Backstory of My Mom's Illness
To say the past month has been stressful is an understatement. We all have seasons in our lives where our stress levels are up but mine have been off the charts lately. My doctor even suggested that I increase the medication that helps me deal with depression and anxiety, but I declined. Instead, I used my art to help me get through my trials. “How does art help anxiety,” you may be wondering? Well, let’s explore my own story of how it helped me get through my Mother’s recent complicated surgery.
Facing a Life-Threatening Surgery
My mom has had poor health for as long as I can remember from a variety of issues stemming from mental illness to being diabetic. However, about 11 years ago we noticed she really begin to decline in energy. Fast-forward to 3 years ago and she was to the point where she could barely do much of anything.
Outwardly she did her best to hide it from everyone, but we knew something was wrong. When they started running tests on her heart and lungs I got scared. Coupled with my own son having surgery to remove a cyst in his throat July of 2017 and my mother’s health, I made the decision to leave my management position and be home.
Finally, around October of last year, two doctors locally met for lunch and discovered what was wrong with my mom. Beginning with tests at Mission Hospital they diagnosed her with a rare condition called chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, or CTEPH for short. In laymen’s terms what this means is my mother had scar tissue and permanently attached blood clots in her lungs and main artery to her heart.
No medication or blood thinner could dissolve them. Her only option was to have an open heart and open lung surgery at Duke University. Very few surgeons in the US can perform this rare surgery but thankfully we were about five hours from a world-renown center. Including, the number two surgeon in the entire world for this procedure.
Playing the Waiting Game
We were originally told that my Mom would have surgery before Christmas around the beginning of December. As the holidays approached, we never heard anything and every day we woke up it felt like we were holding our breath.
My nerves were so shot I couldn’t even think about Christmas. JJ and the kids put up the Christmas tree, but I just could not feel the spirit. The doctors had told us that she could have a heart attack at any time.
I knew my nerves were a wreck, but my parents were worse than mine, naturally. They didn’t even manage to decorate this past Christmas either. We were told to be ready, so we were.
Finally, Dad called and demanded answers and we were told it would be mid-January before she would have surgery.
We ended up having a great Christmas despite everything and mentally we all hit the “reset” button to gear up for the waiting game again.
Near the end of the month of the new year, we packed our vehicles and headed across the state.
They checked Mom into the hospital and prepared her for a final test. That night my Dad, Aunt Sue & Uncle Shane, and I went and unpacked at our hotel to settle in for the next 10 days.
Only, for my Mom to be discharged the next day! My mother’s physician was one of only two at Duke University who could perform heart and lung transplants. Unfortunately, the other physician broke his arm which left my Mom’s doctor carrying the load of two.
We were sent home to wait until the following Friday for her surgery.
Frustrated and Mentally Fatigued
Traveling back home the next day left us all feeling defeated. Personally, I felt like I was a ripe melon cracking and about to explode.
The tension and worry within our family were so thick you could have cut it with a butter knife. However, my Mom was the only one of us calm as a cool cucumber.
In the middle of the following week, they were told to travel back down again only a night before she needed to be down there. The Duke Clinic was not on top of communication through this entire process which only added to everyone’s stress.
And wouldn’t you know it? When they get to where they were only an hour away from the hospital, yet again, they were told surgery was going to be put off until the following Monday! Whoever called advised my family to turn around and go home but my Dad told them no.
I won’t go into details but let’s just say they quickly said to come on and they would go ahead and admit my Mom until surgery. I’m glad they did because there was a battery of other tests they needed to complete before she could even be wheeled into the operating room.
Therefore, once again we were back to throwing the ball back to the waiting game court. Mindless waiting is enough to drive anyone insane but at least this time we knew she was going to have the surgery.
How I Coped with the Stress
Everyone copes with stress in different ways. My outlet has always been to either read or create art in one form or another. I had an entire suitcase packed full of sketchpads, pencils both for sketching & color, along with an art book or two while I was at Duke.
In between the waiting periods, I blessedly had my painting software and I spent a few days at home doing some nature studies to keep my mind busy.
But I will get into how I used the tools of various arts to help me and my family cope during this time in the next installment of this series. Come back soon to hear the rest of this story because it is too long to put into a single post. My sketching tools kept me grounded during the actual surgery and a couple of art museums gave me a much-needed break and inspiration.
Until next time!