A Christmas Season in Hell

It can’t have just all happened in three days! I guess having a total of ten hours’ sleep over three nights tends to distort one’s sense of time.
I’ll begin at the end. It is 3 p.m.. My mother is back home, sleeping in her bed, exhausted and sore from Christmas in the ICU nightmare. A the moment I’m sitting in her electric recliner, my laptop warming my thighs and a heating pad warming my lower back.
Did you know that when you get a blood transfusion, they also give you, intravenously, a diuretic named “Lasix,” which releases the body’s stored potassium along with the urine. I didn’t know that, and they didn’t tell us. I do know that a low level of potassium in the body can cause traumatically painful leg cramps. I did give them a list of the medications that my mother takes, a list that includes several prescriptions for neurological problems — hers being severe leg cramps. So much for informed consent.
So, after the barium swallow etc., the CAT scan, and the X-ray, after the unsuccessful attempt to stick a tube down my mother’s nose into her stomach, after all the colonoscopy discomfort and intrusive exploration of her upper GI tract, after the countless blood tests that turned her into a human pincushion, they concluded that
1.Her “blood count” was a little more than half of what it should be
2. She is bleeding internally somewhere.
3. She has diverticulosis but no obvious place where that condition would result in internal bleeding.
4. The rest of her GI system is fine.
With not “enough” blood to fuel normal physical and mental functions, no wonder she was too weak to walk and talk coherently.
So they gave her blood– four IV bags of it and added the Lasix and saline. And they stuck a catheter in her to catch and measure her urine and wires all over her chest to measure her heart and oxygen levels.
And then the leg cramps started. Excruciating cramps that exhausted her and us as we held her almost dead weight while she tried to stand. Everytime she sat down, the cramps would start again. She thrashed with pain, irritating the places where the IV and catheter and electrones were attached.
In the middle of all of this, they held her down and gave her another blood test to check her potassium levels (duh), and then, procedures followed, they finally gave her a few potassium IVs But it was too late. Nothing would stop the spasms in her leg muscles that went on and on despite various drugs and finally morphine. Even the morphine couldn’t knock her out. For two days, she was in a living hell of pain.
They finally allowed her to take her Quinine prescription, but they told her not to take one of the other meds she was taking for the cramping problem.
And so, at 5:30 this morning, we announced that we wanted all tubes and wires off her and we were taking her home, against medical advice. I signed the papers that had me take full responsibility for whatever happened next, and we wheeled her out to the car. She slept in my arms all the way home. We pretty much had to carry her out of the car and onto the chair in which I now sit.
Shaking with cold with morphine withdrawl, she managed to get into bed, and I covered her with two fleece blankets and a quilt and put a heating pad on her feet.
I headed for her electric reclining chair, where I also fell asleep for a short while..
When I woke up, she was up and dressed. Teary-eyed, she hugged me and said she loved me. She still ached all over from the residue muscle pain of the leg cramps.
What happened to me, she asked. Do you remember being the in hospital, I asked. No, she said. What happened?
She doesn’t remember the hospital nightmare, which is all for the best.
I get onto Google and search for foods that contain potassium — foods that she can eat, given her current GI state and her diverticulosis. Chicken and potato skins, I find.
I peel two potatoes and boil the skins in some homemade chicken broth that I defrost. I dice the potatoes and microwave them with a little water. I add the potatoes to the strained chicken broth and toss out the cooked skins. The minerals from the skin are now all in the broth anyway.
She eats the whole bowl and goes back to sleep.
And so I end this post where I began, typing into my laptop.
I add this warning to all those who have older parents who wind up in the hospital. If you don’t stay with them, you don’t know what is being done to them. Hospitals have procedures that must be followed, and sometimes those procedures wind up causing more problems than you brought them in to have fixed. You expect the doctors and nurses to truly treat each patient as an individual and carefully integrate what they plan to do with what the patient is already dealing with, including meds. Don’t count on it.
Modern medicine saves many lives. One of my cousins just got diagnosed with cancer that must be operated on. I hope it saves hers.
And I’m still hoping we will find out how it can alleviate my mother’s pain.
I thought I was done with this post, but here it is, 2 a.m., and we just got her back to bed after a run to a larger hospital’s emergency room because her leg cramps again became so unbearable. By the time we got there, the cramps had subsided, but she was barely able to stand up after not really having slept for three days. They ran blood tests, which came out fine. Told me to put her back on the meds that the other hospital ignored, gave her a muscle relaxant, and gave me the name of a neurologist so that we can figure out all that is causing the leg cramps.
Finding the right and good doctor is such a crapshoot (as is everything else in life, I guess).
So, now, finally to bed, with a heating pad for my own spasmed back muscles. I don’t think any of us will be getting up early today.

4 thoughts on “A Christmas Season in Hell

  1. Thinking about you Elaine. I hope they can find out what’s wrong. I lost a lot of blood after a six-hour surgery and they transfused me. Had to give me IV potassium, and damn if IV potassium doesn’t BURN! I’m glad she’s eating some nutritious food. Man. A Christmas you won’t forget for all the wrong reasons. šŸ™

  2. Elaine — I am thinking about you and your mother. This sounds like a very difficult time, and I hope it will get easier very soon for both of you! In the meantime, I do hope you get some rest yourself.

  3. I reckon your whole extended blogging family is out here rooting for you, your mom, and your family, Elaine. (It’s really good to have b!X blogging again.) Need we say ‘Hang in there’? I think not. Would that most of us had your fortitude and love to give. Remember your mom’s hug–it says it all.

  4. Oh Elaine, I’ve been thinking about you throughout this last week. Your mother is blessed to have someone like you caring for her; it scares me that my barernness means I’ll have nobody to do the same when I get older. If your mom can eat bananas, they’re loaded with potassium.

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