Monday, July 28, 2014

Mayo Trip Three - Storms and Rainbows

I almost did not go on the third trip with my daughter and son-in-law to Rochester in November. The third one was going to be a simple surgery in the three-step process – the “take down” to get rid of the stoma and bag and fully reconnect her intestines. They were told they would probably only be there three to five days. Vanita thought just she and Stan could handle it…but the closer to the departure date, the more I felt as if I wanted to be with them on this final step.  A friend told us later that Stan told him, “There’s no way we are getting away without her mother.”  J  Of course, he was right. What he may not have known was that Vanita was thinking of him. “What if something happens to me and he is all alone?” she asked me.
          So, on November 17th we again headed north to Minnesota. The most gorgeous rainbows we ever saw appeared in the skies. “It’s a sign!” Vanita and I exclaimed as she snapped pictures.   
Photo of double rainbow taken by Vanita
 We checked into our hotel and ate dinner at a restaurant called Canadian Honker, recommended to Vanita by one of her students.  The next day we explored the town and ate lunch at our favorite Italian restaurant in Rochester, Victoria’s. I chose the ravioli fungi – so decadent and delicious. Since it was a Monday, Vanita and I both felt a little like we were skipping school.
On November 18th Vanita had tests done, and we met with her surgeon, Dr. Mathes. She explained the process, and reviewed the dangers of the surgery, as required. I think she could tell we were somewhat alarmed.  “But that’s probably not going to happen to you,” she said, patting Vanita’s arm. “You are young and healthy. We just have to tell you about the risks.”  
          With an afternoon free, we decided to go on a road trip to Wisconsin.  The views were gorgeous, with hills and valleys dotted with farms.  We went to Wabasha, where Grumpier Old Men was filmed.

We could see for miles!
We discovered we were close to Pepin, the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, so Stan cheerfully drove on. 

Ralph and Mary's with the lake in the background. (Vanita's photo)

 We saw the sparkling blue waters of Pepin Lake and ate at a small bar and grill called Ralph and Mary’s. Ralph told us which direction to go to see the historic landmark. I could barely contain my excitement as we drove on curvy roads through tree-covered hills. I could not believe I was actually going to see where an author whose works I have read many times was born.  There it was, on the right side of the road, a tiny log cabin with a sign in front proclaiming it as the spot where the Little House series began. It was so tiny! One room served as living room and kitchen, another was the bedroom and there was a loft over the bedroom. When I think of the excess that has become what people think of as “necessity”, I could hardly believe a whole family lived in such close quarters. 
Vanita's photo of me in front of a replica of the cabin in which Laura was born.
 The next day, November 20th, was surgery day. Vanita had to be at the hospital at 8:45. We did not see her again until 5:00 that evening.  The surgery went as expected.  When the doctors made their rounds and checked the incision in her side, Stan and I admired the slim little line that replaced the stoma.  She slept for a little while, but was not able to sleep much that night.
          The following day, the 21st,, she ate breakfast and lunch, and she felt good, not too sore. At 11:05 p.m.  I wrote in my little book that Vanita experienced nausea and vomiting, and had incision pain. They finally found a nausea medicine that worked at 2:35 a.m. (the 22nd). She was able to sleep until 6. This was the third day. It was the day they had said we might even be able to go home, but Vanita still was sick and ate very little. She became extremely sick and vomited. They had to put an NG tube in her nose, through her esophagus to her stomach. This tube was attached to a pump.  It was relief at a cost – it was uncomfortable, and she was not able to eat or drink anything while it was in place. When she needed to go to the bathroom, it was a rush to unhook the “suction” machine and wheel her IV bag with her. Stan stayed the night, and I went back to the hotel to rest.
          The next morning was Sunday, and the hotel shuttle did not run. The hospital was only a few miles from the hotel, and I considered walking. “How cold is it today?” I asked the desk clerk.
          “It’s 11,” she replied in her Minnesota accent, “feels like 13, though.” She beamed, as if that was a heat wave. I asked if she could call a cab for me, which she cheerfully did. Arriving at the hospital, I found Vanita was still sick.  
          “They said it would be a piece of cake. Where is our piece of cake?” I asked. 
          Vanita showed her sense of humor by quipping, “They didn’t say we could have our cake and eat it, too!”  I quit writing in my journal on this day. We did not go home on the third day or the fifth day. The days and nights are kind of a blur now.  There were days of blood work, scans and talk of possible blockage and another surgery. I remember standing outside the door to her room, breathing deeply.  The physician’s assistant looked at me curiously as she walked by.
          I said, “I’m putting on my game face.”  She nodded, and I saw the compassion in her eyes.  Following the difficult days were dark nights of sleeplessness, no way for her to find a comfortable spot in the bed, and a particularly stressful night of an extremely rapid heart rate which set off the alarm every few minutes. I lay on the chair which folded out into a “bed” and just watched the heart monitor. It was that night we both thought she might not actually survive, but we did not admit it to each other until long after our return home. 
          On November 27th, my Facebook status said, “I am still in Rochester, MN with Vanita and Stan. I told Vanita she is on the right track, we just hit some speed bumps along the way. They even told her she "turned the corner" last night. Please pray that she is able to get the stomach tube removed in the morning. It makes her throat so sore.”
Vanita with the nasogastric intubation tube and various monitors.
          These were long, dark days and nights. However, there were a few bright spots, too. One young male nurse confided that he had volunteered in nursing school to have the NG tube put down his nose to his stomach, so he knew what she was going through. He stood by her side with tears in his eyes when they pulled the tube, only to have her get sick in a matter of hours and they had to put it back in. Vanita will always remember his empathy.  Another kindness I will always remember is that the family-owned restaurant, Pannekuekan, near the hospital offered free Thanksgiving dinner to families of Mayo patients who could not go home for the holidays. Stan and I enjoyed ham, mashed potatoes, corn, a corn muffin and pumpkin pie with whipped cream served by a cheerful young man (about 12 years old). It tasted more like home cooking (which we missed terribly). Vanita was a little better, the tube had been removed and she was able to sip on a little chicken broth.   Back home in Missouri, my sister-in-law Cathy gathered my family together at a Mexican restaurant for an impromptu celebration. Of course, we will always be grateful to the many people were praying for us, calling and texting to see how she was.
          Saturday, November 30 – After 13 days in Rochester, 11 of which Vanita spent in the hospital, we were finally able to come home.  Maybe those rainbows we saw on the way up were a sign.  We would pass through a storm, but there would be a positive outcome. Today, Vanita is healthy and as gloriously beautiful as those rainbows.  We are thankful for our blessings.
Vanita and Stan almost eight months after surgery.

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