Tuesday, October 07, 2008

the most beautiful sound

On September 13th while Andrew and I were at a wedding celebrating with a co-worker on beautiful Lake Union, my aunt was involved in a very serious car accident. We did not find out until the following day.

24 days ago a helicopter brought her to this place. Fortunately it happens to be one of the best in the country for trauma, and the best for traumatic orthopedic injuries. She has so many.

22 days ago her chest was closed. I hardly slept that night. And when I finally fell asleep, waking up in the morning was terrible since it was another realization that this seeming nightmare was painfully real.

21 days ago her abdomen was closed. She was terribly bloated, intubated, but miraculously had been able to still follow commands when her sedation was lightened. The following morning when I was in the shower, as I washed my arms I felt--consciously for the first time--the delicate curves of the wrist, the bony aspect that yields to the softer flesh of the lower arm. I realized that her body (what a perfect vessel we have been given) will never again feel the same to her. I wept.

17 days ago she was being cared for by 2 male nurses. I knew that if she were more alert, she would find this quite amusing. She seemed to be more aware that day, opening her eyes and raising her eyebrows when certain things were said. Her eyes widened seemingly with worry when the nurse told her "Oh, you got in a BIG CAR WRECK." Knowing how bad drivers always stressed her out, I tried to reassure her that she had not caused the accident, and again reassure her that all of her affairs were being looked after. She stared at me for a few seconds, then fluttered her eyes and went back to a fentanyl-induced sleep.

18 days ago I went back to work. I had to start living my life again and put the initial shock and hurt behind me. While cleaning out my personal messages on my 'backline' voice mail that day, I became tearful. One of them was Auntie V's cheery, warm voice. I played it twice and saved it. I prayed that I could hear her voice again.

16 days ago Andrew and I woke up on the crack on a Saturday, determined to peg down those elusive ortho docs and get the full story. Potential quality of life and the full extent of her orthopedic injures were still a bit unclear to our family. A nurse for a different patient who had more morphine syringes than you can count gathered in both hands shooed us out of the room for the 0700-0800 hour for "Nurse's Report". Of course, we then missed the Ortho rounds. After waiting a good 3 hours, we finally had a few answers when a persistent nurse (bless her heart) urged the fellow to come and speak to us.

12 days ago there were finally enough x-ray and scans to assure that her spine was cleared of injury. Previously she had been too unstable and bulky to undergo all the desired tests. A small sigh of relief was uttered. At my visits with her, the desire to try to participate in her basic nursing care was undeniably strong, but with Andrew at my side constantly badgering me (in a good way) to just be a family member. I resisted the urges to pick up caps that dropped on the floor, stripping her catheter tube, and offering to help with turns. They do have a lift team and I've hurt my lower back a few times already. I guess the time will come for that eventually.

10 days ago I was there to visit again, and I happened to know just a little bit the nurse that was taking care of her from a previous job. She was an excellent nurse, but a definite chatterbox and quite keen on engaging me in talking about so-and-so we both knew. Needless to say, I wasn't interested in socializing. I was just there to stroke her forehead and speak to her softly, and let her know her family and friends were hoping for the very best for her.

8 days ago she was extubated (for the first time) and while she was working so very hard to breathe, she whispered up a storm in her poor little hoarse voice. Her first words "I love you." so universal and true. It was the best sound ever. I was a little nervous watching how hard she was working to breathe, I knew they would be checking her ABGs routintely, but that intensive labor just wears people out.

7 days ago she dropped her blood pressures during the night and was re-intubated. Her blood pressures stabilized. I constantly kept reminding myself that little ups and downs like this are not (in the grand scheme of things) something to worry over.

5 days ago her eyes started to just a wee bit look yellow. Started asking about her liver and kidney function and was told 'everything is normal'. I was touched to see that someone had taken the time to braid her long hair neatly in a single braid. She had always done beautiful braids for my sister and I when we were younger.

2 days ago they did an ultrasound--we were told "Oh it's just a build-up from all the blood products". Reportedly her bilirubin levels were elevated. I didn't ask any more questions, sometimes no further inconclusive news is just enough. As much as the intermittent sedation would allow, she still was responding to me when I visited. So however pronounced those issues were, I was hopeful that they would resolve with time.

1 day ago Andrew and I came to visit her towards the change of shift time. She was wide awake, still intubated, and apparently they had been lightening the sedation for several hours in preparation for extubation. She was clearly anxious--waving her right arm as much as the external fixator would allow and constantly communicating with hand gestures to turn on the fan, or off, raise her bed, etc. She made motions as if she wanted to write, we gave her a fat marker and (never one to be patient, and always one to be humorous) wrote "Takes 4 ever!" on a a notebook. We tried to be as sympathetic as possible, but also encouraged her to have patience 'just a little longer' She rolled her eyes at us when the day nurse poked her head in and apologized for not being able to remove the tube yet because it was 'too close to change of shift'--apparently the personality of her daytime nurse was not simpatico with her own.

Finally after the next nurse had settled her other patient, an hour and twenty minutes later the respiratory therapist was summoned. We were temporarily banished from the room and then...voila! That dear little hoarse voice again. We helped her cough off and on for about an hour, gave a few forbidden ice chips (if you didn't know any better, you might have thought these were rare chocolate delicacies from the look on her face) and then bid our goodnites.

She is still working tremendously hard to breathe, but every day I am hopeful that she gets stronger and her lungs continue their recovery so that little hoarse whisper becomes her voice once more.

Note: previous photo of helicopter passing Harboview's main tower removed by request of Kim. Apologies--did not realize that this was copyrighted material.


Deanna said...

Thank you for sharing such a thoughtfully written update with us. I'm sure you'll appreciate having these remembrances written down. Still praying here!

Jen said...

Rae, I'm so glad to hear about your aunt's progress. I'm sorry I didn't comment sooner; for some reason, your blog didn't update on my blogroll. I know you guys have all had a crazy month. We Kaufmans are thinking about you!

Tania said...

This was a very touching post. The part about listening to your aunt's voicemail made me teary-eyed. I'm really happy your aunt is doing a lot better. Thanks for keeping us updated and I'm still praying for you all.

Jaime said...

I agree with Tania, this is a very moving post. I'm glad she continues to improve, I'll also say a prayer for everyone.

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.