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Mom’s Hip Surgery

            A few weeks ago, Mom went to a new orthopedist and came home with an appointment for hip replacement surgery in May. She’d been experiencing spasms in her left leg and numbness in that foot for a long time, and while she was in physical therapy for that she noticed pain in her right leg as well. But before she could look into the new pain, she had to get carpal tunnel surgery on her left wrist (to match the surgery on her right wrist from last year), and then she needed a few weeks to recover, and then she got distracted. But in the past month or so she’d started to have trouble walking and was experiencing even more pain than usual, so she made an appointment with an orthopedist.

I barely noticed the appointment on the calendar in the living room, because the calendar was filled with so many other doctor visits, board meetings, quilting groups, and outings with friends, but then Mom became nauseous and so exhausted that she couldn’t get to all of her various appointments for a few days. We assumed it was a reaction to her second Covid booster shot (Pfizer this time), but it went on and on, so she called her Cardiologist’s office to see if it might be something more serious than a reaction to the booster. They gave her an appointment on the same day as her orthopedic appointment, so she decided to go to the orthopedist after all, since she had a few hours to kill before going to the Cardiologist.

            I woke up after she’d left for the Orthopedist, though not long after, because as soon as she closed the front door the dogs climbed up on my bed and Cricket decided to stand on my chest and stare at me until I got up. After breakfast, and a long argument with the dogs about whether or not they needed a second breakfast, Mom sent me a text to say that she was sitting in the waiting room at the new doctor’s office and she was bored. I tried to entertain her, unsuccessfully, and then took the dogs out for their second morning walk (I wasn’t up to another argument with them), and then I stared at the computer for way too long.

“Please play with me.”

I got another text from Mom a while later, saying that the nurse at the doctor’s office had had a similar reaction to the Pfizer booster, and it eventually passed (after three weeks!), but at least it was reassuring to know that this really was a reaction to the shot and not something more serious, so she could cancel the appointment with the Cardiologist, at least for now, which she really didn’t have the energy for after all of the sitting and waiting.

            I wrote back asking if the nurse had had any suggestions for how to manage the symptoms and Mom said she’d forgotten to ask, and then I didn’t hear from her and I assumed she was finally getting to see the doctor. I tried to get some work done (probably Duolingo), and read a few chapters about Disability Inclusion in the classroom, and The History of the State of Israel, and Intuitive Eating (three different books), and then I got another text.

On my way home. Will need a new hip.

Wait, what?!!!!

            There was no answer to my text because she was already driving home, but twenty minutes later I met her at the front door to our building and said, again, What?!!!

“What?!”

            Mom was in her own state of shock, so I had to wait until we were sitting on the couch in the living room and Cricket was ensconced on her Grandma’s lap – as God intended – before Mom could tell me more. The doctor had done x-rays, which, for some reason, hadn’t been done in a long time, and it turned out that Mom’s right hip had no cartilage left and was just bone on bone, and the left hip wasn’t much better. If the right hip went well, they would schedule surgery on the left one a few months later. When Mom asked them how this much damage could have come on so suddenly, the Physician’s Assistant said that people experience pain differently, and it’s possible that her body just didn’t register the pain until it was severe. Mom has always had (very) high pain tolerance, but even for her this seemed extreme. She ate some crackers (still nauseous) and drank some water (mixed with grape juice because that’s how she rolls) and then she convinced the dogs that it was time for a room change and an afternoon nap, but I just sat there on the couch, overwhelmed and struggling to take it all in.

“I’m guarding my Grandma. Keep your distance.

            I was angry at the doctors for not seeing this sooner, and for being so invalidating in their doctorliness over the years; and I was jealous that Mom had an actual solution to one of her health issues; and I was worried about the surgery and the anesthesia and any possible unintended consequences; and I was hopeful that this surgery could make a difference in Mom’s health overall, because maybe the more generalized pain she’s been experiencing is actually related to this hip situation and once that’s better she might feel better; and I was annoyed that she would be out of commission just when I needed her help (which I always do); and I was scared overall about her aging and her not being Supermommy forever, and, and, and.

            There was a lot going on in my mind, but within days it became clear that that her doctor – or his office, and the hospital in the city where the surgery would be performed – had it all planned out, with pre-op testing and webinars to explain everything and lists of aftercare devises and plans for a visiting nurse and a visiting physical therapist. All of those preset frameworks were reassuring, to both of us, and made it possible to believe that Mom might just be okay.

            But, all of this reminded me of when I was twenty-two and she (finally) had back surgery for her scoliosis. She was supposed to have it when my brother and I were away at camp one summer years earlier, but she’d had to cancel the whole thing because my father refused to be her support system, and the doctors didn’t have the same kinds of plans in place for outside supports back then. Instead, she waited to have the surgery until I was old enough to take care of her. I’d finished college a few months earlier and looked, from the outside, like a reasonable adult, but we were still living in my childhood home, with my abusive father, and I was still in a deep depression, and I was terrified that Mom would go to the hospital in the city and never come back.

            There were two surgeries, a week apart. After the first surgery, I sat up with her overnight, ready to drive her to the emergency room if necessary, trying to distract her, going out to get her medication, making toast and eggs, and then going to the library for recipe books so I could make her more food-like food when she was ready to eat it. She needed help washing her hair, and getting from one room to another, and I had to set my alarm for every three hours so I could remind her to take her medication overnight before the worst of the pain could kick in.

            My father drove me in to the city to see her after the second surgery, and being alone in a car with him felt like a hostage situation, wherein he pretended he was the best father in the world, but it was the only way for me to see Mom.

            My brother (who was finishing medical school) drove her home from the second surgery, and then we went through all of the same stages of recovery, with the alarm clocks and the toast and the hair-washing, until she could think straight and start to believe that the pain might eventually recede. The rest of the time, I sat alone in my room, shaking.

            But even before she’d fully recovered, Mom was so much stronger and she was ready to ask for the divorce she’d wanted for years. And, despite all of the fear and pain, those surgeries were a turning point, in both of our lives.

            I have been promised that this hip surgery, and the next one, will be nothing like those back surgeries: nowhere near the degree of danger, or pain, because they are so much better at this now, and so much better at the pre and post-operative care. And we have family and friends offering more help than we can even use, and I am so much stronger than I was back then.

            But, it’s hard not to be thrown back in time. And yet, I want to believe that Mom will feel stronger and more energetic and more secure on her feet once both hips are replaced. I want to picture her sitting on her birthday bench while she recovers, with Ellie by her side and Cricket sniffing every blade of grass in the yard, and the birds singing over their heads ignoring them completely. And I want to believe that this will be another good turning point, for both of us, despite the fear we’re feeling in the moment.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Mom’s Wrist Surgery

            The first thing I thought of when Mom told me she would be having surgery on her wrist (outpatient for Carpal Tunnel) was – who’s going to cook? I cook once in a while, but I generally don’t have the energy to do much of it, and with all of the extra chores I’d be responsible for with Mom’s right (dominant) hand out of commission, I was worried we’d starve. Or have to live on peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches, or something.

“Peanut butter sounds good to me.”

            I’m sure I was also in a panic about the risks of anesthesia, and problems with the surgery itself, and Covid, and Mommy is going to die and leave me all alone! But on the surface, mostly, I was worried about the food. And having to take the dogs out for all four walks each day, especially first thing in the morning. Ugh, and I’d have to wash dishes and fill and empty the dishwasher, and vacuum and clean, on top of doing the laundry and the food shopping as usual. Just thinking about it all was exhausting, and Mom was (selfishly) just worried about her potential pain, and how would she survive without sewing until her wrist healed. Harrumph.

            (Don’t worry, we went to the freezer section of the supermarket two days before the surgery was scheduled and loaded up on cauliflower crust pizza, and veggie stir-fry’s, and ice cream. I’m sure that’s what you were most worried about.)

            I don’t think of myself as lazy, per se, but I do get very grumpy about doing chores. Mostly I curse quietly to myself. But not always.

            Of course, as we got closer to the day of the surgery, and all of the prep work was done, we were both getting anxious about the day of: Mom about the surgery itself and the potential pain in the aftermath, and me about the driving. I always get nervous about driving to new places, or to places I haven’t been to in a while. And I would have to drive early in the morning (originally we were told she’d have to be there by 7:30, but in the end it was a more reasonable 9 AM).

            Mom has a map of Long Island (and all of New York and probably the Tristate area) tattooed on her brain; me, not so much. I drive because I have to, and I resent it. It just seems like a game of Frogger brought to life, except that I don’t identify with the frog who keeps stupidly trying to cross a busy street in the middle of traffic; instead I identify with the poor drivers who can’t dodge the enormous frog in the road, and have to feel guilty when the frog goes splat.

            But, once we got going on the morning of the surgery, I realized that I mostly knew the route. I couldn’t picture it on paper, or by the street names, but in person it looked familiar. I was sort of relieved that the Covid protocols prevented me from going into the hospital with Mom, because if I had to sit there doing nothing but worry for hours I would have been swamped with anxiety. But I also felt guilty for dropping Mom off like a package at the front door, and I worried about her the same way I worry when I have to drop one of the dogs off at the vet instead of going in with them. What’s happening in there? Will Mommy/Ellie/Cricket/Butterfly/Dina ever come out again? Why didn’t I go to medical/veterinary school so I could take care of these things myself?

“Could I go to medical school?”

            As soon as I arrived home, the dogs insisted on going out to pee again, and to sniff Grandma’s footsteps along the walkway. Cricket gave me dirty looks for the next few hours, because, clearly, it was my fault Grandma was not home, and I could never be trusted to leave the house again.

            I was too anxious to take a nap, so I worked at the computer while I waited to hear that Mom was ready to come home. Mom had said the surgery would be over by around one o’clock and that she would call to let me know when to pick her up, but I didn’t hear from anyone until after two o’clock, and the wait felt more like a week than just an extra hour. I imagined every possible disaster, including: problems with the anesthesia, accidental amputation and catastrophic blood loss, a sudden outbreak of Covid taking over the whole hospital, a bomb, a meteor, aliens…My brain can do a lot in an hour.

            But a nurse finally called and said that everything went fine and I could come in an hour or so to pick Mom up. Of course I left early, because I was afraid I’d get lost, or stuck in traffic, or something, and I called Mom’s cell phone as soon as I arrived at the front of the hospital. She was rolled out in a wheelchair ten minutes later, and I worried when the man guiding the wheelchair said that I should help her into the car and make sure she didn’t fall, as if she was much more fragile than usual, but it turned out that he was just being extra careful. Mom’s hand was wrapped to the size of an oven mitt, and she was a little tired and dizzy, but otherwise not too bad.

            When we got home I found out about more of my duties, including medicine-bottle-opener, and ice-cube-bag-filler. I got used to filling both of our ice cube trays every few hours, and then pounding them on the counter to try to make the ice cubes come out. Ice cubes are stubborn creatures, until they break free, and then they can really fly.

            After seventy-two hours I was able to drop the ice-cube-breaking and replace it with Mommy-Watching, because Mom seemed to think she could do all kinds of things with her wrapped hand that she clearly was not supposed to do, like creating power point presentations. Each day, I had to watch her more closely to make sure she wasn’t secretly carrying heavy packages or chopping vegetables. She found the whole thing very frustrating. And boring. And clearly I was the meanie keeping her from doing anything fun.

“Don’t be a meanie.”

            After ten days I drove her to her follow up visit with the doctor and, since Mom did not want me to go in to the appointment with her, I asked her to get a clear plan from the doctor for how she could gradually return to normal activities. I sat in the waiting room watching a live action Chipmunk movie that I will never be able to unsee, and eventually she came out with a much smaller bandage on her hand and a smile on her face. It seemed that the doctor had said the most wonderful thing that a doctor could say: sewing is good therapy. As soon as we got home she was on the computer telling all of her quilting friends that the doctor recommended that she spend MORE time sewing, and they all cheered.

            We still had a few frozen meals left, but Mom was eager to get back to cooking. By the next afternoon she had prepped a soup for the slow cooker, walked the dogs on her own twice, and was planning to go out and do some errands; because, where my instinct is always to rest, hers is to DO SOMETHING. I had to intervene and drive her for the errands so she wouldn’t overdo it on her first day back in action, and then I really needed a nap. Watching her do so much stuff is exhausting.

“For us too.”

            It will be a few months before her hand is back to full use, and I’m expecting many tantrums as Mom struggles to survive on only five or six hours of sewing a day. (Don’t worry, the dogs and I will do our best to avoid the living room when Mom gets grumpy. I’m sure that’s what you were most worried about.)

“Is it safe to go back to the living room yet?”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

A Stubborn Butterfly

 

Two weeks ago, on Thursday, I came home after five PM and noticed Butterfly standing by the door and panting. When she tried to sit down, she yelped. I checked for the bump on her lower belly that usually causes these symptoms, and it was not only there, it was bigger and harder than usual. These attacks make me nervous because Butterfly’s health is already fragile, with diabetes, and heart trouble, and a persistent cough keeping us perpetually on alert. But most of the time the panting and discomfort, and even the hernia/bump on her lower belly, passes in a few hours. We watched her carefully and gave her extra cuddles, but when we took the dogs out for their late evening walk, Butterfly threw up three times, in purple. I brought her back inside and put her on my bed so I could keep an eye on her, but she couldn’t find a comfortable position. I sat with her and scratched her back as she drooled a river on my bed, and after a while she calmed down enough to decide she wanted to walk down her doggy steps and search for a sip of water and a more interesting place to sleep. I thought that was a good sign.

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“I’m fine, Mommy, this is just how I breathe.”

When I woke up in the morning, I expected her to be back to her healthy-ish self, but instead she was listlessly resting her head on her paws, facing the front door of the apartment, next to a drying puddle of pee. Both dogs were scheduled to go to the groomer that morning, and Cricket was blinded by hair and smelled awful, so we dropped Cricket off for her haircut, and took Butterfly directly to the vet for an emergency visit. The people at the front desk were a little snotty with us for not calling ahead, until an hour later when the doctor did an ultrasound on Butterfly’s bump and it became clear that her intestines were compromised and she needed immediate surgery.

We were very lucky that Butterfly’s vet was still there. We had assumed that she would already be gone, and we had said our final goodbyes at Butterfly’s last regular appointment, but it turned out that Butterfly had her emergency just in time, on her doctor’s second to last day at the clinic. In the past, the doctor had discouraged even dental cleanings because Butterfly’s oversized heart would be too vulnerable under anesthesia, but this time she said it was worth the risk. Without surgery, part of Butterfly’s intestines could die and that would kill her just as surely as the anesthesia could.

I held Butterfly in my arms and sang her the Misheberach song, a Jewish prayer for healing, and then I handed her to her doctor. I used up a box full of tissues at the front desk and in the car on the way home, trying not to think that I might never see my baby again.

The doctor called within the hour to tell us that Butterfly was doing well on the anesthesia, but they would need to do a second incision so she would be under longer.

Mom went out to pick up Cricket from the groomer while I did busy work to keep my mind as blank as possible. Cricket returned looking skinny and clean and confused. She was still recovering from her anti-anxiety medication, and the trauma of grooming, but I think the worst part was that her sister wasn’t home to sniff her butt and listen to her plight.

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“What is going on?!”

The second call from the doctor came an hour and a half later. Butterfly had survived her surgery and was waking up from the anesthesia, and they wanted advice on what to try and feed her, because her blood sugar was low and she was refusing all of their treats. Even chicken. The relief was extraordinary. The numbness that had taken over my whole body started to recede and instead of crying or something else more reasonable, I started laughing. My baby had survived!

I felt like there was a GPS muttering in my head all that day, “Recalculating, recalculating.” The relief that Butterfly had actually survived the anesthesia was replaced with anxiety when the doctor called again later to say that she wanted Butterfly to spend the night at an emergency veterinary hospital, where a doctor could keep an eye on her, and her breathing. The clinic would only have a technician on duty overnight and the doctor was concerned that if something went wrong, no one would be there to help. She didn’t specify what might go wrong, and she made it clear that the night at the hospital would be very expensive, but she didn’t leave much doubt about the right course of action.

The doctor brought Butterfly out to us, drugged and blurry, and gave us directions to the emergency veterinary hospital twenty minutes away. I held Butterfly in my arms in the front passenger seat of the car while Mom drove, and I listened to Butterfly’s raspy breathing, trying to buffer each bump of the road (she lifted her sleepy head once or twice to let me know that I wasn’t doing a good enough job with that). I could still hear the GPS voice in my head, “recalculating, recalculating.”

As soon as we reached the emergency veterinary hospital, a technician took Butterfly from us, and we had to sit in the waiting room and wait to hear from the doctor on duty. We’d assumed we would just be dropping her off, so the long wait was one more surprise. We finally saw a doctor after eleven PM, and she said that she could hear a crackling sound in Butterfly’s lungs, and wanted to do an x-ray. More waiting. I tried to read the books they had around the room (dog books, of course), but I was worried about Cricket sitting at home alone, needing to pee, barely recovered from her day of anti-anxiety medication and grooming and loneliness.

The x-rays turned out okay, thank God, and then we had to pay the exorbitant estimated bill in order to have the right to visit Butterfly one more time and say goodnight. They led us to a roomful of kennels, set up like high rise apartments, filled with sleepy dogs attached to IVs. As soon as the technician opened the door of her first floor kennel, Butterfly walked out, still attached to her IVs but ready to go home. I tried to explain to her that she needed to stay overnight, but she did not believe me. The technician had to put her back in the kennel for us, because Mom and I were both afraid to risk pulling out one of the tubes she was attached to. And then we finally left, after midnight.

Once again, I had to take deep breaths and tell myself not to think too far ahead. It was a long ride home. Cricket, as predicted, was losing her mind and full of pee. We took her out for a late walk and then we all tried to settle down and get some semblance of a night’s sleep, but even Cricket found the No-Butterfly feeling of the apartment disconcerting.

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“I have nothing to say.”

The next day, we paid the rest of the exorbitant emergency vet hospital bill and took a seriously drugged Butterfly (they put her on Methadone!) back to her doctor at the clinic.

Not only did we have to say good bye to Butterfly, again, we had to say goodbye to her doctor, who really was leaving this time.

We had a second night of no Butterfly at home, but at least we knew she was healthy enough to stay at the clinic overnight. The next morning, a new doctor called to tell us that we could pick Butterfly up that afternoon, because she had been taken out for a walk and managed a soft poop. The only trouble was that she still wasn’t eating, and they hoped coming home would reduce her anxiety enough so she would eat.

As soon as the technician brought her out and put her paws on the floor, Butterfly led the way to the exit, even with the Elizabethan collar making the walls hard to spot. We had a bagful of medications to give her and a list of things to do and not do: do not give her kibble; do not give her a bath; do not let her walk up and down the stairs; do give her chicken and rice; pick her up carefully so as not to press on the staples closing her incisions; keep her belly away from magnets (okay, maybe they left that one out, but I really think they should have mentioned it).

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“I can walk myself.”

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“Where have you been and did you get extra treats that I didn’t get?”

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“I do not like this hat, Mommy.”

 

She still wasn’t ready to eat by the time her nighttime meds were needed, so we crushed the pills in peanut butter, and then spread the mixture, bit by bit, on to her lips. An hour later, her face and my clothes (and the couch and the rug) were covered in peanut butter, but it’s possible that some of the medicine actually got into her system.

 

 

 

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Oy.

She started eating chicken and rice the next morning, and took the pills that I broke up and hid clumsily in her food. Then I had to cut off the peanut butter hair left on her chin (whatever she hadn’t managed to rub on the floor herself), and some of the hair around her hygienic areas as well, because she was getting a bit stinky.

Butterfly still had two rows of staples on her belly, and this funny hairless ring on her right front ankle, where they’d put in the IV, and she was a bit slow moving and still on pain medication, but she made the most of my unwillingness to pull on the leash of an invalid. Out on her walks, she started a new habit of walking ten steps in one direction, stopping short, looking around, and then taking ten or fifteen steps in the other direction, just to see if she could get away with it. She could.

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This anklet is the height of fashion. Really.

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Ouch.

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She’s Home.

 

Within a few days, she was off her pain meds and back to licking the hand that petted her, and spreading her food in ever widening circles from her bowl (which is much messier with soft rice than it is with hard kibble). She started to walk faster, and then to jog, but she still didn’t think I had any right to control her leash and she made that very clear.

 

On Wednesday of this past week, not quite two weeks after her surgery, Butterfly went to the doctor and had her staples removed, and celebrated by trying to run all the way home. She’s still not allowed to climb the stairs, and bath time has to be put off for another week, but she thinks she’s all better. She also thinks that now that her belly has been reinforced with extra stitches, she should be allowed to widen her diet to include French fries and pizza, but this is unlikely. I can be stubborn too. She’s a very good teacher.

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“Mommy, you learned the wrong thing.”