Sunday, October 30, 2011

Angels on the evening shift

She was 18 months old, the daughter of a prostitute on the East side.

While her mother had been 'entertaining' a client in the back room of the trailer they called home, she had gotten thirsty and found a clear glass with what she thought was water.

It was, in fact, the glass of a candle, containing the clear liquid oil into which the wick is submerged.
As she attempted to drink it, she 'sputtered and gasped', sucking some of the oil into her lungs; oil which then coated the (lungs) lining preventing oxygen from being exchanged - known as a hydrocarbon ingestion and aspiration pneumonia.

Her mom found her unresponsive minutes later (s/p cardiac arrest).
She was flown to our facility and placed on ECMO (a fancy ass heart/lung machine which does all the work of breathing/living for you).

During the initial phase of her admission, a history emerged of mothers inability to adequately parent over the years - due to substance abuse and a string of abusive relationships; factors which led to the removal of her 4 older children.

This child was unknown to the system only because mother began using an alias while she was pregnant and DCFS "couldn't find her".

After three weeks of her daughter being on ECMO, with no discernable improvement and many setbacks, the treatment team started focusing conversations with mom exclusively on the limitations of treatment, the need to accept the inevitable and face the fact that her child was not going to recover.
As was to be expected, mom was not particularly receptive to this line of thought.

After days of Pastoral Care , Social Service and nursing staff attempting to support mother beyond her denial and a consultation with the Ethics Committee, the Head of Surgery declared that time was up: "Critical Care has become Corpse Care" and he stated that mom had until Monday morning to accept reality. There could be one more team meeting "but then the machine was being turned off and futile treatment discontinued".

The edict came out on a Thursday.

Pastoral Care and I told mother what was to be expected and this time, surprisingly, she accepted the time frame graciously, saying she trusted something good would happen; she'd gone to church the night before "for the first time in years" and she knew something good was coming.

On Saturday morning, I got a call on my day off, asking me to come back in.
Staff told me mother had a psychotic break overnight and was hallucinating.

I arrived to find mother in the PICU waiting room, positively beaming.
She excitedly told me that Jesus had come to her "in this very room" and promised her that He would take care of things; she didn't need to be worried about Monday.

Mother spoke of being mesmerized by his eyes; eyes that "pierced her soul and in which she saw forgiveness and a love she had never found on this earth despite all the men she had been with."
Apparently, Jesus promised he'd be back on Monday and she could trust Him to keep his word.
I didn't - and don't - think it's my job to dissuade someone of their reality, so I simply listened.

Keep in mind that 'back in the day', I wasn't where I am today spiritually.
To say I was skeptical would be a gross understatement.

In fact, in my subsequent discussions with staff, we attributed her 'vision' to a fugue state - you know those half awake/half asleep times when you incorporate snippets of conversation or external reality going on around you (like thunder, ringing bells etc) into your 'dreams'?

In other words, we discounted her reality completely and denied that anything remotely 'spiritual' was at play.

Mother went out that very afternoon to get her hair done "so she'd look good for Jesus on Monday".
When she came back, she insisted on the baby being baptized immediately.
She then asked that Polaroid pictures be taken of both of them, together and separately, and taped to the end of the bed, so Jesus would know where they were; "We don't want Him to get lost and go to the wrong bed, do we?"
(Leading all of us to snicker of course that if he DID get lost, it wouldn't say much about him being omnipotent and all powerful would it?)

On Monday morning, mother cancelled the meeting with the Surgeon, saying it wasn't needed -leading to angry phone calls from him to me, telling me "to get her to get it together".

Phone calls were also exchanged all Monday morning between me and Pastoral Care: a running commentary of derision and what we perceived as humor - "Hello, this is Mary, have you seen my son?" or "Hey, it's Wendell, has my Big Boss shown up yet?"
Such rich fodder; we were really loving it!

Right before lunch, I was cornered by the Surgeon in the 'PICU cone of silence' (a glass enclosed/virtually soundproofed room in the heart of the PICU) and instructed to "go get mom so we could get this over with it".

Since Mom was patiently waiting for Jesus at her daughters bedside, finding her was no trick - even HE could have done it!

When I went to speak with mom, yet one more time, and said, in my best SW voice, that I was really sorry but we needed to start the process of turning the machines off soon, she stated that Jesus had come to her again and told her "to hang on for the angels on the evening shift".

Mom requested that we wait until closer to 5 pm "since Jesus said they'll all be ready then".

Picture, if you will, the Surgeons expression when I went back to him with THAT piece of information!

It rendered him speechless - at least for a moment.
But then he got into the mood of the day.
He asked if the angels were working on 8 or 12 hours shifts and told me I'd better pray that none of those suckers called in sick because he had no intention of waiting for anybody to come back from a celestial FMLA.
He turned to leave the room, saying to call him when Jesus needed help.

At 4:30pm, staff gave pt another hefty dose of scheduled sedation.
Mother, Pastoral Care, two nurses and I were at bedside talking quietly with mother, supporting her - and each other - as she spoke tenderly to her daughter.

At 5:02, this patient (who had enough sedation on board to knock out a horse and who had had NO response of any kind for over 30 days), opened her eyes, purposefully looked into a corner of the room, smiled, waved her right hand - and flatlined.

Mother immediately began crying, saying she'd hoped Jesus was going to perform a miracle and restore her child to health so she could take her to local churches and Praise Him - but if He wanted to take her home with Him, that was OK too.

All of us immediately began looking around to see which one of us had inadvertently kicked the plug out of the socket!

NO WAY can you die on ECMO...
not without massive mechanical failure!

As nurses were frantically doing system and equipment checks and mother was crying, holding her daughter for the last time, Pastoral Care leaned over to me and whispered, "You do know we're going straight to hell, right?"

We all did what needed to be done: people notified, paperwork filled out, mother hugged and sent home - and then we debriefed - for hours; trying to understand what we had witnessed and mocked; trying to make sense of what happened, what was real.

I can't say what conclusions the others reached then or on subsequent days of reflection.
I do know this experience was a turning point in my faith journey, especially about "all things seen and unseen".

No, I wasn't where I am now back then, but experiences like this have helped - or forced - me to be where I am today.
And it's been a blessing.

The view (and the viewpoint) is definitely richer here.


Sandy Mastroni said...

wow ... praise God ... I did not know what to expect when I started reading
I found you from visiting Posy's comments
I'm worried about her , and have been praying for her .
I read your comment and just clicked your name
so ... here I am , reading an amazing story about the Lord
so I thank you for writing this .... very beautiful
nice to meet you Donna

Donna said...

Hi Sandy, nice to have you stop by.
Hope you'll read along - there are some more posts coming you should enjoy!
Also hope we hear something soon from Jane @'s been too long!

Sandy Mastroni said...

yeah .... It has been way too long for Posy [ Jane ] not to post anything . It makes me sad ,
We'll keep praying for her and her family
but ...maybe ...she is GOOD busy !!!!

your most recent story is good too !
You are a good writer

Donna said...

Thanks, Sandy...
and here's hoping we hear from Jane soon.
I sent her an email on her goggle account in case, for some reason, she's not able to get on her blog.
Her absence is very curious but, like you, I pray she'll have a wonderful tale to tell when she returns!