Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hope

Hope. Funny that such a small word represents the greatest of our aspirations and desires. It is what keeps us living when we have been told that we are terminally ill and it keeps us moving forward when we know we are depressed. It gives us the energy to tend to our ailing loved ones and the strength to endure when we are exhausted but can finally see some progress. It keeps us alive in many situations. I have often said that if I had known how sick I had been at any given time, I would have likely died by now. It was uninformed hope that allowed me the strength to keep walking gaily forward when my triglycerides were so high that my blood turned white when drawn into a test tube.

As you may know, my mom was in the hospital in Wilmington for over a month recently as a result of three different admissions for shortness of breath. At first, there was little hope, or so it seemed. She had a clot in her heart and the upper quadrants of her heart, the atria, were quivering instead of pumping rhythmically. In order to correct the heart rhythm, a shock would have to be administered to the heart. This provided hope, but the presence of the clot in her heart meant that the procedure for shocking the heart could not be carried out for fear of breaking the clot loose. If the clot were to come loose, it could then travel to her brain where it could cause a stroke. We had to wait for three to six weeks while blood thinners were administered. With hope that the clot would dissolve and that the shock could be given to get her heart rhythm back in order, we began waiting to see what would happen.

With the judicious use of medication, the doctors and nurses were able to stabilize my mom. She was in the hospital for the first time from 23 December until 1 January. With great hope, we went home on the first day of the New Year. The next morning, I awoke to find Mom was unable to breathe and we had to call the EMS in to rush her back to the Emergency Room. It turned out that her medicines for reducing fluid retention had been overlooked and she had relapsed with congestive heart failure. In other words, her lungs were filling with fluid. In the ER, fluid reduction medication was immediately administered and we could hope again that she would soon be well enough to return home.

They kept her for almost a week this second time, sending her home the next weekend after correcting her dosage of fluid reduction medications. With each day home, Mom seemed to be stable, but in reality, the doctors had not yet tweaked her fluid medication properly and her lungs were slowly filling with fluid. About a week after her previous discharge, she was again experiencing extreme distress after a short walk from her bed to a chair. After struggling to get her into the car, I drove her to a pre-scheduled appointment with her cardiologist where the nurses immediately sent us directly to the Emergency Room. This time, the cardiologists decided that the clot in her heart was now small enough that it was worth the risk to get her heart rhythm reestablished because it would help her with the elimination of fluid as well.

A few days later, the cardioversion, or shock, was administered to mom’s heart and her rhythm went back into a stable, normal pattern after just one attempt. With that, her extreme hunger for oxygen was relieved and she began to strengthen again. Again, we regained hope that Mom would be ok. More importantly, with each facilitated breath, Mom gained hope that she would be ok. With each day, we could see her growing stronger and soon we saw her going back to her home. For a few weeks, I stayed with her and watched to make sure she was able to stand, walk, eat and do most of the things that are needed for her to get back to quasi-normal life.

When this all began, Mom was talking about how no one in her family had lived longer than 80 years and a few months and how she was now approaching her eighty-first year. She was feeling her illness and her age, and she was losing hope for life. This bout of illness tested us all, but none of us more than it did Mom. Now, coming out of the other side of illness, she is now living with hope again. She rejoices when she can regain a skill that she lost while sitting in a hospital bed for a month. She smiles when she can get up from her chair without assistance. In fact, now, during Carolina men’s basketball games, her blood pressure and pulse rate are better than my own, despite our desires to see the underdog Tar Heels win against the odds. How is that for a metaphor of great hope?

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