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Breathe Again…Please


I’ve been meaning to write something about what’s been going on with Nana for a while now, but I couldn’t figure out what exactly I wanted to say. So this may be a little less coherent than my already incoherent style of writing. I would apologize, but I figure that you really should know what to expect from me at this point. 

Two weeks ago, my mom went to Nana’s to stay for the week. Nana was having trouble getting around and mom was going to help her out for a week. Well, the trouble getting around became pretty much bedridden by Sunday. And totally bedridden by Wednesday. Nana’s home health nurse decided it would be best for Nana to go to the ER near her home instead of seeing her family doctor. At that ER,1 the doctors realized she needed to see a neurosurgeon2 and might need surgery. That meant sending her to Huntsville.3 She got here unscathed.4 The Huntsville Hospital ER got her stabilized before sending her to the neuro unit. 

The next day, the neurosurgeon finally came to see her. He had to have her MRI repeated before he came, though. Apparently, the other hospital’s MRI either wasn’t clear enough to be read properly OR there was a compatibility issue between the hospitals. The new MRI showed her stenosis had gotten worse. It also showed a compression fracture of her fourth lumbar vertebrae. Surgery was no longer an option, it was a full-on requirement. Right before five pm on Thursday, she was given the vaguest surgery time ever: around lunch on Friday. 

When we got home that afternoon, I was about ready to drop. Just being at the hospital for a few hours at a time was so exhausting. And yet I couldn’t even get to sleep when we would get home. I also couldn’t move much either because my body was turning the emotional exhaustion into physical exhaustion. But Thursday evening was spent informing relatives and friends of Nana that she would be having surgery. 

We found out that around lunchtime basically meant after noon. I’m not sure when the surgery itself started. I do know that it was described as being pretty routine. And it took Nana until after 6:30 to get back to her room on the eighth floor.5 

When she got back up there, she was so sedated that we figured she would sleep through the night. Aunt Barbara was staying with her and it seemed like she wasn’t going to have to get up with her all that often. Aside from some trouble breathing, which is totally normal post-op in this family, the hospital staff seemed to think that Nana was fine. And we were all more concerned at this point by the number of veins that she’d blown,6 the bruises she developed from the EKG leads,7 and the blood around her lips.8 Guess who I got some of my connective tissue issues9 from. Anyway, no one thought that things were going to go from eh to DEFCON 1. 

Clearly, we were sadly mistaken. 

Aunt Barbara called my mom at 5 AM to tell her that Nana had had trouble breathing all night. Like a lot of trouble. Like she stopped and they had to literally inflict pain to get her breathing again. 

By 6:50 or, as my mom says, 7, when Barbara called back, things had gotten so much worse. Her blood pressure was bottoming out. Her pulse had slowed significantly. The CO2 levels in her blood had gone up. She was going to the neuro intensive care unit. Basically, she was dying. And Aunt Barbara needed my mom there to make end of life decisions with her. 

  So mom woke us up. Sort of. In case you didn’t already figure it out. I woke up when the call at 6:50 came. And part of how I know is that my pulse started going into overdrive before mom got me up to go to the hospital. 

If you think I’m fixating on weird things like my pulse during a scary phone call because I’m grieving, then you’re wrong. 

One, I’m focusing on weird things because I am weird

Two, Nana ended up stabilizing by the time we got there. Aunt Barbara was so apologetic for getting everyone10 to the hospital when Nana ended up being okay. But I’m glad she called. Not just because being there was important because Nana was so sick & we love her.11 It was important that she called because I know Aunt Barbara needed our support. That’s a big deal. Knowing when you need others to help is a big deal for anyone. A lot of people think that they can handle everything on their own, but sometimes the real strength of a person is shown in their admission that they need someone to back them up or hold their hand or make them laugh. 

Nana got moved back to her old room the next day. She went to the pulmonary service after that. And now she’s doing rehab at a nursing home for a few weeks. She has a long way to go before she can be on her own again. And she’s on oxygen at the nursing home now.12 But she’s doing so much better now and that’s what matters. 


  1. After trying to send her home despite her blood pressure being extraordinarily low—80/34—and the whole fact that she was unable to even sit up. 

  2. No shit, Sherlock. 

  3. And these guys are so skilled that they sent an elderly patient with an extremely unstable blood pressure on a 44 mile/49 minute rural ambulance service ride. It’s a wonder that anyone in Marshall County is still alive. 

  4. Shockingly. 

  5. Neuro. 

  6. Three. She eventually got a PICC line. 

  7. Her whole chest was deep purple. 

  8. Apparently, when they removed her breathing tube from surgery, it tore up some tissue in her mouth/throat. 

  9. Bad veins. Bad skin. Bad joints. 

  10. Eric, Eileen, Deb, Jimmy, Danny, mom, dad, me. 

  11. That’s super important, though. 

  12. We don’t know if that will last. 


About Janet Morris

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama. I've got as many college credits as a doctorate candidate, and the GPA of some of them, too. I have a boss by the name of Amy Pond. She's a dachshund. My parents both grew up in Alabama.

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