Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mum news

My mother has changed since the beginning of July.

On 7th July, she was laughing and lovely, at my father's side, at her brother's 70th birthday, smiling at all his friends who had come to Norwich to see him.

On 8th July, she was pale and tired, but thrilled, as her whole family waited to eat lunch in the scented courtyard garden, her baby grandson playing at her feet in the sunshine, the lillies about to open.

She told me how excited she was about my book launch that Thursday: she had just started to read the book, and she wanted to come to the party in London later in the week, with Dad. I kissed her and Dad goodbye and J and I headed back to London in the late afternoon.
Later that night I spoke to her as we ate a late dinner. She was still so excited about Out of the Tunnel, and its very first reader reviews ever. And she had just been reading my blog and she wanted to warn me about a troll who had been leaving obnoxious comments. I thanked her, told her I'd put comment moderator straight back on, how I was sorry it had upset her.

On Monday 9th July, before 8.00am, (the time you never get calls, unless it is terrible news), I got a call from my uncle, her brother, to say she had a severe stroke, totally out of the blue.

My husband, my sister and I ran to get back on a train to be at her side.

Mum has never smoked, she is fit, and only in her early sixties. The only time she has been in hospital is to have her three children. Oh God, why her, why now? It did not make sense.

In the first few hours after her stroke, there was this great leaping spike of hope that carried us on, as we rushed to be with Mum and Dad in Norwich. We had heard, through Dad, who was at Mum's side in hospital, of a chance to give her a new clot-busting, effects-reversing drug, TPA. It was being trialled at the hospital where she was. There was a tiny chance she might die if she had it, but a strong chance she might massively improve.
It had to be administered intravenously, by a neurologist, within 3-6 hours of the stroke.
I remember that moment: how my desire for a miracle hardened into a white hot rock in my chest. I remember how I had spent the train journey to Norwich telling my sister, it's okay, go on, you can cry, but then dry your eyes, because Mum and Dad need to see you, looking normal, not distraught. They need to know there is hope; show them.
I remember how there was no time for me to cry: I was too busy finding out about strokes online, ( via a borrowed Blackberry). Talking to Amar, my sister's beloved companion, who is a senior registrar at an A&E, staying clear-eyed, focused, technical: tell me everything, all I need to know, what can I do, what can I say, to make sure they save her? This miracle drug: tell me, tell me it all. Costs. Risks. Benefits.
(This is what I do in a crisis. I go ice calm, seek information, and hells bells, it all goes in, like it never does normally. My memory becomes photographic, everything becomes hallucinogenically, inhumanly clear. Every detail, every breath, every thought: I remember it all, then and after.
The trouble is - afterwards - when the shock fades. The over-intense memories loop, loop, jam and fast-forward, and my real-time short-term memory crashes out completely. But still. It is a damn useful state to be in whilst it lasts.)
Dad called whilst we were an hour away from the hospital. He had signed the consent forms.
J held me. He held my hand and my sister's hand: he had bought the train tickets, bought tea, made us drink it, found a taxi to the hospital; held me together just by being there. I love him so much.
As we arrived at the hospital we found my father, grey-faced, shaking, telling us the ''computer says no'' to the mum having the drug on trial. My uncle, mum's brother, was with him, looking straight into my face. There was nothing much to say.
The randomised trial-allocating software had disallowed mum getting the treatment.
But I had already prepared for this possibilty with Amar.We got to the hospital and I went straight to the desk. 'Please', I said. 'I need to speak to the consultant, the neurologist, about our mum'.
'Your mum, she's in there', the desk nurse told me.
'I know, but can't go and see her yet, not until I have spoken to the consultant,'I said, 'I am so sorry, but what we have to say, is too important, even to wait five minutes. We can't even see Mum 'til we have seen him. Please. We are running out of time. There is a drug that could save her, but it has to be injected in the next twenty minutes. Please. Please, can we talk to him?'
The consultant came. His face was kind.
I begged. Very calmly. Still dry-eyed.
Please, sir. We would pay, if it was a paying thing, please, it didn't matter about money, we would find it. My husband was a lawyer, he would draft a waiver, a disclaimer, whatever, there would be no comeback, no blame if it failed. Please. My sister's partner was a registrar, he was suggesting Mum had the drug on compassionate grounds....Please, please . Please...
He was so kind to us, us, the worst kind of patient's families, I expect, with a little knowledge, and desperate enough to argue, to beg. He explained, carefully: Mum had heart problems. She had in fact been due for an EPG the next day. After a month of explaining to her GP about chest pains and water retention and breathlessness, they had finally got around to doing the damn obvious, and checking her heart out. But the stroke had struck, twenty four hours too early: it was too late now to diagnose the minor heart attack.
The heart attack that should have been picked up earlier.
If she had the EPG 3 weeks ago.
How I hated Mum's GP at that moment.
Amar spoke to the consultant. Fast, technical language was exchanged: I struggled to follow, with my new knowledge that I had inhaled so greedily about strokes on the internet in the last three hours, and my basic anatomy and physiology from years ago. The consultant smiled at me sadly, passed the phone back over.
'I agree with them, he is right, I'm sorry', Amar said, his voice cracking. 'They can't give the drug to your Mum'.

And so, we went in to see her.

When I first saw Mum in hospital, she could not speak, nor move her right side, not focus, only try to hold our gaze, as her eyes, flickered, as if she was watching railways tracks pass through the a window of a fast train. Flick-flick. Flick-flick.
The light inside that was Mum was still there, but the candle guttered.

We were not sure, then, if she would live. We were not sure if she would speak, or walk, or do anything for herself ever again. We were too scared to hope. We were too numb to pray.

And now the hope about the drug was over, and that was that. No miracle.
Dad was blank-faced, frozen, terrified. Looking at him, I could see that he wanted to die at Mum's side. The shock and grief was too much: hope had gone.

I walked into the cupboard where Mum was being kept, next to the nurse's station, and I stared it down: a future without her, whilst I held her hand.

Wait. There was hope after all.

By the end of week one, she was drinking tea, with the wrong hand, looking straight into our faces. She could say 'yes' and 'hello'.
By the beginning of week two, she could sit in a chair, then stand, with support, briefly, and wriggle her toes on the right foot. Say a few words, and smile, and wave. (Always smiling: she smiled and waved from the second day: Princess Mum, eyes shining with dignity and humour, determination. )

And now. Week three. You know what she does?

She walks. She damn well walks. 40, 50 steps. Her arm is still paralysed, but her legs work again. She walks with a stick, careful as a ballet girl on a trapeeze wire, smiling at me, proud.
She speaks, she talks, she listens.
Words, sentences, laughing.
Conversations. Slow, but they are there.

Oh, sweet Lady Lazarus. Dad believes in the future now; his love is returned. All is well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Her heart is swollen, but her spirit is bigger.
Mum is back and we are so damn proud of her, so thankful, so grateful.

I know how many of you have been reading this blog and thinking of her. How many have sent emails, texts, cards. flowers, love. So I am sharing the news.

Thank you.



Blogger Graham the Funky Aardvark said...

Some great news there

Thank you

And best wishes to your family again


Great writing again, you are improving as much as your mother!

July 25, 2007 11:38 pm  
Blogger RachelC said...

So happy that things are going well, that she is recovering and making progress.

Stay stong

July 25, 2007 11:43 pm  
Blogger IainC said...

Thank you, and thank you Rachel's Mum.

More moving testimony to your writing skill. (You could have just written it as news, of course, but you composed, edited, from the heart to the page and round and round, but not too much, till right. And it's getting quicker, isn't it ?)


July 25, 2007 11:54 pm  
Blogger kelly said...

I'm so happy that she is getting better. x

July 26, 2007 12:28 am  
Blogger Davide Simonetti said...

Fantastic news! I'm hoping your mum continues to recover.

A very moving and well-written post too.

Best wishes to you and your family.

July 26, 2007 2:02 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see where you get it. Lovely news. Love to you all.

July 26, 2007 6:07 am  
Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

That's lovely news: and as your mother I'm not remotely surprised that she has demonstrated such resilience.

July 26, 2007 8:43 am  
Blogger Daniele said...

Great news !!

And your writing is indescribably beautiful, as always.

July 26, 2007 9:27 am  
Blogger Henry North London 2.0 said...

This is indeed encouraging news and I am half way through reading your own book. Keep the faith.


July 26, 2007 9:37 am  
Blogger zoe said...

this is wonderful news, rachel - hugs and love to you and your family.

and it was a beautifully written post too - i have tears in my eyes.


July 26, 2007 10:30 am  
Blogger Vanessa said...

I'm delighted to hear that your mother's making such good progress - you've acheived so much recently that it must be a great motivating force for her to get better and see you enjoy your new success as a writer.

July 26, 2007 12:16 pm  
Blogger Kris said...

Hi Rachel

I was sat on the bus the other day when a lady with her wrist taped up sat next to me, slamming her elbow into my arm.

As she was a bit older, I just gave her a forced smile. I looked at her taped up wrist and said, "that must have hurt".

She explained that she recently had a stroke and that a few weeks ago, her body was frozen and she couldn't even walk. Now her arm was the only thing that remained frozen.

I was genuinely amazed at this lady's determination. She talked about how important it is for her to move around every day- both mentally as well a physically.

It's not often I get inspiration on the 106, but it's nice when it happens.

July 26, 2007 1:24 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is great news Rachel and I'm really pleased your Mum is making such great progress.

What a wonderfully written post too - I'm sitting here in my office trying not to cry in front of everyone.

All the best

July 26, 2007 2:07 pm  
Blogger Seeker said...

I am so pleased your mum is doing so well. I hope she continues to make a good recovery.

July 26, 2007 7:31 pm  
Blogger Clare said...

Rachel that's fantastic your mum is still doing so well. Thanks for keeping us informed. What great news :).

July 26, 2007 7:53 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

hi rachel,

hope that mum is continuing to do better.

sorry its been a busy week, tomorrow i am taking what is called a "mental health day".

eventually ill read the new harry potter book and see the movie so maybe ill understand all the hoopla.

seth :)

July 26, 2007 9:04 pm  
Blogger Dr. Deb said...

I am halfway done with your book and can't put it down. It arrived yesterday. Spoiler**** The way you move back and forth between the two horrifying traumas is so well done. I am in awe of your ability to have survived both. Will be back when I finish it.


July 26, 2007 10:03 pm  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

beautiful post misses...& wonderful news

love & higsto you & J

July 26, 2007 10:14 pm  
Blogger Henry North London 2.0 said...

If you ever need medical advice/knowledge( that or to reinstall Word) please don't hesitate to call me. You know that I would do anything to help.


July 26, 2007 10:54 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Rachel - if anyone didn't deserve to have to write what you just did it was you. But you did. And why precisely we care about you and your loved ones is because you are able to express something very personal about what it means to live through pain and hope and everything in between.

Thank you.

July 27, 2007 12:24 am  
Blogger The Stress Witch said...

What Tim said...

Lots of love to you and yours


July 27, 2007 7:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You moved me to tears - what a beautiful post.

I hope your mum continues to make such good progress and you can enjoy each other for much much longer.

July 27, 2007 1:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rach, it comes as no surprise that your mum is made of such strong stuff - it's obviously something the Northlondon clan have handed down!

Incidentally, a good friend of mine (another Rachel) had a stroke last year, at the hideously young age of 31. Caused by a hole in her heart. Anyhoo, one metal umbrella insertion and 12 months later, she's doing great, holding down a very intense job. I hope and expect that your mum's recovery will continue on similar lines.

July 27, 2007 2:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article, and great comment.

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July 27, 2007 7:08 pm  
Blogger Jennifer said...

You wouldn't know me from Eve, but I've been a reader of your blog since the bombing. I'm so happy to read the news of your mother, and I'll be keeping your family in my prayers!

July 27, 2007 9:19 pm  
Blogger Pants said...

Hi Rachel

This story is terrifying but observed with such great objectivity and clarity that it will help others. That's what you do so amazingly. My best wishes to your Mum for a full recovery.



July 27, 2007 10:02 pm  
Blogger Andy Ramblings said...


So happy that all is coming around, that your mother is on the mend.

July 28, 2007 6:04 pm  
Blogger Emsk said...

Am glad to read of your Mum's recovery and I hope that you are well too. x

July 30, 2007 10:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a first time reader of your blog ... I was very moved by your beautifully written post. I hope that your mum continues to make progress.

August 16, 2007 11:30 pm  

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