Joanne Palmer: Mom the escape artist
May 5, 2010
By the time I reach the hospital, everyone knows about the reward.
"Your mother," the nurse says with a suppressed laugh, "is offering $1,000 to anyone who gets her out of the Intensive Care Unit."
"Don't be surprised if she dials 911," I reply. "That's exactly what she did the last time she was here. She demanded the paramedics take her home."
My mother is in the ICU because, while out for a walk, she fell and hit her head. The result, Dr. Ricky Wong explains, is a subarachnoid hemorrhage. He draws a picture of the brain on a piece of paper for my sister and me. "If the bleeding doesn't stop, it will put pressure on the brain stem and she'll die."
He then goes on to describe a complicated surgical option that involves removing a piece of her skull bone to allow the brain to swell. It sounds like something from a Halloween horror movie, especially when he describes saving the bone in a Ziploc bag in the freezer until it can be reattached.
"She's 88. Could she survive that?"
"Think about it," Dr. Wong says. He leaves the conference room.
We think. We hope. We pray.
My mother, mercifully perhaps, has no idea what is going on.
"She's pretty confused," the nurse says. "She calls me Dorothy. She doesn't know where she is or what day it is."
I lean close to her ear, "Mom, can you hear me?" Without her hearing aids, her hearing, as she likes to put it, is "diminished."
Her eyes flutter open.
"Mom. What's my name?"
She stares at me.
"Yellow," she says emphatically.
"It's me, Annie. Try again. What's my name?"
"Moody," she says and falls asleep.
One of 12 children raised on a farm in Pennsylvania, my mother has already outlived everyone in her family and many of her friends and former co-workers. Always an athlete and a Cubs fan, she begged to throw out the opening pitch at Wrigley Field on her 70th birthday.
"I'll start practicing while you arrange it," she said matter-of-factly. The public relations office at Wrigley was surprised at her age. "Is she ambulatory?" they asked. "Absolutely. She'll run the bases if you want her to." Despite my prostrations, they offered only a photo opportunity in the on-deck circle before the game. She didn't complain, but I knew she'd prefer to wind up on the mound.
She isn't ambulatory now. To prevent another fall, the hospital has her in restraints. The straps are discreet, but I can still see them. She looks like a boxer with her hands in oversized white mittens to prevent her from pulling out her IVs. Her arms are covered with bruises, a headband holds an oxygen tube inside her nose, and worst of all, she is wearing adult diapers.
Unexpectedly, my mother opens her eyes and throws a leg, thick with varicose veins, over the edge of the bed.
"Let's get out of here," she says conspiratorially.
"Mom, you're in the hospital," I say, pushing her leg back in bed.
"Geez-o fish hooks, what's wrong with you?"
My mother has never said "geez-o fish hooks."
For the entire 10 days she is in the hospital, my mother never tires of trying to get out of bed. Once home, despite the barricades around her rented hospital bed, she manages to push everything away and scoot across the floor on her bottom into the bathroom. At the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago where she currently is, the "impossible-to-get-out-of-bed-enclosure" is no match for her determination.
"I'm going to nickname you Helen Houdini," I tell her, shaking my head.
The name fits. Against long odds, she has escaped death. And this miracle is what we will celebrate with her on Mother's Day.