Hello, all. This is my first post. I'm so glad I found this site.
Last Christmas my mother went to the hospital because she was experiencing severe chills and shaking. These symptoms recurred several times daily for the next few weeks, and each doctor she saw could only tell her they didn't know what was wrong, until on February 1st, when she had a massive stroke and many things became evident. For several days she was in a local hospital, where her condition appeared to improve slightly except for her frequent sweating. The sweating, it turned out, was a symptom of an infection that they feared had reached her heart. Following this analysis, she was immediately flown to Washington Hospital Center, where they soon confirmed she indeed had a heart infection (endocarditis). For about a week she was there, in desperate need of heart surgery, while we waited and waited to speak with the surgeon. When finally we met with us he said her case was so grave he was somewhat reluctant to even attempt surgery. However the next day, he did perform the surgery.
It was a complicated process.
Her aortic valve, which she had replaced because of stenosis in 2008, and which they surmise had unfortunately facilitated the infection reaching her heart, had to be replaced again. Two other valves had to be repaired, as well as a fistula. She had an aneurysm that had to be removed. Several of her arteries had to be either repaired or replaced. The infection, which was determined to be a form of strep, had to be debrided from at least one of her valves. The surgeon said he had to fashion structures out of her pericardium for some of this work. What he did is nothing short of amazing.
After the surgery we were relieved beyond description. For the first time in a long time, there was some light flickering in the darkness. The feeling lasted briefly, as what was supposed to be a twenty to thirty minute transfer from the OR to the ICU took over two hours. My mom's oxygen level was low and one of her lungs had partially collapsed. The doctor we saw in the ICU the next day, who had been there the previous night, said he hadn't been sure she would make it through the night. It has been a week after surgery, and still she cannot come off the ventilator or the medicine that keeps her blood pressure elevated. The EP doctor said her heart has no electrical activity and said she would need a pacemaker. A few days after that, the day they were to implant the pacemaker, they said they had to hold off because once again her white blood cell count was high. It just seems like poor health is chasing her around like some demented, evil thing. For every one thing that goes well, three go poorly.
All of this is crushing my dad, who is every second of the day waiting for the worst possible news. He refuses medication to help him sleep at night and to feel more calm about this during the day. As a retired marine who saw in Korea the worst horrors the planet has to offer, and by that I mean bodies stacked football fields long near the 38th parallel, our family is surprised at how he is just unable to handle this new horror on any level. He often breaks down and cries, and I don't ever remember him crying even once before this, except a few tears when we had to put to sleep our awesome twenty-three-year old cat Tiger back in 1998. My dad keeps saying that if my mom dies he wants to die. I tell him I understand, that I truly do, that if my girlfriend where lying close to death I'd want to pass with her. This helps him relate to me, and that is a good thing, one of the only times I feel like we're on the same wave-length about this terrible situation. However, I don't know what else to tell him. I don't know if I should just keep reciting the cliché to "prepare for the worst and hope for the best." Clichés are of little comfort while staring into the twisted, wretched face of this thing. I don't know if I should tell him that I'd be okay if he passed soon after mom passed (I wouldn't be at all okay with it). I don't know if I should tell him he shouldn't think or feel that way. I'm reading books on the topic of dying now, and it seems one of the underlying themes is that there is no right or wrong to a lot what surrounds death and serious illness. I wonder about that. I wonder if I made a terrible mistake when I signed the consent for my mom's surgery. I wonder if she will be okay living in a wheelchair, unable to do any of the things that give her joy in this life, or if she will even be mentally aware should she ever be well enough to be moved to a rehabilitation center.
The most important thing is for me to help my dad (and sister, who is hanging in there pretty well so far) deal with this in any way I can, and to that end, I would greatly appreciate any and all advice you may have. I've read several stories on here and I am truly sorry for the terrible losses people on this site have suffered and suffer still.