance. I told them she takes a lot of medicine but no narcotics. They eventually raised the dose and that seemed to keep her a bit calmer. While one doctor was there she started (trying to) mouth something that looked to me like “help”. The doctor asked her if she could write and she nodded so he got a pen and paper. She wrote the word “hot” on the paper. He asked if we could get an ice pack and the nurse said no. They finally settled on a fan which seemed to help calm her down.
I visited 2 or 3 times on Sunday and a couple times on Monday. Originally they had told me she was going to get the tube out on Monday but because it was a holiday they decided to wait till Tuesday. They didn’t want to do it until all the supporting staff was there in case there was a problem.
On Tuesday morning I went over and when I walked in she was lying there with no tube. When I walked up she looked at me and actually smiled. She was still quite groggy and couldn’t talk but it was one of the best moments of my life when I knew that she had rounded the corner and would recover. I took a picture and sent it to the 3 girls.
That afternoon Ann, Jenny and Patrick visited and she tried to talk but still couldn’t quite make much sound. We didn’t stay long but it felt so good to see her responding to us. Later that evening Michelle and I went back. Michelle had a stuffed animal she wanted to give her so she would have something to hug. We stayed for about a half hour and then left so she could get some rest.
The next morning she was feeling better and could whisper. They started working on getting her able to get out of bed and teaching her how to swallow again. She wasn’t able to do anything other than ice chips that day. The next day she was able to do ice chips and swallow a little water. She was getting stronger but was still a very sick lady.
We started wondering when she would get out of the ICU. I thought it might happen on Thursday but she wasn’t quite strong enough yet. When I walked in Friday morning (Dec 30th) she said she was moving to the regular ward whenever they got her a bed. Jenny and I were there and when we walked out we looked in the rooms in the regular ward and saw a couple that were empty. When they did move her it was in to one of the rooms we had seen.
Now that she was in a regular room we started making guesses as to when she would get out. I thought it would be Monday, Jenny and Patrick said Tuesday, and Ann said Wednesday. I knew I really wanted her home and she was getting much better so I thought we could probably take care of her almost as well as the hospital. We knew we would be more responsive.
On Sunday it became apparent that she wouldn’t be getting out that day. Then on Monday when I talked to her in the morning she said she didn’t think it would be then either. I told her I would be there later as I was working on something at home. About 2:30 she called and said she was getting out so I went and got her. She got home around 5pm.
We had Christmas a few hours after she got home. It was a long wait and it was certainly worth waiting for. I know I speak for the whole family when I say we got the best thing ever for Christmas this year.
Epilogue: When I talked to the doctor that performed the emergency surgery he told me he removed a liter of blood from her neck. She is home now and doing fairly well. I took a couple of extra days off since I never really had much of a vacation. I am planning to go back on Thursday but we’ll see how I feel about that tomorrow. We are also waiting for them to deliver a walker to help her get around once she gets a little more mobile. I don’t think she’ll need it for too long but it’s always better to have it if you do need it. She didn’t eat solid food until today and it’s still not very solid. Her throat is still a bit sore.