Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Holding the tiller

I burned my mother's pan. I cooked chicken and bacon for a warm salad for my father and sister when we came back from hospital, and I forgot that I left the pan soaking on a high heat. I was sitting in the study, the one room in the house that is Dad's not hers, listening to 'Fix you', whilst replying to anxious messages on behalf of my father, who is too distressed to cope with the phone calls and emails telling him that so many people are praying for him, for mum, for us. He has gone to be with my brother and his wife and his one-year old grandson; they were the last people to sit with Mum today, before visiting hours ended, and if he cannot be with her, he can be with the last people who sat at her side, and he can hear from them how she was, and look into my brother's face when he tells how he is hopeful, he is calm, how Mum's amazing grace defies the expectations of a severe stroke, day 2 .

My mum, who is fit and only 63, can swallow. She does not need naso-gastric feeding. She is paralysed down her right side: the clot affected deep inside her left cerbral cortex, the part that deals with motor neurone and sensory function, but she can wriggle her toe, we think. She can't speak, but she smiles, at us, her family, and she lifts her left hand, and she waves, and she smiles. And I can see what it costs her; every grimace, every flash of understanding between us. I cradle her face, I smooth her hair, I tell her she is making me so proud, how she is the best patient, already ahead of schedule, applying her ambidextrous talents and quick wit to this new now.

48 hours after she carried a tray of tea and fruit and cereal upstairs to treat my sleeping father to breakfast in bed the day after the family party, and then collapsed, her mouth open in a silent scream of panic and pain that came out as a gasping laugh, she is sitting up and trying to show us that she is all right. Her right hand has a burn and a blister the size of a gull's egg, where the scalding tea splashed her, yet still she set the tray down, would not let my father take it, for fear he might be hurt too. Then, only then, would she fall onto the bed, and try to cry for help, in her frozen agony of fear.

Her great heart was swollen, it was failing for weeks, but she would not go to A&E. She wanted July 7th weekend to be perfect; her brother's 70th, a hotel full of life-long friends come to celebrate, the next day, a celebration for all the family in the sunshine, in the garden of scent and colour that she and Dad planted. She was tired, but she did us proud. She is so tired now, and my father is so frightened, so shocked, that he wants to give up. I tell him, I tell her, that there is hope, there is so much to be encouraged about, even now, so soon. That this too will pass; that it is looking so positive, that we are amazed at the progress she is making after only one night's sleep.

It is so hard when it happens to someone you love. I would so much rather it was me: I know I would be ok, I know J would never despair of me, of us. That even if I could not walk I would still outrun the shadows. This afternoon I took Dad to the doctor because I was worried that he was presenting worrying symptoms himself ; but he is physically fine, his blood pressure has stabilised again, the adrenalin surge that left him shaking and then freezing cold has ebbed away, the crushing headache, banging in the ears, and numbness have faded somewhat. It was shock and grief that flattened him.

I need him to stay in the present and not mourn the future, I need us all to keep breathing deeply, pushing our feet down into the ground, counting the heartbeats. To stay steady, to hold the rope of hope and feel the pull towards a different shore. To let the wind carry us on and to not panic.

20 Comments:

Blogger Graham the Funky Aardvark said...

In times of trouble, your friends are here

In times of struggle, your friends are here

We might not have met you, but we are your friends

And we are here for you and your family

Take strength from us

All

July 10, 2007 11:00 pm  
Blogger Graham the Funky Aardvark said...

Oh, and what you wrote was beautiful

Thank you again for allowing us to share

July 10, 2007 11:02 pm  
Blogger Tom Tyler said...

Very sorry to hear about the bad news. Just give it time, many stroke patients make remarkable recoveries, and almost all recover to some extent, but it does take time.

July 10, 2007 11:21 pm  
Blogger seth said...

hi rachel,

what can i say? what is happening to your mom (mum) is horrible..we'll pray for her.

seth

July 10, 2007 11:29 pm  
Blogger Clare said...

Thanks for the update Rachel and your mum is doing so well already by being able to communicate with you. It must have been a great shock for your dad and he is lucky to have you all around to help him though.

Thinking of you and your family.

*hug*

July 10, 2007 11:54 pm  
Blogger Joanna Young said...

Rachel, I don't know you or your family, only your writing and your story. I'm so sorry for what you're going through. So moved by what you have written. Your mum's amazing grace has transferred itself into the power of your words. Keep the faith that you will, all, outrun the shadows.

Joanna

July 10, 2007 11:55 pm  
Blogger Kris said...

Dear Rachel

I was in similar shoes last year and know what it's like.

Don't forget to take some time out. I spent some time with PC Bitseach at the batting cage, but I don't suppose they have one where you are- but it did help.

All the best.

July 11, 2007 12:41 am  
Blogger Jai'me said...

Rachel, I am quite sorry to hear about your mother. It was strange reading the words as it felt very much like going through the experience myself. This would be because I did go through a very similar experience back in May. My mother suffered a renal failure which led to other problems (liver, bowel etc.). What you wrote about your father reminded me of mine. He was terrified. I spent nearly all my time at the hospital for 2 weeks.

It is very painful watching your loved ones go through such an ordeal. You feel helpless. You'll have to be extra strong for both and keep an eye on your father as well, as you are doing. Dad wouldn't eat properly and would skip meals. I had to encourage him to eat properly and also spent time with him away from the hospital (watch TV together to get his mind off things).

You are in my thoughts. Stay strong and pray.

July 11, 2007 2:10 am  
Blogger Randall said...

Rachel - from our house to yours, I hope your family heals well, and that your Mum is bouncing around this time next year at an even bigger celebration. Best wishes from 'cross the pond. Randall

July 11, 2007 3:20 am  
Blogger Robert Newsom said...

Rachel:
Based on my years as a nurse who has cared for A LOT of stroke patients, I think you should be encouraged. If she is able to swallow so soon, there is considerable hope for a great deal of progress to come.

Best wishes from the American South.

July 11, 2007 5:02 am  
Blogger Glamourpuss said...

Beautifully written, Rachel.

My thoughts are with you.

Puss

July 11, 2007 10:15 am  
Blogger Debi said...

One day at a time, Rachel. Don't try to project what might happen tomorrow or the day after. And don't think you can prepare yourself for any eventuality, cos you can't. I know whereof I speak.

Thinking of you and sending very much love.

July 11, 2007 10:31 am  
Blogger IainC said...

This piece alone - yet another born out of empathy for the pain of others - is worthy of publication (and I know that's not why you wrote it). It's evidence of the same gift which drew us, and your many other readers to be, here in the first place.

Strength to your mother and father, through you and without you, for the coming months.

IainC

July 11, 2007 10:36 am  
Blogger Clare said...

That made me cry. I'm thinking of you. You're so strong.

{{{MASSIVE HUGS}}}

July 11, 2007 12:57 pm  
Blogger Ellee Seymour said...

Rachel, my mother is very special to me too, I'm so glad you can be with your mother now. I wish her a speedy rocovery. Take care.

July 11, 2007 3:15 pm  
Blogger Cranky said...

I'm hoping things turn out OK for you, your mom and dad, your whole family. It's terribly shocking and upsetting but it seems like from what you describe the chances of mom's recovery are good. Best wishes to all of you.

July 11, 2007 3:40 pm  
Blogger The thinker said...

Oh Rachel - I am so sorry - another worry for you - why do problems come along like buses - one after the other. As you say, it can be worse to watch a loved one coping with illness rather than if you were to suffer it yourself. So remind yourself of this and that your mother is probably more concerned over your concern for her than anything else. Beautifully, sensitively written. Thoughts, hopes and prayers are with you and yours. HUG x

July 11, 2007 3:42 pm  
Blogger Miss Vertigo said...

Rachel, I don't know you - I arrived here via Post of the Week - but this beautifully written piece really moved me. My best wishes for healing to your Mum and your family.

July 12, 2007 9:27 am  
Blogger Lisa.c said...

Hi Rachel, Just reading an article about you now in the Guardian and since I just started a blog a few days ago, thought I'd leave you a message.

You are an inspiring individual, keep doing what you do and being yourself.

Sorry to hear about your mum, hope shes ok.

Take care,
Lisa

July 12, 2007 4:01 pm  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

i am so sory honey...love & strength to you & all of your family....thinking of you all and praying for more positive signs of recovery from your mum.

sending you a big hug of love
hxxx

July 13, 2007 7:48 pm  

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