Monday, November 12, 2012

Not One True Word

It was a heart attack.
Walking into the kitchen and briefly mis-reading the message on my iPhone.
It was a heart attack. My wife's mother.
Driving too fast to the hospital.
We talk with father in law and get the story.
Pain in the back and shoulders all week. bad indigestion. Major, uneasy, discomfort a couple times. Then Friday night in the wee hours confusion, pain, can't get up.
Father in law had to piss her off to get her moving. He couldn't lift her. Not sure what this was. Maybe just some bad stomach problem.
He drives her to the local hospital, not local for them, living out in the boonies. They can't keep her. She's had having a heart attack. She needs a hospital with the right equipment. Now she splits from him. She gets the flashing lights. He drives on his own.
At hospital two he can't find her. The emergency room staff checks. She's already in. The procedure has begun. A stent to restore blood flow to her ventricle muscle. 90% blockage.
We see her in ICU. A tube on every limb. Even ankle cuffs to keep circulation in her calves. She is tired, so dreadfully tired.
More diagnosis. It's not just the heart, it's cholesterol. It's diabetes. It's kidney infection.
By twos and threes, according to ICU policy, the local relatives stream in.
The story is told and retold. Father in law can't quite make sense of the medical information.
Mother in law, never trusting of physicians, is scared about her condition, scared about her care. Each visitor sets off a new wave of questions, and stories, and worries.
The day passes. Mother in law gets no sleep. She's so uncomfortable. The bed is wrong. The tubes are wrong. The indigestion is torturous. Each sip of water launches a wave of gas that booms out of her frail body as a painful belch.
She can't sit up. Has to stay flat as a board to make sure the wound at her femoral artery, where they went in with the stent heals up.
Visitors trickle in and out. She still can't sleep. When will they give her something that works for her tummy?
The nurses try med after med. Slowly, the way nurses do. It's not a rush. You are okay.
It's now 2am the next day. My wife and I have had rest but not Mother in law. My wife has taken the night shift in ICU. To stay and help and comfort. I'm up with the cell phone charger and favorite pillow for my wife.
Mother in law can sit up now. A small mercy. She is still so tired, and worried. The doctors and nurses gave voice, gave words, to so many suspicions she had about her body. Whispers guessed herself over the last year hinting at big changes. Important changes. Life defining changes.
Maybe the latest med with stop the stomach pain.
My wife leaves the room. I'm with mother in law. What can I say? With all the worry of the day hanging over her like the reaper, with all the pain she's in, what can I say? With all the hopeful, well-intentioned words and silly banter of the day's visitors hanging halfway in the air like tired helium ballons, what can I say?
I decide to say nothing. I hear the sages exposing the impossibility of one true word in temples a thousand years ago. I relax into the now. Into the beeps. Into the chaos an fear hanging into the room. And in a moment those things seem gone. I'm standing by mother in law and I reach out to touch her arm. She's laying on her side half hugging a pillow. I touch her arm and collect myself. And breath deep. And relax. And we spend that moment together in silence. Hanging from a branch in the cliff. A tiger above, a tiger below. Mice nibbling through the brach. We will soon be falling again, but now the Strawberry is so sweet. A few more gentle breaths and she is asleep. Heart rate down. Half mumbling, but asleep.
There are no true words. No true concepts. But even in the thick of the worst of it, even then, there can be peace.

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