An Unexpected Trip

After not seeing my family for more than two years (thanks, pandemic), I just spent a nearly 5 weeks at my mom’s house. It wasn’t a planned trip – my mom needed an urgent surgery, so I hopped on a plane so I could be there during her surgery and to help out as she recovered. And when I say I hopped on a plane, I mean that at 3 pm on a Friday I bought a ticket for a flight that night at 11 pm1. My mom was in the hospital at the time as they figured out what she needed and when it was determined she needed an urgent surgery, she was told that they didn’t know exactly when it would happen (thanks again, pandemic) but that it would be short notice, so I decided to just go there so that I was there whenever it happened. I arrived at 6 the next morning and my sister picked me up, we got coffees and I dropped my luggage off at my mom’s house and then I went to the hospital to see her.

The hospital only allowed two registered visitors per patient2, and only one of said registered visitors could go to the hospital per day (pandemic strikes again!). My sister and I originally thought that we could trade off – like I could visit mom in the morning and she could visit her in the afternoon, but that was not allowed, so instead we traded off days. I visited with mom one day, while Nancy stayed at my mom’s house and worked, and then the next day I’d stay home and work and Nancy would visit her.

When I was in high school, I used to volunteer at this hospital.3 My job was to assist patients – things like getting them water or pillows or dialing the phone so they could talk to a loved one or opening all the lids on their dinner for those would couldn’t open them themselves and feeding patients who weren’t able to feed themselves. Sometimes it was just sitting and chatting with patients who didn’t have any visitors. But until I was in the hospital with my mom, I had no idea how much that work actually meant. They don’t have any volunteers in the hospital right now (another thing the pandemic has interfered with) and the staff is really busy, so people whose family or friends can’t visit them andwho can’t get up and go get themselves a glass of water or get to the bathroom on their own, they might not get those things (at least, not quickly). My sister and I are very lucky that we are both able to work remotely, and able to flex our hours so we could work early in the morning and in the evening on the days where we were in the hospital during the day. I already had a week of holidays booked in February, so I was able to take that week and focus on my mom. I realize that not every one is so lucky to be able to do these things when a loved one goes into the hospital.

Despite the staff being really busy, I have to say they did a great job of taking care of my mom. They answered our questions, they ensured her medical needs were taken care of and that she was safe as she awaited her surgery.

We were told the surgery would probably be that week, but then we were told all the surgeries for that week were postponed due to staffing issues at the hospital she had to be transferred to for surgery, so it would be the next week. Then we were surprised on the Thursday of that week as we were told the surgery would be the next day.

The hospital where the surgery happened also only allowed two registered visitors per patient (with only one per day) and visits were limited to 2 hours. On the day of surgery I went in to see mom off in the morning when her transport arrived to get her, and then Nancy went to the hospital where the surgery was happening. She got to see mom arrive and even got to talk to the surgeon with my mom before the surgery. The surgeon was surprised to see a family member with a patient – he said he couldn’t remember the last time he saw a family member (stupid pandemic!). After the surgery was done, when the surgeon came out to tell my sister how it went, she called and put me on speaker phone so I could hear too. The surgery went well and we were finally able to breath a sigh of relief. My sister got to see my mom in the ICU – still sleeping, but so good to be on the other side of the surgery. I went into see my mom the next day. She was on a lot of meds still and was very sleepy, but she recognized me when she woke up briefing (“That’s my daughter” she told the nurse.), though she doesn’t remember it.

The surgery took place at the same hospital where my dad died, and it was surreal to walk by the waiting room we sat in during his surgery, to be in an ICU room that looked the same as the one where we were my dad when he passed away. My mom’s surgery was also a week after the 10th anniversary of dad’s death, so let’s just say, it was a lot. But I was so, so grateful that my mom’s came through her surgery with flying colours and we got to bring her home.

Since this hospital had a two hour time limit on visits, my sister and I took turns taking these short visits with her during the 5 days before she could come home. This hospital unit was also super busy and again, I felt really bad for people whose family or friends weren’t able to visit. As with the first hospital, despite being very busy, the nurses provided really good care and answered our questions to help us understand how best to support my mom’s recovery from her surgery.

Five days after surgery, my mom got to come home! And it was so nice to have her back in her own house. As much as the care was really good at the hospital4, there’s nothing like being in your own home. Plus, after two years of staying away from people to avoid COVID, being thrown into a situation where there are all these people around was a bit much. And you don’t want to get COVID at anytime, but you really don’t want to get COVID while you are recovering from surgery!

In the time I spent my mom’s house after her surgery, I gained a great appreciation for family caregivers. Working in healthcare, I knew that family caregivers are an important part of patient care, but I actually doing it gave me a sense of how much work it is and how important it is. And my mom’s recovering from surgery is nothing compared to what some family caregivers experience. My mom needed help with some things that she couldn’t do right after surgery (such as things involving lifting, pulling, or pushing things, or going down stairs to get stuff or do laundry) and helping organize medications and follow ups with healthcare providers that are all part of the recovery process. But this is temporary – as she gets better, she can do more and more things and she’ll get back to being able to do everything she could do before surgery. (Our two most common sayings have been “It’s not forever” and “one day at a time”) But some family caregivers take care of loved ones who are only going to get worse, not better, and over much longer timeframes. My heart really goes out to family caregivers – and to patients who are living with diseases that only get worse over time.

I’m also really grateful for my sister. She’s an absolute rock star of being organized, tracking the things that need doing, doing the things that need doing, and balancing family caregiving/supporting her kids/doing her super busy job, and somehow paying attention to the smallest details that matter. Like making green cakes and shamrock-shaped sandwiches so we could celebrate St. Patrick’s Day Eve (since I left the day before St. Patrick’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is my mom’s favourite holiday!)

Flowers from my work

Once my mom got home, a lot of flowers and fruit baskets and cards arrived. It was really lovely to see the outpouring of love from family and friends. And also, we got eat a lot of delicious fruit!

While at my mom’s, I also got to see my niblings for the first time in more than two years! We celebrated my oldest nibling getting accepted to all the universities they applied to! And they’ve made the very wise decision to go to my first and most favourite of my alma maters – McMaster! We watched a virtual tour of the campus and I fully expected it to be very different than when I graduated 23 years ago5. But it’s almost exactly the same! I mean, there’s a new building that’s named after the guy who was the president when I was there, and the residences/gym/pool look like they’ve been upgraded (although the gym still has the same name: The Pulse!)), and some of the food options in the cafeterias are different, but the rest of the buildings are as I remember them and they even showed the inside of the labs and they look exactly how I remember them too! And they talked about Clubs Fest and the poster sale and it brought back so many memories! I’m really excited that my nibling is going to get to experience all of that.

My younger nibling played Pokemon Go with me – he knows a lot more about Pokemon than I do, so it was very educational. He also likes to watch hockey, so we watched a Canucks game and it was super fun and afterwards, he said “I learned a lot about hockey tonight!” He also showed me some of the other games he likes to play – Roblox and the Sims, where he’s built some fancy houses and has adorable pets. He also built a bee house in Minecraft (I think it was) and put some flowers inside of it so the bees had something to pollinate.

So, while it was a really terrible reason that brought me visit my mom for a more than a month, I’m really glad I got to spend time with her and my sister and my niblings. I’m really grateful that I have the type of job where I can work remotely – and I was even able to teach the class I’m currently teaching remotely (we had just switched back to in person teaching and had had one in person class when I left for Ontario). And I’m grateful to all my colleagues who were understanding when I needed to reschedule meetings or push deadlines, and who checked in to see how I was doing. And ditto my friends who reminded me to take care of myself too. I’m truly a lucky person to have so many good people in my life.

  1. I’ve never bought a plane ticket on that short of notice and I’ve never bought a one way ticket with no idea when I’d return! []
  2. I really wished my sister’s kids could have gone in to visit her too – that would have been really nice for them to be able to see her and for her to be able to see them. []
  3. We were called “candy stripers” because we wore a smock with red and white stripes that looked like a candy. []
  4. And I’m extremely grateful we live in Canada and our public health care covers the costs of the hospital stay, the surgeries, and programs to help rehab after surgery. []
  5. Also, it makes me want to barf that it was nearly 30 years ago that I started my undergrad! Like I seriously was thinking “it’s nearly 20 years ago that I started my undergrad there”. But then I did the math and I started my undergrad 27 years ago!!! How am I that old? []

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