Last night, I got a phone call I had been dreading for quite some time.
My father called to tell me that my mother was in the hospital.
Earlier in the day, she was visiting her primary care physician to get (of all things) a referral to the ophthalmologist. During the visit, they performed the routine blood-pressure test and found out that my mother’s was anything but — 270 over 140, dangerously high for a person of any age. The doctor exclaimed that he’d never seen blood pressure that high. And I’ll never roll my eyes at my doctor testing my blood pressure and taking my pulse ever again.
An EKG confirmed that her heart muscle had hardened, another symptom that something was amiss. She was told to drive herself to the hospital and check in immediately. This had happened earlier in the day, but my father did not have the opportunity to call me until around dinnertime.
For a number of years, ever since my parents approached the age of 58 (they are both 60 now); my heart has jumped each and every time they call unexpectedly. You see, a majority of the people in my family died before or at the age of 58, many of them from heart disease. My father is wise enough to do something about this, getting a physical each year and monitoring his own high blood pressure. My mother, on the other hand, has not been to the doctor in years. The last time she went was because she cut off her thumb in a kitchen accident awhile ago. Before that, who knows…? When she was admitted, they asked her all sorts of routine questions:
“When was your last physical?”
“I don’t know.”
“When did you last have a pap smear?”
“I don’t know.”
“When was your last mammogram?”
“I don’t know.”
And so forth.
The two of them rarely call me; it’s usually me that is contacting them, as I can be so introverted and wrapped up in my own business. And for my dad to call me at 5:00pm on a Friday…I expected the worst. And nearly got it. Dad told me that although mom was in the ICU, it was likely that a shortage of rooms elsewhere in the hospital put her there. If all goes well, both of them were told to expect her discharge by this evening.
After I hung up, you cannot believe how hard I cried.
I drove out to their town of Southlake immediately, wove through traffic as thick as fog, and had time to blow before visitation hours began at 8:30pm. I needed to eat; I needed to collect my thoughts. Schlotzsky’s, the restaurant of a thousand memories, came to mind.
I needed something different from my regular routine, so I quizzed the teenagers working there about the quality of their pizzas. One of them encouraged me to try the chicken pesto pizza — good enough, I thought. “Gimme that, a small drink, and a cookie.” What cookie, they asked. I waffled — chocolate chip, I said. No, wait…macadamia nut, I quickly corrected. The teenager grabbed a chocolate chip cookie and I surrendered, “OK, I guess it’s chocolate chip.” He then followed it by grabbing the macadamia nut one. “Oh, I’m sorry, I only wanted one cookie.” He gave me both, said, “Don’t worry about it, sir,” and I let him know that he just made my night. I’m buying Schlotzsky’s stock come Monday morning.
I spent part of the evening at home with my father who taught me everything he knows about high blood pressure, a condition he’s had all of his adult life (thanks to his steady diet of cigarettes and alcohol, dual tastes my mother also shares). Medical care and medicine are sciences that escape me — I have a chronic thyroid condition that I may not be able to tell you the first thing about despite how it affects my everyday life. The good news was that they had detected this before something like a stroke or heart attack had occurred. My father then asked about my brother Michael — I’d talked to him earlier in the evening, and he had seemed a bit freaked out. I was freaked out myself, seconds away from crying again the whole night. The prospect of my mother being in the hospital scares me so much.
Around 8:30pm, we left for the hospital, and I was able to see my mother. She seemed relaxed and slight groggy. She was having trouble sleeping, she told me. All sorts of monitors and tubes snaked around, the sheer quantity of which unnerved me. But she felt fine, was less scared than curious about what all of the testing was showing, and wished that the nurses would quit waking her up just to ask if she’d like a sleeping pill.
That was yesterday; today it’s Saturday, and I’m currently idling away while Kilgore gets her oil changed at the local Wal-Mart. Earlier in the day, I attempted my weekly long run, only to have it aborted by searing ankle pain, the kind I have not experienced for a year now. I returned home to take the longest shower in history, as I spent most of it pinned against the wall crying again. I just came from seeing my mother in the hospital again, and both my father and godmother Kathleen were there. The mood was somber — my mother’s heart rate and blood pressure had just surged before I walked in. Visiting hours soon ended, and we were all kicked out before we could get an answer from the doctor. It’s two more hours until the next set of visiting hours. I have the feeling that she’s not going home tonight. And if not tonight, when?
Time passes, the next set of visiting hours comes about, and I visit my mother. She’s awake again and feeling fine. She looks good for a 98-pound weakling of a 60-year-old, and appears quite eager to get the hell out of Dodge–Hospital, that is. Kathleen was there again, along with her husband Bob; my father showed up soon afterwards. The magic hour was 8 o’clock, when my mother would have to show marked improvement in her blood pressure before being discharged. When the time came and the automatic cuff released itself from her arm, the results were pleasing enough: 149 over 62. She’s going to be on medication now, to reduce her blood pressure and lower her LcL cholesterol. In addition, she’s on The Patch — so it looks like my lifelong hope of my mother quitting smoking may happen now.
I spent most of the next hour at Outback Steakhouse, getting a takeout order for my parents while dad took care of getting mom settled in back at home. It’s worth noting that the same bartenders have worked there ever since the place opened, and my father and other Southlake/Grapevine cronies all hang out there each Thursday. Dad wanted the Outback Special, medium-rare with a side of fettuccini alfredo — I asked the bartender if it was possible to get this combination, and she said, “Oh, you must be Nick and Mikie’s son?” Soon enough, she was kind enough to draw me a huge pint of Fat Tire for the happy hour price.
And honestly for the first time in my life, I said to myself, “Damn, I really need a drink tonight.”
Image credit: Jasleen_Kaur on Flickr