Monday, January 16, 2012

Laughter lost, laughter regained

That first day, the day spent in the emergency room, we still didn't know for certain what was happening to my mom. Initial tests weren't showing a stroke. Her blood pressure was so out of control, systolic readings climbing over 220 most of the time, diastolic readings often over 100. Her blood pressure had been so high for so long that the medical staff had to be careful, bringing the pressure down, but not too much or too quickly. Different medicines were tried, trying to find that delicate balance. But Mom was, as the ER doctor told us, a yo-yo. We laughed through our nervousness at that news. Mom frequently quoted the high readings she had had at her last doctor's visit, a week earlier. So frequently, I teased her for being proud of those numbers. We continued laughing, teasing, seeing each other through the stress.

But over the next several hours, Mom got more distracted, more absent. She didn't laugh anymore. Facetious comments didn't make sense to her anymore. She was less and less herself with each passing hour. The staff kept testing her for symptoms of stroke, but nothing major appeared while we were in the ER. They thought she might be having transient ischemic attacks, TIAs, and I clung to that first word, transient.

Eventually she was moved to intensive care, while they continued to work on stabilizing her. The next few hours saw Mom getting further and further from herself. She could still speak words clearly, but picked the wrong words more frequently, coming up with improbable phrases like "good kitchen" when asking for who knows what. "Shit," she eventually said at one point, after struggling to say something else. "Well at least you still know that word," I laughed. It was, after all her favorite swear word. But she didn't remember why that was funny. And it was the last time I laughed while with her. I kept thinking about that moment while I finally made my way home. We've always teased each other, always found something to laugh about in difficult situations. But that was gone. And I didn't know for how long.

The past couple of weeks have been especially difficult. Mom has been improving just a little bit each day in pronouncing recognizable words, but she can seldom say enough to get her point across. And she's been getting increasingly upset about it, to the point of screaming whenever I can't figure out what she's trying to say. When she wasn't aggressively expressing her anger and frustration, she has appeared blank and unresponsive. Sometimes I felt I could still see my mom in there somewhere, but many times she seemed utterly gone.

But tonight was better. She could say a lot more words clearly, and was a bit more patient when I couldn't guess what she meant when she wasn't clear. There was still some screaming, but not as much. And for the first time since this all began, she even showed some of her own personality and humor again. At one point, after several failed attempts to say something, she waved her right hand and said, "Forget about it." The gesture, expression, and tone of voice were so characteristically her that I laughed and said as much. "Well, forget about it anyway," she said back. That's my Mom.


Jane said...

Love to you...and strength.

Arwenn said...

I'm just now catching up with your story...I haven't been on Twitter or keeping up with blog comments. Very sorry to hear what you've been going through, I honestly can't imagine how hard it must be and how terrifying. It is good to hear that your mother's condition is improving and I hope that continues rapidly!

I will definitely keep you both in my thoughts and prayers. I'm only a couple of hours away so if there's anything at all I could do to help just say the word.

Marjorie said...

So glad she had a good day, and was recognizably herself - it sounds as though she *is* making progress - I think the being able to control her own anger and frustration must represent a big step forward, too, even if she can't manage it consistently.
Lots of love and good wishes heading your way. x