The Collected Thoughts and Musings of an Aspiring Political Philosopher

Saturday, March 21, 2009

It all happens in an instant

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Amazing how life can change so quickly. You have your plans, your routines, your habits, and your grand ideas of what the future holds... and then you don't, that fast.

My mother-in-law, Chantelle Princeton, is retiring next week, and has been looking forward to moving to Denver for well over a year. Julie and I too have been looking forward to a change of scenery (and an escape from 10.8% unemployment doesn't hurt) so we have likewise been jazzed about the move. Chantelle has been like a little kid, proudly showing us websites for the Boulder Farmer's Market or some entertainment or ballroom dancing activity she is looking forward to doing. She sees the move to Denver as a start to a new life after retirement for herself, and though we'd miss the ocean, Denver has a lot to offer us as well. We are less than one week away from the move, with trucks and car transports and new apartment rented and even utilities and everything else set up. The house is nearly completely packed, and we are committed at this point, emotionally, financially and physically.

Or, maybe not.

Friday, March 20, 2009 -

6:00pm: Chantelle was finishing up her daily swim at the gym with Julie, got in the car, put it in reverse, and then just slumped over, no warning, no nothing. One second she was complaining that somebody was blocking her pulling out of the space, the next she was unconscious. Julie called me in a panic, and like a dummy I called 911 instead of having her do it. Luckily it didn't waste more than a minute or so, but that goes to show how no matter how clearly you think in normal times, when stress goes through the roof in an instant, clear thinking often gives way to the muddled.

I was at home, about ten minutes from the gym, so I dropped everything and drove there, arriving just in time to witness the paramedics administering CPR and preparing her for the ambulance ride to the hospital. The chaplain who had accompanied them was obviously no newbie to this sort of thing. He kept his calm and carefully explained what we needed to do next.

6:40pm: We followed her to the hospital, and it didn't take long for a doctor to come out and announce that they hadn't been able, after more than 40 minutes, to get her heart going again. He was warning us about possible (or dare I say it? probable? likely? almost certain?) brain damage. Jana, Chantelle's older daughter, arrives.

6:50pm: In the middle of talking to us, the doctor gets a call saying they had restarted Chantelle's heart. Another half hour goes by as we wait for more news.

7:20pm: The cardiologist comes in and introduces himself. He explains the situation in pretty grim detail. They are going to have to perform an angiogram and hypothermia treatment to try to give the heart and brain some healing room. They are prepping her for the move upstairs and we'll get a chance to see her briefly on the way. Meanwhile, a bustle of activity as various staff come ask us for information and sign forms.

7:50pm: Chantelle is wheeled out on a gurney, a forest of tubes and wires covering her body, breathing tube sending oxygen to her starving cells. We get maybe 30 seconds to see and touch her before they hurry her off. A nurse leads us to CCU to wait for news as they complete the angiogram, which will take anywhere from one to two hours.

8:20pm: I run back home to gather some things for the wait (and put away the makings of dinner that we'd gotten out, so they don't spoil), and hurried back to the hospital with my "care package" in case we needed to spend the night.

9:15pm: I arrive back at the hospital and find Julie and Jana in a private waiting room, where we sit and just talk, worry, think, cry, and talk some more. We are told that they're getting Chantelle set up in a room and it'll be anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. It actually takes more like an hour, but we finally get a chance to go in and see her.

10:15pm: Bending hospital rules, they let all three of us in at once. Chantelle is staring blindly at the ceiling, alternately opening her eyes and closing them, fighting the breathing tube and the cold ice packs they've used to cover her body to cool it down for healing to take place. The nurse is very helpful and explains everything that they're doing, and takes some more information from Julie about her mom's health history.

10:20pm: We spend time talking to Chantelle, stroking her hair, saying the things you never know whether they are being heard or not, but you need to say them anyway. We all hug each other and try to take encouragement from every muscle movement or apparent sign of "Mumzie" in those staring, unseeing eyes. It seems that she hears us sometimes, or feels our hands on her skin, because she seems to react when we touch her forehead or shoulder, and sometimes to words we say; coincidence or connection, nobody can say.

It is hard, but at least we still have her with us, selfishly relishing this chance to touch her and see her still, knowing that she wasn't wisked away with no chance to at least say goodbye, much less hope for a recovery and her continued presence in our lives. The question is only how much of her is still there, and how much is lost to us. Nobody knows nor can even guess; even the doctors can only shrug and offer platitudes, because this is beyond medicine, it is the realm of spirit now. Chantelle is still with us in body, but her mind is lost in a fog of unconnected memories and thoughts, like a vast random dream, and we are just part of that jumble, Plato's Formless Void not coalescing into Form. Perhaps that is how we are in the womb; thoughts and dreams and time itself in an endlessly swirling mist of limitless possibilities and infinite randomness, just waiting for a vessel to give it Form.

We pray that Chantelle's vessel will heal enough to allow that Form we know and love so dearly to once again take shape. Only time, and the mysteries of the body and spirit, will determine the direction of our lives from here onward.

Denver? Maybe. We're still committed, and still working through all that that means, but right now, we have to reformulate that committment around whether it is now or later, and with Chantelle or without her. Oh, God, please, let it be the with her.
UPDATE: Saturday, March 21, 2009 -
We just returned from a visit to the hospital (Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, OR) and Chantelle is looking much better, though still in a coma. Physically, she looks like she's simply in a deep sleep. Her color is normal, her eyes are peacefully closed, and though she's still on a ventilator, it is working much less hard to keep her lungs inflated.
Chantelle's sister Jeri arrived and had some visit-time, along with Julie's cousin, also named Julie. Jana and her husband Curtis were able to come visit as well. It's nice having family around.
Still going crazy trying to figure out what to do, what to do. Handling someone else's life's details as well as our own is one thing, but in the middle of this major move is something else entirely. To dump the whole move and just stay here, or let the tsunami we've set in motion carry us to Denver, and then fly back and forth to keep vigil over Chantelle? It's all still too new, too chaotic. We don't have enough brain cells available right now to concentrate on anything but NOW.
Perhaps in a day or two.
Chantelle's doctors say they'll slowly increase her body temperature and decrease her meds so hopefully, if all goes well she'll start to wake up, and they can start running neurological tests to see the extent of the damage. Until then, we can only wait, visit, and hope she hears us as we whisper our love into her ear. More later.


Kristen said...

Geez you write so well John. I felt like I was at the hospital with you all and would have cried to if my body wasn't using all available fluids fighting a flu bug. Yea. Uhm....somehow I feel lucky now to have just the flu. Please keep talking to Chantelle. Keep touching her in any way possible. Prayers, Faith, Hope, Love. If there is anything I can possibly do exclusive of my already constant Prayers for you know what to do. ~Kristen

Cam said...

This is beautiful, John. Thank you for adding me to the site, and I will be checking in on Chanty over the next hours. All my love, Cami
"never kissed a frog, ....never had to" - I can't stop crying...