4 Jan 2014

Fear, come and... gone?

So I haven't really written anything in over two months, have I? Well, in a way I did. This post got put together in bits and pieces during that time. Some writing, lots of deleting. Trouble finding the right words. Avoidance of a difficult topic... Lots of writing done elsewhere and not wishing to repeat it (which was the main reason for said writing in the first place, to avoid the painful repetition of the information it contained orally to a thousand and one people with constant questions).

So just over two months ago (has it really been two months? when did that happen?!) I was planning on sitting down and writing a (hopefully) amusing little post on fear around Halloween, with fun photos of costumes and jack'o'lanterns and food (sharing some of the spooky fun I had this year).

But the week became the weekend, busy, busy, busy... and then it was the following Monday and I thought maybe instead I'd write about another kind of fear, that delicious (but sometimes terrifying) fear of facing the challenge of a new job, in a completely different subject/field/topic than anyhing you've ever done before. Wondering what the job will entail. What "life" in the workplace will be like. What your colleagues will be like. Will they like you? Will you like them? Will you get along? Will you like the job itself? Will it be interesting or boring? Monotonous or challenging? Will you actually be able to do it well? Will they realise how much your show of self-confidence in the job interview was a bluff? Will you miss your old job (which even though it involved a shitty contract and a lousy salary was very rewarding)? 

But then the first day of work coincided with something else. Something that stirred up a truly fearful sensation, deeply ingrained in all of us: the fear of losing a parent. The realisation (even if you always said before that you "were aware of it") of one's parents' mortality... The days and nights of fear whenever a phone rang in case it was the hospital calling to say the worst had happened. Fear of loss mixed in with worry for the remaining parent and the sinking realisation that even if it doesn't come this time, it will inevitably happen... The constant high levels of fear and adrenaline in one's system over such a long period of time that you're sure when it's all done you're simply going to fall apart 'cause you know your body will finally just crash... A lion could have jumped out at me and I don't think my body would have been capable of a semi-decent fight or flight response... Obviously the body can't deal with that level of adrenaline in the system over such a long a period of time, levels slowly drop as we accept the new daily routine of getting up, going to work, checking the phone around noon for the latest hospital report from whomever was able to make it to that visit (damning the limited visiting rules of only two people for 30' twice a day), going home to eat, waiting around for it to be time to go to the hospital, waiting around the ICU waiting room, going in for half an hour to watch a loved one sleep while plugged into machines, going home to try to make sense of it all, try to sleep, try to get up early the next day and start all over again. Spikes of fear when a complication arose. Relief when they said the worst had past and they would try to wake her. To be in there watching her slowly returning to consciousness, slightly more aware with each visit but still having trouble understanding where she was and how she got there. Later watching her deal with the boredom and frustration of barely being able to move, the pain of limited mobility and the sensation of helplessness... The long and slow road of recovery, every day similar to the one before and the one after; punctuated by significant changes: being moved from the bed into a chair for a few hours a day, being moved out of the ICU and into a regular room (yay! no more limited visiting hours!), first time standing on her own two feet (thanks to a surprise weekend visit from her physio daughter who was frustrated from afar to hear the local physiotherapists were making very slooooow progress), first time being able to walk again for short distances (with the walker), the day they said "time to go home" just in time for Christmas! :o)  It's a funny sensation to be hoping for and cheering on regular "body" functions when they're markers of someone's progress: "Yay! Now she can cough up and spit out phlegm!" "Yay! Now she can talk!" "Yay! Now she can sit up on her own a little!" "Yay! Now she can use the toilet instead of the bedpan!"

And how did this all start? With a fun little birthday trip to a local spa... which resulted in a Legionella infection (Legionnaire's disease), which resulted in a trip to the E.R. after days and days of fever and chills and coughing (and refusing to being taken to the hospital because, after all, what could they do for the flu?), which resulted in a diagnosis of multi-lobular pneumonia in both lungs caused by the Legionella, which resulted in being intubated and put into a medically-induced coma to give the lungs a chance to recover while a machine did the work for them while the rest of the body tried to fight off sepsis and the blood pressure kept changing like a yo-yo. Showing up one day to see a dialysis machine had been added because the kidneys had decided to go on strike... Damn those were a scary first couple of days! To hear the doctor tell you "I don't know if she'll be here tomorrow..." Then having to explain it to the siblings in far-off countries (who promptly scrambled to find flights home, not knowing if they'd be arriving to see a recovery, to say goodbye or for the worst...) and having that empty feeling that there's nothing we can do except be here for each other and keep friends and family informed of the evolving condition... 7 very long weeks that fortunately ended better than many of the medical personnel expected in those first few days. Apparently the head doctor in the ICU (and person directly in charge of her case) has never seen a patient come in with such a severe case of Legionnaire's disease and survive (something we fortunately didn't hear about until after).

Thank heavens for the constant (from day one and still ongoing) support of friends and family, both in situ and virtually. Among other things it helped me to "keep it together", to reduce the "falling apart" to a minimal number of unavoidable times.

All's well that ends well, right? Except we're all still physically and emotionally drained. And she's not back to business as usual yet. It could take many months of therapy to recover from all the resulting complications... But it's 2014, we made it! (with much difficulty) Slow but easy does it, right? Not easy when we're such an impatient family... :p

And surprisingly I haven't crashed yet... I keep wondering when that will happen, like a Damocles' sword over my head...


  1. ...Dios mio. o_O I can't even fathom the stress of seeing a loved one suffering and hospitalized for several weeks, not to mention dealing with the added pressure of adapting to a new job as well. (And this is coming from someone who jumped straight into teaching languages in a foreign country.)

    My dear, I truly hope that 2014 will prove to be less stressful than the past few weeks have been for you. Keep your chin up and keep on trekkin'.


  2. good thoughts, light, and much excellent juju.

  3. I cannot imagine how scary and difficult the pat few weeks have been for all of you. You are a close family and thankfully you all draw strength from each other. Give your mom a hug and send her my best wishes!

  4. What a wonderful piece! I'm so pleased that everything turned out all right in the end. Make sure you take care of yourself as well as everyone else and know that people around the globe are thinking of you and cheering you on.


  5. When I saw your post pop up on my reader I opened it with relish to see what adventures you had been having during your blogging black out. How sad i was to read of your traumatic couple of months. Getting through each day when hope seemed to be fading away must have drained every ounce of your strength. I am delighted that the ending is one of joy and that you have much to celebrate in 2014.

  6. Thanks guys! The past two months haven't been easy (to say the least), but knowing there are people out there who care helps a lot! I almost didn't write this post (several times), but writing is cathartic in its own way and putting words on (digital) paper frequently seems to help release one's inner demons... Hopefully my mom continues on a clear path to full recovery and we can close the door in this nightmare and look forward to the wonders 2014 has in store for us! Although... there will always be now that nagging fear that pops up whenever a parent shows another sign of physical problems... *sigh* Circle of life, right? Well it sucks!!! :o(

  7. Wow! This is NOT what I thought you were busy doing, Cris. I am so glad to hear that it has been turning out better than they thought it would. A long road to recovery, it sounds like, but the possibility of full recovery is wondrous. Thank you for writing this and letting me know what's been going on in your life, even if it was not of the outdoor adventure type. Sending you all big virtual hugs. :-)

    1. DJan, I wish it had been the outdoor adventure type instead of the hospital type! I miss my mountains! Hopefully next Sunday I'll be able to get out for the first time in 2+ months!
      Now we're waiting for the hospital to call and say my mom can restart her physiotherapy as an outpatient, and we've got our fingers crossed waiting for my mom's appointment with a neurologist, he'll be the one to say if there will be a full recovery. Hope they don't make us wait to long! (once it's no longer an emergency it takes a long time to see a doctor in the public health system)

  8. Oh Cris, I'm glad everything is turning itself around. You are a strong redhead - probably with a stubborn streak if I know you and because of that you probably won't experience the crash for sometime. I know what you are going through and had experienced something similar with my mother; however it turned out a bit differently. You and your family are lucky. Remember to breathe - that will keep you going. *hugs*


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