As we sit in the emergency room, things go from bad to worse. Mama is vomiting up green stuff nonstop.
“What is that?” I ask the nurse, but she won’t tell me. It looks like poison.
Radiologists push Mama into an MRI, believing the vomiting is connected to gallbladder malfunction.
The test proves as much. Mama’s gallbladder is inflamed, and they need to admit her for further tests. The pain is so severe that she’s buckling, but no one can do anything for her until the doctor arrives in the morning.
I go back to her house to sleep, but I keep one eye open the whole night, waiting for the clock to hit 7:00 a.m. so I can be with her. I return to find Mama in severe pain. Under a hospital robe, she’s still wearing her sweats from the night before. The pain, she says, is almost crippling. She can only lie on one side. I’m in the process of trying to sit her up in a chair when Mama feels sick. I quietly grab a bucket, and she immediately vomits up dark blood.
I can’t believe my eyes.
“Help her!” I scream. “Please help her!” The nurses rush in to do whatever they can, but it keeps coming. I feel like I’m about to faint. I splash water on my face, but it doesn’t work. My heart is beating so fast that I can’t breathe. I have to sit down.
Mama finally stops vomiting, and the nurses bring the surgeon in to talk to me. He explains that he’ll be performing an emergency operation to take out her gallbladder, which is so gangrenous that it has died and poisoned her system. It’s become septic, as he calls it. Normal white blood cell levels range between four thousand and eleven thousand. Mama’s levels have skyrocketed to fifty thousand.
The nurses prepare Mama for surgery. I saw the fear in her eyes when she was throwing up blood. Mama is so drained from pain that she wants them to take her gallbladder out.
Grandma joins me, and we wait several hours for a progress report. We console each other as we wait. My grandmother is rather frail, so I’m afraid this ordeal might cause more stress than she can bear. I hold it together for her when all I really want to do is curl up in a ball and not say a word. Finally, the surgeon walks into the room, and it feels like everything goes into slow motion before he actually reaches us.
“Your mother made me work hard,” he says, looking tired from the operation. He shows us a picture of the gallbladder he just removed. It’s supposed to be a light-bluish color, but hers is as black as tar. He tells us that he got it all out but that Mama is still very sick and is receiving a high dosage of antibiotics.
~ ~ ~
It’s been twelve days since Mama’s operation, and I’ve left the hospital only once to pack a bag of necessities for her. At this point, Nia is living with Mama, and when I get to the house, she is there. “Did she die? Is she dead?”
she asks, in a very aggressive voice.
“No, she is not dead,” I say. I am confused and angered by her behavior.
“Why is she not dead?” she asks, as if she is disappointed that Mama is still alive.
I tell her she better get the hell away from me before I kill her.
Mama is scheduled for a second surgery. She has a leak in her stomach where bile is seeping in. Every day, we pray that the little plastic bottle attached to her side will stop filling up with brownish gunk. We hoped that this gunk was only the water they were using to flush out her system. But no, it’s a leak for sure. The doctors put in a small stint to shut off the leak. This surgery, an endoscopic retrograde ERCP, carries several risks—a pancreatic infection being one of the worst.
The worst happens. Mama is now suffering from a pancreatic infection in addition to the original infection from her gallbladder. She fights for her life for another ten days until we get a miracle from God himself. She’s being released from the hospital today with her blood count back to normal. Hallelujah!
~ ~ ~
After being out of the hospital for two weeks, Mama’s condition has vastly improved. But today she complains that her stomach is hurting as much as it did before the first surgery. We give it a couple of days, and then we return to the hospital to find that her blood count has shot up again.
“She’s infected from head to toe,” the doctors tell us. Oh, my God!
Since this illness struck her, I’ve acquired an education in infections. This one carries a ninety-percent mortality rate, which means that only about ten percent of its victims survive. Now she’s been hit again, twice within a two-week span. Can Mama endure and fight this off once more?
For the next eleven days, I sleep next to Mama in a rollaway bed. Thank God I’m here. I don’t want to badmouth the nurses, but Mama has to relieve herself about every two hours, and if I weren’t here to lift her and put the bedpan under her, who knows what a mess it would be? The nurses never get here in time. Mama presses the button for immediate help, but they never appear for at least fifteen minutes.
I stay here not only because I’m worried, but also because if I leave, Mama will not receive adequate care. She has massage pads strapped to her legs to keep her from clotting, so she’s unable to get to the bathroom quickly.
Thus, she has to rely on bedpans, not to mention the bucket I grab every time the strong antibiotics running though her veins make her puke. If I weren’t here, she’d have puked and pissed all over herself many times.
An infection specialist monitors her progress, but all they can really do is treat her with antibiotics and wait. Finally, her blood count returns to normal, and they’re able to release her. Mama has beaten the odds once again. I can’t help but admire her bravery and strength through it all.
Her illness has taken its toll on me as well. During the entire stretch, I’ve been completely stressed out, and I’ve never slept longer than two hours at a time. I’m worn out—whipped from fighting my mother’s battles. I have my own issues to overcome. It’s a wonder I’m still standing. I pray to God to keep his hands on her so I can look after my own life.
~ ~ ~
After pleading and prayers from the family, Nia is now seeing a therapist who might be able to help her deal with her demons and let go of them. She slowly seems to be returning to the person I knew. She even tells Mama about the molestation.
Mama’s boyfriend died three years ago. So when Nia told Mama, she was initially angry with her for waiting until he had died to tell her. In anger, she told Nia she should have just kept it to herself. She took his death hard, and now she doesn’t know whether to love him or hate him. She wants answers from him. A few weeks later, after the anger subsides, Mama sobs in shock and disbelief.
The three of us have had our fair share of dark days, with various levels of abuse we are still fighting. And although there is still much to do, I’m happy to say that we are all survivors.
My sister has had so much bottled up inside her for years. And she hasn’t had the outlets I’ve had to help her cope. I have my music and writing. I pray for my sister’s full recovery. I pray that she gets her mind, strength, life, and spirit back. I pray that her full recovery becomes the key to getting her daughter back in her life.
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