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Posts Tagged ‘CO2 Narcosis’

Chapter 20

I was on the road again. It was Mother’s Day and for the first time, I made an appointment with Mom to celebrate Mother’s Day before noon.

At 10 am she was in her housecoat, all propped up and smiling because she loved me and felt loved on this, likely her last Mother’s Day, according to her pulmonary specialist.

I knew it was really hard for her to get going in the mornings and do her makeup and hair. I sat on the rug and started pulling gifts out of a bag. Mom drifted off to sleep. Wake up Mom, it’s Mother’s Day. I can’t stay awake she said, embarrassed.

Her main gift was an angel doll to watch over her when I couldn’t be there, something to give her comfort. I wondered why I believed it as I crumpled up the wrapping paper. Mom fell asleep again. I called a nurse from the nursing home wing who grumped,  “It’s not my job to be down here in Assisted Living.” She thought Mom’s blood pressure was ok, but the hair on my neck was standing up.  Mom was asleep again and something was horribly wrong.

“Mom!” Now she wouldn’t wake up at all. I grabbed the phone and called 911. Carts clanked down the hall and nurses aides exchanged pleasantries with each other as if the world weren’t ending. I rushed to the door and propped it open, then raced back to cradle my mother.

I could hear the sirens. Always bad news, always. The truck rolled up and familiar paramedics hurried in. My high school classmate, as usual, was among them. His spoken words: “Hi Vickie.” His unspoken words: My God, how do you do this.

It wasn’t uncommon for Mom’s painkillers to back up in her system unintentionally. Other times, she just plain overdosed on the narcotics she took for pain. Whenever she was in a stupor like this, they injected a drug called Narcon. If it’s an overdose, you’ll jolt awake when the Narcon hits your system.

I stood stone faced, thinking how unnatural it was to worry over a 78 year-old woman having an overdose. I didn’t even ask any questions because I knew the whole drill. My paramedic friend’s knowing look said we’ve been here, done this.

But on that day Mom was clean and something was different. They packed her into the ambulance and I jumped into the car and raced off through the wall of rain to the hospital 3 blocks away.  I wondered what would happen if I got stopped for speeding or driving erratically.

Sorry, Officer, my Mother is dying. Mine has to be the last face my parents see or they won’t die good. Without me, the doctors might not hook them up, or pound on their chest. As you can see, I am fully prepared and have all the documentation I need to justify my driving behavior. Here’s the Directive to Physicians, Power of Attorney, medication and allergy list, all right here. Without me, the whole thing is screwed up. So, please let me go—-

No one ever stopped me, though I wondered every time if they had a protocol for people racing to the hospital.

I was in a familiar routine. It was crying, praying time. My prayers now ended with, “please don’t let her die, goddamn it.” My hands clenched the steering wheel, my face was wet, and my nose was running. Rats ate at my stomach. The stress and exhaustion must have brought on the tinny music playing in my head. Park car, hit inner ER door button with authority. Drag ragged meds list out of purse, explain terminal lung disease again. Thrust the living will into their hands, the living will they never keep on file, and wish I had warmer clothes. This is what I do.

Hours dragged by. I leaned my head back against the cold wall and took occasional notes. The beeps of the heart and lung machines grew faint. I let go of the hospital and went through the fog to our home. Five year-old Vickie was hanging upside down off her bed, finding faces in the knotty pine, and listening to Paul Anka on the old wire radio.  Life in the little house danced across my dreams in slow motion, with a tinny musical score from a hazy dream-Victrola. I tucked tooth fairy quarters into the knotholes I could reach in the stairway that led down to the basement.

In my hospital chair I sweated and twisted and kicked, heart pounding hard in real time as I was hoisted up to the dirt place by the furnace where the basement was not all the way dug out.  I stumbled across the uneven dirt with my arms outstretched like a blind man, trying to outrun the rats that got away from the peanut butter jar traps, and at last, reaching the other side, flung myself I down onto the floor, my first taste of a lifelong phobia of confined spaces.

Then, molecules of bubbly water spread pore by pore over the basement floor, puddling in the low places on the sloping concrete. The dreams that chased me occasionally were running unchecked into each other. I watched from the basement doorway, told to stay back. Dad and Billy plopped down towels that went “smack!” in the water, trying to mop up the overflow from the washing machine. Mom was in the hospital and no one knew how to properly use the washing machine.

Then Mom was home, in the kitchen. Streak by streak, I watched Mom paint the kitchen pink in perfect choreography as she has for nearly fifty years on nights when I was stressed or really, really tired. She hung a red clock on the wall for a final touch. While Mom painted, I scraped a chair covered in vinyl that looked like gray ice cubes over to the dinette window and watched a deer slowly eat Mom’s sweet peas off the vine, inches from my face.

“Do you need anything? Can I get you anything?”

My neck was stiff from the odd angle of my head, and a woman’s face was close to mine.

“What?” I said as I struggled to sit up. She offered me some coffee or a soda. Oh, I’m still here and Mom is still alive.

That day’s lesson: More than I ever wanted to know about how your lungs may be able to breath in and out, but on a bad day, the carbon dioxide stays in your body, saturates your tissues, and anesthetizes you right into a coma. It’s called CO 2 Narcosis. The one little part of my brain that was not numb from exhaustion and worry said it was a bad day indeed when narcosis is in the name of the disease.

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