June 19, 2008

June 19, 2010

Thursday morning I woke up feeling sick and anxious. I hadn’t slept well and was having trouble doing simple tasks. My cellphone rang and it was Diana. It seems I could receive international calls but not place them. We spoke briefly. Somehow, I know Mariah has survived the night, and I can’t wait to get to her.

Enrique arrived as promised and drove us to the hospital. It was only a few minutes away. I tried to focus on the route but got disoriented.

We park across the street from the modest hospital and go in.  Up a short flight of stairs and around a corner is the locked entrance to the ICU. Several people are standing around. Enrique presses a buzzer and we join the other people waiting. A pleasant woman approaches and asks me if I am Mark. She is Gladys, my friend’s friend’s mother.

Flooded with gratitude I sense an abundance of support in Lima. Gladys, Enrique, and I talk quietly for a few minutes. Gladys is very concerned and I assure her that I will be fine in Enrique’s care. Admonishing me to call for anything, anytime, she leaves.

After an interminable quarter of an hour, the door to the ICU opens slightly and a nurse pokes her head out. Enrique identifies us and we are allowed in where we put on gowns and caps.

Barely able to contain myself, I step around the corner and at last see Mariah. I put my arms around her and she hugs me back, crying. Avoiding the tangle of tubes and wires, I hold her tightly and tell her I love her and how good it is to see her and how it’s going to be all right. We both cry.

Stepping back to look at her, I see a terrified, confused, and badly damaged young woman. My heart breaks. She speaks infrequently but clearly and so softly I have to lean closer to make out her words. “Dad, I want to go home NOW.”

Stroking her head, I said “I know, Sweetie. We’ll get you home as soon as possible.”

“I want to you stay with me.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Ok. Thanks, Dad.”

Enrique left to check in at his office which is only a block away. He said he’ll return later to take me to lunch. Someone kindly brings me a chair. I sit next Mariah and hold her hand, stroke her head and hands, and make small talk. Every few minutes she yawns a gigantic yawn. I tell her that her mighty brain is gulping oxygen to heal itself.

Alarmingly, two or three times an hour, she writhes, limbs twisting and hands and feet flexing at an impossible angle. She pulls her legs up to her chest and rolls from side to side in the bed. She strains against internal forces. After a few minutes her body suddenly  relaxes and she falls back, panting. The staff calls this “agitated”.

After one such episode, she pulls me close to her and says, “If I’m not better in four days, kill me.” Shocked, my fear surges. I’ve never known Mariah to not be up to a challenge. “Let’s see how things go, Bunny,” I reply. (Later that day when I was giving her a pep talk, I told her she had the toughest mission she had ever faced, and asked her to pour 100% into getting better for six months. She agreed, and in fact would give it 18.)

A  nurse gets my attention and indicates a telephone. I take the call. It’s Tri Care, the Army’s medical insurance carrier. They want a report which I try to give. They want to medivac Mariah back to the states ASAP. They claim the doctors in Lima don’t want her moved for several days, and they want my assessment. I agree with the docs for now but ask Tri Care to check back tomorrow for an update. They inform me I will not be able to accompany Mariah on the plane home. I cannot imagine letting Mariah out of my sight and push back. I tell them she’s terrified and begged me to stay with her, and that I promised her I would. They push back again and we let it drop.

Morning visiting hours over, Enrique returns to take me to lunch. We go first to his office where he generously makes a desk, phone and computer workstation available for the duration of my stay. Mariah’s luggage, an enormous backpack, is there as well which I’ll inspect later.

Anxious to get back to the hospital in time for afternoon visiting hours, I cut our lunch short. I stopped at the office where I pick up an email. Diana had sent me the text of “Goodnight, Moon,” one of Mariah’s favorite books from her childhood.

Back at the ICU, Doctor Prentiss, the neurologist on Mariah’s case, shows me the films of the MRI they took when she arrived at the hospital. He points out what appears to be a small, almost withered-looking artery at the base of her brain. It’s next to another vessel that is much thicker, straighter and more robust. His theory is that the narrow artery, one of a pair that feeds her brain, somehow became completely constricted or blocked, causing the stroke. He hands the large envelope of films to me with instructions to be sure they get into the hands of the docs in the states.

The afternoon is a blur of comforting Mariah, reading and singing to her, witnessing her awful spasms. I was wrenched back and forth between hope and despair. Stepping away from the bed to take a call, I noticed Mariah watching me from across the room. I made the “I love you” hand sign, and to my delight and great relief she offered one in return.

Near the end of the day, Mariah said suddenly, “Goodbye, Dad.” Confused, I asked whether she wanted me to leave. “No,” she replied. “Me.” With that, she closed her eyes and lay back on the bed. Fearing that she might be dying or willing herself to die, I stood frozen. Silently, I begged her to live. I stared at the monitors, watching the numbers and traces for a sign of decline. Minutes passed. None appeared. Score one for life.

When visiting hours ended for the day, I told Mariah I would be back first thing in the morning and that I loved her. She said “Ok, Dad. I love you, too.” That would be last time I heard her speak clearly, and the last sentence she would utter for two months.

– Mark

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One Response to “June 19, 2008”

  1. Kim said

    I am so sorry for your loss of Mariah…I just saw this blog a few days ago and it touched me immensely, as a former vet student. The physical challenges are hard-won, but the mental challenges are even greater and more elusive….having a family history of great achievers, with also great mental illnesses, makes me so sad that as much as a body may seem normal, or making strides toward normality, the mind is so elusive and out of out grasp. I admire your strength and courage with your beloved Mariah. My only wish is that we can help those with depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, and debilitating brain injuries. I’ve known brilliant, wonderful, smart people who’ve fallen to these illnesses. I wish your family the best in a peacefull recovery of your own. I am sending good thoughts your way.
    -Kim

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