Neither have I locked myself away with some obscure order of nuns under a strict vow of silence.
I’m still here. I’ve been busy. Let me tell you about it.
In our last exciting and apparently (according to one reader) lengthy episode, my Girl came home from the hospice with an infection in her shoulder. To say it was unexpected would be like saying, “Wow, who knew autumn would turn up straight after summer?”
She’s been home only one night from the hospice. I give her pain medication. It doesn’t help.
The next morning, my Girl has a lump the size of an emerging tennis ball on the upper part of her shoulder blade. Worse still, her blood sugars have soared to the point where the meter gives a readout of, “Man, are you ever in trouble.” She’s clearly unwell.
I call my doctor. She makes out a prescription for more antibiotics. I call the hospice. The nurse zooms straight to our door. This is serious. I speak to the hospice doctor. Although the hospice would normally advocate non-intervention, she tells me the infection is reversible, and they advise me to send her straight to hospital.
When we arrive, we’re whisked straight through the Emergency Room and into the Acute Unit, all thanks to the calls made by the hospice doctor. The ADU nurse takes my Girl’s blood sugars, temperature, and vitals. She tells me that she’s seen her notes, and gently advises me that one option is to heavily medicate my Girl, and let her go.
It feels like a good option. She could slip away in her sleep. Out of the pain and into the hands of whoever waits on the other side. I swallow back the tears, and accept that it may be my only option.
Boy, am I ever wrong.
There’s a bed on Ward 5. I’m disappointed. We’re practically on a first-name basis with the staff on every ward except 5, and Maternity. I suspect one day we’ll do a stint in Maternity, but I can’t imagine the circumstances. I’m doubly disappointed to find she’s sharing a room with three others: two middle-aged women, and an anorexic girl with a 24-hour watch on her. The nurse tells me the 24-hour watch will benefit my Girl because they can keep an eye on her as well. All I can do now is go home and rest.
The next day, I manage to catch the doctors doing their rounds. We have three choices. Who knew we’d have that many?
They can: a) put my Girl under a general anaesthetic, and cut out the abscess. That means a couple of inches across, at least an inch down. It won’t be so much a wound as an excavation site. I’m not keen.
Then there’s option,( b) open it up under a local anaesthetic on the ward. According to the doctors, this would be excruciatingly painful. Again, I’m not keen.
After that, there’s option (c) do nothing, and let her go.
Everyone tells me there’s no “right” decision. They look to me. The stress of the decision is agonizing. When the phlebotomist arrives to take blood, I tell her she’s not putting any more holes in my girl, because that’s how we got into this position in the first place. I tell her to take her cart and go! She tells me she has to take blood for the operation. I tell her there isn’t going to be any operation. She argues. I make her regret arguing. Then make a mental note to apologize when I next see her because she’s only doing her job.
I speak to the Palliative doctor, the surgeon, the nurses, the hospice doctor. They all reiterate that there’s no “right” decision. They tell me they wouldn’t want to be in my shoes. It doesn’t help. Hell, I don’t want to be in my shoes.
Exhausted, I go home and call up my Warrior legion of “Outraged and indignant” supporters. They give their opinions, adding that it’s not an easy decision, and throw in a little outraged indignation for relief.
So far: The anaesthetist is reluctant, the registrar surgeon is on the fence, the ward doctor is gunning for option (a), three nurses say they’d hate to have such decision, the diabetes nurse tells me to follow my gut, Chookie Lou tells me to do whatever feels right, my Warrior Legion offers a variety of angles and possible outcomes, the hospice still feel it’s reversible and that something should be done soon.
I’m confused and even more exhausted. I have zero medical training. How am I supposed to make these decisions? I call the Palliative doctor. I tell her I don’t want them to put her under a general anaesthetic. I tell her my Girl would never survive it. She tends to agree. In the meantime, they prescribe oral antibiotics and keep her comfortable.
Then a break! The consultant surgeon wafts in with an entourage of several young doctors. He looks at my Girl, inspects her shoulder, does a General Custer hand signal for us to follow. We squeeze into a tiny office and he gives his verdict:
He would not put her under a general anaesthetic. (I heave a sigh of relief). Neither would he give her a local. That would be excruciating. He tells the registrar surgeon that the best option is to spray-freeze the spot, nick it with a scalpel, open the wound up, and let it drain.
I’m thrilled. It’s quick, and it’s simple. What’s more, it’s the best outcome. Especially when two days later, a second abscess emerges on the other shoulder. I’m horrified, but at least we have a way forward.
My Girl is moved to another ward. In this room is a chatty woman my age, an elderly lady, and another anorexic girl with a 24-hour watch. I’m spending around 5 or 6 hours a day in the ward, so it’s to my delight, that I find these other three patients are keeping an eye on my girl when I’m not there.
Slowly, but surely, my Girl responds to the antibiotics. She’s spent twelve days in the hospital, so I’m completely thrilled when they tell me she can come home.
The wounds are dressed daily and doing well. She’s come off the syringe driver, leaving her alert and active enough to go back to her program for a couple of hours a day.
She’s almost back to being my beautiful Girl again. Last week, I spoke to my counsellor. I regaled the events above, all the trials and tribulations, the stress, and the horror. And you know what she said?
“You know, it was never your decision.”
I’m like, “What? They asked me what I wanted!”
Yep. Turns out, that’s true. The medical staff might have asked me, but they never expected me to make the decision. And frankly, if I’d made the wrong decision (in their opinion), they could have overturned it. What they were seeking was my buy-in; my agreement to the route going forward.
Who knew? Because I certainly didn’t.
So take heart from a spot of advice from me: If you’re a carer, a mother, or anyone with someone’s else’s life in your hands, you can make a difference with your opinion, you can put your two-cents-worth in. But the final decision is not yours to make.
I took a lot of comfort knowing that. I think you would, too.