The Waiting Room :: The Day I Could Have Lost My Mom

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I was expecting a call.

Someone would call and tell me my sister was in labor. She was expecting her first baby any day. We were supposed to deliver our babies 15 days apart. I was due March 1 and she was due on the 16th. But that was before I went into preterm labor and had an emergency c-section to deliver my twins in January. 

They had now been home from the NICU for a few weeks. It was March 15, and I was on edge anxiously waiting for my baby sister to safely experience her first delivery. 

The call came early in the morning. I had just gotten back to sleep after another diaper changing/feeding/pumping routine. I was getting 2 hours of sleep (at most) between feedings. I was exhausted and half-asleep when I answered, ready to be upset that she had been in labor all night and they had waited to call me. 

It was NOT about my sister. 

My dad was on the phone which was weird because he is not a morning person…just like me. His voice sounded worried, immediately bringing me out of my half-asleep state. 

He told me my mom had been in an accident. The paramedics told him she was drunk and they were taking her by ambulance to UNMH. He was leaving the house to meet her there. 

I could tell he was upset and frazzled. My mom didn’t drink alcohol…EVER.

She had just left their house for work not long before and had been fine. He said they told him her car had crossed the median and driven into oncoming traffic on the freeway, causing an accident. She was lucky to be alive. But something was wrong. Why would they think she was drunk? 

We hung up and I called my mother-in-law. She rushed over to take care of my brand new babies. (Bless her soul! Not a moment’s hesitation…)

I packed my breast pump and grabbed my purse. My older sister and her husband picked me up. I pumped milk while we drove to the hospital. We hadn’t heard anything new yet. 

When we arrived, my dad met us outside the ER. Another sister was already there, waiting with my husband who had left work to join me. The ER staff were checking my mom in and getting ready for a procedure. My dad was pale and upset as he told us the news. 

My mom was having a stroke. 

She was 54. Very healthy. A family nurse practitioner with hundreds of patients who depended on HER for THEIR medical care. This couldn’t be happening to my mom!

The ER staff let us in to see her for a few minutes before they took her back for the procedure. 

I’m so glad they did. 

She looked like herself (except for the half of her body she couldn’t control correctly). She said she was fine and that it would all be ok. 

I asked if she was scared. 

She said confidently, “No. They’re going to take good care of me.”

I hugged my beautiful mother, laying there in a hospital bed…all dressed and ready for work…and I hoped she was right. 

As I left the room, I told the doctor, “Please…this woman makes the world go ‘round.”

She really did. Just the day before, my mom had ridden her bike to my house and taken me and my twins for a geocache walk at a nearby park. I hadn’t taken them out before that. She made me feel brave. When we got home, she cleaned my floors and folded all the little baby laundry before hopping on her bicycle and heading home to make dinner. That’s the kind of thing she did on her day off.

Now, we sat in the waiting room. And then we sat in a different waiting room. And then, they told us that they had done all they could and we would have to wait.

Someone told us this would be more like a marathon than a sprint and we would need to prepare ourselves for the long road….whatever the heck that meant. 

More family came. My youngest sister arrived. Together we waited and waited. 

The next time I saw my mom, she was in the ICU in a medically induced coma.

My sisters and I put lotion on her hands and tried to get the gravel out of her hair from where she apparently laid on the ground after the car accident. It was hard to see her. She looked so different from that morning. 

My husband convinced me to leave the hospital that night. He reminded me that I had babies at home that needed me. And that my own body was still recovering from surgery and I needed to let it rest.

It was so strange. I had forgotten I was a mother as I sat waiting for my own. 

I sobbed as I left the waiting room, and wept on the way home. My babies needed me, and I needed them. I also needed my mother. But there was nothing else I could do for her but pray.

My mother almost died that night.

Her brain was swelling way too much, and they rushed her into surgery removing half of her skull to allow her brain the space it needed. 

She was unresponsive for days afterwards. We prayed and hoped that she would return to us. I begged for her to just remember my name and that I was her daughter. The staff told us she might not remember anything at all. They weren’t sure how much of her brain would work. She had a feeding tube and was hooked up to tons of wires and tubes that were keeping her alive.

The day she woke up and remembered our names was so beautiful. I remember thinking everything would be ok after all.

My mother stayed in the ICU for many days. She had seizures. She couldn’t swallow. She got pneumonia. She couldn’t use a restroom. Her entire left side continued to be unresponsive.

And we continued to wait, day after day, in the waiting room, taking turns visiting her room two by two.

Eleven days later, I sat in a hospital room with my mother, waiting for a phone call. My baby sister was in labor. My mom was supposed to help deliver the baby. She had been there for all the other grand-babies so far.

Instead, we waited in solidarity, hoping and worrying together. 

We got a call. No baby yet. My sister had been pushing for over an hour. But the baby’s head was big and stuck.

My mom wanted to get up and go over to the other hospital. A therapist saw her distress and asked if she could sit in a chair. My mom looked at her like she was crazy. She could absolutely sit by herself. We helped move her to a chair, excited for this progress. And she just slid right out almost onto the floor.

My mother was so upset that her body wouldn’t do what she told it to do.

We got another call. The baby was here, safely delivered.

My mom and dad and I cried together, while my sisters cried together in a hospital across town. 

The new babies all cried too.

And that’s the story of how I waited nine years to have a baby, ended up having twins, thought life would be perfect now, and learned that life is never just perfect or imperfect. Life is a mix of all the good and all the bad and all the sweet and all the crazy just thrown into one big, salty bag of tears in a waiting room. 

That was ten years ago this March 15. And I’m always a bit wary now….Beware the Ides of March.

But more importantly, that’s when I celebrate my MOTHER. It’s when I almost lost her. I’m so grateful I got to wait for her and keep her in my life a little more.

The Waiting Room :: The Day My Mom Had a Stroke

I love you, Mom! 

“His mercies are new every morning.”

Plus, remember that time we snuck a newborn into the ICU to meet his grandma for the very first time? Nothing heals like baby cuddles. 

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