My grandmother was taken to the emergency room three days ago. She hadn't had a bowel movement in days and was suffering from septicemia. Her condition was grave enough that my mother and sister flew down to Panamá yesterday to be with her and my aunt. I envy their flexibility to be able to do that, but in lieu of travel I've maintained constant phone contact.
The doctors did not want to operate unless it was a last resort. My grandmother has diminished lung capacity, and at 93 any operation is a huge risk. Fortunately, surgery is not necessary. They managed to extract about two pounds of fecal matter two nights ago, and last night she had a big bowel movement on her own. Although she still had plenty in her, the fact that she was beginning to move it on her own made the doctors cautiously optimistic for the first time.
She has since had another bowel movement, I just found out, and her white blood cell count has steadily diminished, signalling the antibiotic's imminent victory over the septicemia. My aunt and I were able to joke over the phone tonight, a sign that the situation is no longer as critical.
In some ways my aunt and my mom are opposites. My mom tends to be very emotional. My aunt, a lawyer by trade, is far more composed. At my other grandmother's funeral a year and a half ago, she was able to stand up and deliver one of the most eloquent testaments I have ever heard. Naturally, then, when she broke down and started to sob over the phone a couple of nights ago, I was even more worried.
Not only have I monitored the situation in Panamá closely by phone, I've kept track of departure schedules from Logan to PTY.
I knew after last night's phone conversation that things were taking a turn for the better. But this morning, as I pulled into the parking garage at 10:45, I suddenly got a disturbing feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was wrong. For reasons I've been meaning to discuss in a post but haven't yet, I don't ignore those pit-of-the-stomach feelings. As soon as I got to my desk I started calling Panamá. When I couldn't get through to my aunt's cell phone for 45 minutes, I feared the worst. I finally called the house. They were sitting on the porch talking and ignoring the cell phone. They told me that there was no change since last night, that Mamá Carmela was having a CAT scan done, and that I should call again in the evening.
When I got home from a voice lesson tonight, I tried calling again. After two or three tries at the cell phone, I tried the house phone. The call would not go through. As I later told my aunt, "I'm a Tudisco, so at that point I started to get really worried." I was finally able to get through to the house. Rufino, the maid, answered the phone and told me that everyone had gone to the hospital around 3 p.m. but that my aunt had forgotten her cell phone at home. He gave me the number to the hospital.
Well, he only gave me the exchange and the last four. After all, how many times have I called Panamá in my life? In the last three days alone? Had I not just called him? He didn't need to give me the country code.
But as I started to dial the hospital, my mind blanked. I suppose stress and frayed nerves will do that. I started to dial: 0-1-1-503....
I'm just glad I reached a Spanish-speaking country. The funny thing is that the person who answered the first time sounded exactly like my sister Cathy, so I thought I had dialed a direct number to my grandmother's bedside but that the connection was faulty and the call lost. I didn't recognize the male voice that answered the second time I called. He informed me I had dialed the wrong number. 503 is El Salvador!
I looked up my aunt's number on my cell phone to find the country code, 507. The hospital operator answered. I asked to be connected to Carmela Villarreal's room. "Carmela Tudisco?" Yeah, okay, they're using her married name, which she never uses. I got a nurse in the ICU, who put me through to my aunt. After assuring me that my grandmother was doing much better, my aunt joked that I should put the ICU on my speed dial, since she and my grandmother are becoming regular visitors. I also talked briefly with my mother, who is much calmer now that she is with my grandmother in person.
Now I have to let my nerves wind down and to thank the Lord for answering all our prayers. I've been reminded by a few people that the day will come eventually, that it's inevitable. Of course I know this. That's no reason to want it to come soon, or not to stress or get all worked up. I know that I'm possibly being selfish when I pray that my grandmother, who has lived a very long life, keep on living. I want to enjoy her for several more years. I don't express it very well, but I love her very much, and I look forward to being able to spend the holidays with her every year. She and my other grandmother are the most important reason I go back to Panamá every year. I treasure the moments I spend just being around her. I'm not ready to give that up just yet.