When Did I Become An Old Woman?
I don’t think about my age until I take a minute to look in the mirror and realize it’s not me looking back. The woman in the mirror more closely resembles my mother than the woman I’ve been in life. I don’t consider myself to be an Old Woman. Quite the contrary, I’m still as proficient at multi-tasking now as I was when I was in my thirties.
When in the world did I become an old woman? I’ve never thought of myself as anything beyond middle-aged until I spent thirty-one hours in the hospital right before Christmas. I did what I always do before a major event. I first gave myself a perm, so I’d look decent, and then picked out some books I’ve wanted to read to take with me to fill the hours between surgery to correct the blockage in my carotid artery and my release back home. This old woman read roughly twenty pages before giving up.
I have a few aches and pains, but I had those when I was seven. They told me it was because of the rheumatic fever and that I’d most likely have rheumatoid arthritis when I got older. Well, yes, someone has mentioned that to me recently.
Is An Old Woman Valueless?
I’ve often thought of the comments Mom and her sister made as they progressed into their nineties. I’ll never forget the one phone call:
“Peggy, you have to come and meet the new aide who started today. She was so gentle when she put my socks on. She didn’t just yank them up as the others do.”
Funny, I’d never thought about socks in comparison to showing someone we valued them. I’ll admit, I’ve seen plenty of young moms yank their kid’s socks on before the boots, to get them out the door. But, I’d never taken the time to watch how the staff treats an elderly citizen in a nursing home or assisted living facility during the process of dressing them.
As I looked around at the people checking me into the hospital for surgery, I realized I’d become a number on a tablet to these people. I was nothing more than the old woman my mother was in the nursing home. My needs were an irritant to those who would love to be doing something different.
None of them knew the battles I fought to create two live births.
Did anyone care that I’d defied all the specialists and returned to work after a traumatic brain injury?
How many of these people would be interested to know I’m a published author, watercolor artist, and commercial credit guru? What does it all matter lying here on a hospital bed with a gown attached at the back of my neck, and nothing else except socks made for a large man, not a small woman?
An Old Woman Offers Clarification
I quickly answered the question of why was I there the morning of the thirteenth of December:
“I’m here to have my left carotid artery cleaned out and a patch put in.”
Notice how quick I was to remind them which side they needed to do the surgery on!
Another young woman entered the room and explained she would be placing the electrodes on my head to watch my brain during the procedure.
Let me be painfully clear: I had many EEG’s after the car wreck in 1979. But, I’d never experienced anything like this.
Stick with me here.
Okay, pretend someone has a nice sharp Phillips screwdriver. They will press it into your scalp twenty-four times and twist it many times while still applying firm pressure. She will repeat over half of these attempts because the super glue they’re twisting in with your hair hasn’t set up correctly.
Now, picture your dear husband and two sons watching this entire process. You grit your teeth to the point of fracturing them because it feels like that Phillips screwdriver is going to pop through the scalp and into your brain at any second. Heaven forbids you to show any sign of weakness in front of any of them.
You’re instructed to close your eyes and relax so they can get a pattern of regular brain activity.
ARE THEY KIDDING?
My head is pounding from the twenty-thirty minutes of torture performed. Also, my self-worth has plummeted far below baseline, wondering what I must look like with half my hair glued to my scalp and dozens of wires sticking out of my head. I’m sorry, but this is not the last vision I want my kids to have of me should something happen during the procedure…like a stroke.
Do Not Resuscitate (DNR)
One of the nurses pulled a laptop over close to the bed.
“Now, let’s see.” She smiled at me sweetly. “We have a Do Not Resuscitate Order on file for you. Is that correct?”
HOLY CRAP! I wrote that directive so I wouldn’t be forced to endure something like a feeding tube in my nineties. I wanted to scream at them that I have a book to publish in the next couple of months. Suddenly, I wanted to know if there are different levels of strokes during this type of surgery?
I mean, I wouldn’t want to be paralyzed, but I came back after the car wreck, didn’t I? My mind was spinning and screaming like a baby..”.I don’t want to die today!”
So, I gathered all the strength I had and replied, “Yes, that’s correct!” I forced myself to smile politely.
Then, I started wondering if all women who suffered abuse as children are so compliant and afraid to disagree with something that suddenly seems so wrong.
Inside my head, I was still screaming: “God, are you there? I think I need you to walk with me today.”
It’s a Go!
They inserted an IV line and whisked me off to the operating room.
Funny, I don’t remember if they gave me time to kiss my husband or hug my kids.
I remember the little gal who pushed me warned me she was a rough driver and to be sure to keep my hands inside the outer lines of the bed.
Then, the bed hit a wall as she turned it. She giggled and repositioned the bed as she hit the button to open the door into the operating suite.
Someone reached for my wrist. I thought the surgical staff wanted to read my bracelet…
That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in my room.
Ouch, That Hurts!
As I started to become more alert, I realized the inside of my mouth felt shredded. I could feel pieces of skin hanging down from the insides of my lips. My throat felt like I had the worst case of strep ever.
I unscrambled my thoughts and realized I’d had my carotid artery rotor-rooted. Jack the Ripper obviously needed to shove one of those tubes down my throat to make sure I kept breathing.
My immediate thought was to do whatever necessary to not cough. I had a vivid vision of my neck bursting open and the blood gushing out as a result of one unhealthy coughing fit.
The nurse in the room asked me how I felt.
I tried to answer, but nothing came out except this tiny, high-pitched voice that chirped, “Hurts!”
She gave me an extra-strength Tylenol.
If I hadn’t been hurting, I’d have laughed-out-loud. I could only imagine the notation in my file after I’d lectured the doc who sent me home from hip surgery with 120 opioid tablets. What in the world are they thinking about with an opioid epidemic in this country? I just felt it was overkill, so I complained. (At that time, I only took 3…one each night for the first three nights after surgery so I could sleep. That left 117 to take to the local police station. What did they think about all those pills?)
There was an immediate uncomfortable feeling of intense pressure when I tried to move my head after surgery, but otherwise, my mouth and throat hurt far worse than the incision down my neck.
The Intensive Care Unit Routine
Whatever happened to my vocal chords during the surgery, I sounded like I’d been sucking on a helium balloon during recovery in the hospital and at home.
They brought me some scrambled eggs for my first meal, but they felt like swallowing brillo pads. The next meal I ordered ice cream, and the last meal in the hospital, I ordered cottage cheese and mandarin oranges. Now I’m not complaining; I got what I asked for to eat. It simply seems to me that in a cardiac unit, someone might have questioned the “healthy” level of my food choices.
It seemed like the nurse came in every few minutes.
“Squeeze my fingers.”
“Stick out your tongue.”
“Follow my finger.”
“How many fingers do you see?”
“Give me a big smile.”
This went on over and over all day and all night. I appreciated their attention, but I really just wanted to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. It wasn’t gonna happen!
The nurse told me I couldn’t use the restroom because I shared it with another patient room. The risk of germs was too great. Instead, they pulled a portable commode from the restroom into my room and asked me to use that.
If you don’t remember, there are windows in the ICU so the nurses can see you constantly. There was a little curtain, and most of the time they pulled it, so people walking down the hallway couldn’t see me going to the bathroom.
I finally knew exactly how my mom and her sister felt in the nursing home.
NO, Virginia, I AM NOT AN OLD WOMAN!
The Aide and the nurse talked about the drainage tube in my throat. They thought it was funny that the medical institution allowed an Aide to pull out a drainage tube, but they weren’t allowed to do something far simpler. The Aide admitted to the nurse that she had never removed a drainage tube from the throat before. The nurse was busy doing something across the room when the sweet young woman pulled it out and slapped a piece of gauze and tape over the hole in my throat.
The Old Woman Is Going Home
Surgery was mid-morning on the thirteenth and they released me from the ICU directly home at mid-afternoon on the fourteenth.
I knew what it was like to do everything they asked me to do without question…Old people don’t want to get in trouble!
That’s not right, I don’t feel that old, but I was still good. Like Mom, I didn’t want to make anyone angry at that point in my life.
Finally, they allowed me to leave. Home looked terrific and I could walk to the bathroom again. Here, I could act as young and stupid as I wanted to.
My dear husband helped get me settled in the recliner before he started putting everything from the overnight stay at the hospital away.
I pulled out the discharge instructions and began reading the followup to the carotid endarterectomy.
“And what to my wondering eyes should appear…” (remember, this was only days before Christmas) at the bottom of page 2 was this notation:
Information on Stroke
You have been diagnosed with a stroke or stroke-like symptoms during your hospitalization. Review the following to reduce your risk of stroke:
Whoa! Is that my heart dancing up through my chest cavity?
Take some deep breaths. You must have misread it.
I reread it. Nothing changed, so I put the sheets back on the kitchen counter. I’d deal with it later. I kept wondering why someone at the hospital hadn’t mentioned something I considered important like a stroke, for heaven’s sake. Was it because they thought I was too old to understand? I certainly didn’t look intelligent with all that glue and hair plastered against my skull.
Talk about creepy skin; I was the new poster child for as bad as it can get. They’d made it very clear that I wasn’t supposed to use any cream on my skin before the surgery and I hadn’t. My fingers were cracking and bleeding from the dry winter air before I even went to the hospital. I used a ton of Liquid Skin on my fingers the morning of the surgery, to make sure I didn’t present a perfect germ biosphere in the OR.
Recovery At Home
These people may think I’m an old woman, but the truth is that I’ve survived more in my seventy years than most of them can even imagine.
They may discount my worth, but my family hasn’t. They still need me in their lives.
Besides, I don’t believe God’s done with me yet.
The morning after I returned home, I walked up to the mirror in the bathroom. Red blood covered the gauze on my neck. Taking a deep breath to calm myself, I pulled off the tape to replace the dressing.
That hole in the center of my throat where the aide had her first experience pulling out a tube looked like the Lincoln Tunnel. The blood flowing out of it reminded me of Niagara Falls. Have you ever tried to count silently to ten while scrambling to grab bandaging materials? Screaming didn’t seem to be a good option, knowing my husband couldn’t look at a diaper without throwing up.
Three times that silly gauze became saturated. The third time I tried to change it, I pulled my robe down off my neck further and saw a 1/2-cup sized hematoma near my left collarbone, below the incision.
I’m no nurse, but that didn’t look good. I went into the kitchen to show Mike. I told him it was time for the old woman to make a trip to the emergency room. They kept me for several hours, warned me not to shower until the bleeding stopped, and sent me home.
The Ending Is a Changing Canvas
I don’t mean to be negative here, but I certainly have the right to chastise myself. It took me five years after the car wreck to get to a point where I was so angry I took charge of my medical care and no longer depended on the docs to make the decisions. That was the beginning of my recovery.
When we returned home from the ER, I logged into my computer. It had been days since I’d checked anything. There were hundreds of emails waiting for my attention. After several hours, I opened an email from my medical provider.
The email stated that I had new test results ready to check.
I assumed it had something to do with the ER visit, so I logged in and opened the test result.
It was a test done about a week before my surgery. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read the words “Positive for Cancer.”
Well, I’m finally back. I am not that old woman who accommodates the misconceptions of those who think seventy is the end of the road. Nope. I’m in charge. I’m the coach. I hire these people, and I have the right to fire these people. To send an email like that is cold and heartless. Is this really what life is like in the new Corporate America?
I’m a real, flesh and blood dynamo who has no intention of lying down and giving up. It will be weeks before I recover enough from the surgery to react to the new challenge, but it will be with the heart of a warrior, not an old woman, that I will get this all resolved.
I am the Coach. Also, I pay the salaries of the team I’ve picked to manage my healthcare.
They will not treat me as an expendable irritant.
Nope, this is my life, and I make my choices based on logical information and compassionate treatment. Learn to show me the respect I’ve earned through the years or move along so someone else can take your spot. I’m in charge of this team from now on, just like I was when I was little and when I became a mother. I can do this!