"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Day After

On September 12, 2001, Americans woke up in a different country. Things had changed. There was an eerie stillness in the air. It wasn't just that the only things flying at that time were the birds in the sky. The entire nation was in a state of collective shock.

I spent that morning like most of us did...eyes glued to the non-stop news coverage of the devastation and the ever-growing body count from the attacks. We were a country operating on auto-pilot, holding our breath waiting for what could or would happen next. Many went back to their jobs, trying to resume some semblance of normalcy in a world that had fundamentally changed.

We drove, we shopped for groceries, we ran errands, we moved forward from nothing more than sheer inertia. 

That day, my mother had an appointment at a local hospital to have a carotid angiogram. It's a procedure where a special dye is injected into the bloodstream to help an x-ray locate possible blockages in the arteries. In the majority of cases, the procedure is perfectly safe and is performed with no ill effects. 

Not this time.

I dropped my mom off at the hospital for her appointment. We were told the procedure would take at least an hour, so I went to a nearby record store to look around while my mom was having the angiogram. When I got back to the hospital, I asked the nurse on duty if she knew when my mom would be done. She got a strange look on her face and asked me to wait a moment. Seconds later, a doctor came out and told me what happened.

The dye they injected dislodged a tiny piece of arterial plaque that traveled into her brain. My mom suffered what is called a TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack. In effect, she had a mini stroke and had to be admitted to the hospital. I rushed up to her room and I saw her there, sitting up in the bed. She smiled at me and I asked her how she was. She didn't answer.

She couldn't answer.

The mini stroke had left my mother unable to speak. Her mental faculties were not impaired in any way, but she had become aphasic. Now, my mother was never the most emotionally accessible person. She didn't like outward displays of affection and hardly showed her feelings to anyone. She took out a notepad one of the nurses had given her so she could communicate. She wrote something on the pad and handed it to me;

'I love you.'

I pretty much lost it after that.

I spent the next four weeks with her as she struggled to get her power of speech back. Every day she got a little better, her words came a little bit more easily. She seemed changed by the experience. While the rest of the world was dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, I was dealing with being a caregiver. I had to be her voice. We bonded in a way we hadn't before. 

I didn't know at the time that those few weeks would be her last. 

One month later, on October 11, my mother had a cerebral hemorrhage. In the middle of the night, my mother awoke with a terrible migraine headache. I called an ambulance and watched as the paramedics put my mom on a stretcher and lifted her inside. Before they closed the doors, she told me to be sure to look after her purse.

It was the last thing she said to me.

My mom had been on blood thinners to prevent another stroke while awaiting a surgical procedure to remove the plaque from her arteries. She developed a brain bleed that could not be stopped. The doctors told me that the damage to her brain was too severe and she would never regain consciousness. On October 12, I had to make the most difficult decision of my entire life;

I had to have my mother taken off life support. I held her hand as I watched the numbers on the heart monitor slowly count down to zero. 

Looking back on those dark days, I am grateful for a few things.  My future wife dropped everything, put her own life on hold and flew out from New England to be by my side. She was a real source of strength for me. My brother also came out to help me make all the necessary arrangements. I never could have held it together without their support.  

I am especially grateful for those last few weeks I had with my mother and would not trade them for anything. 

While September 11, 2001 changed the lives of all Americans, my own life began a transformation the day after. I would soon leave the bright, brash confines of Las Vegas and venture eastward to begin a new life and start a new family.

I still miss my Mom, but I see her every day in the face of my own daughter. I only wish they could have had the chance to know each other.

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