The WISH Workbook:
Born from a very personal experience
– By Suzanne Soto-Davies
Author of the WISH Workbook
As we prepared for our usual family Christmas get-together, I shopped for last-minute items on Christmas eve. I'll never forget that frightful phone call from my Uncle, telling me there had been an accident. It was my mother. She had suffered an aneurysm – and it burst. Our world suddenly crashed, nothing seemed as important. This was nothing any of us expected or foresaw coming... And the worst was yet to come.
My mother is that special person who does everything for everyone. Strong, quiet, loving. Always seems to have a ton of energy, it never runs out! The Energizer Bunny of the family, fit and agile. She was never sick, rarely even caught a cold. She had quit smoking eons ago, and although she likes her wine, her lifestyle was the epiphany of health and activity.
All we knew at that moment is that she was somewhere being flown by helicopter to Toronto, and at that crazy emergency moment, we didn't even know where! We were told she was in a coma, and her local hospital couldn't help her more than they already had done, because of lack of equipment and the seriousness of the events.
Scrambling and upset on this Christmas eve, we planned what to do with our children (who to leave them with) and as soon as we heard some news, we headed toward Toronto.
Aneurysm at Sunnybrook
Mom was being flown to Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. She would arrive at Emergency, then be moved to the Critical Care Unit (CCU). We began receiving calls from random doctors, who wondered if she was allergic to anything in particular, if she had taken any medications lately, or if she even took any at all. We didn't know. And the hospital waited for a reply from her family doctor up north.
Once we arrived at Sunnybrook, we scrambled once again to try and find where mom was, where the CCU was, what her status was, anything. Finally - and after much panic and confusion - a doctor came out to meet us (myself, my 2 sisters, and our husbands) and updated us: Mom had had an aneurysm. It had burst. (She apparently fell on the shower floor after suffering greatly with an unexpected headache. She was taken by ambulance to her local clinic, and then she had passed out). At this point, she continued passed out, and we were panicked...
The doctor told us mom had a slim chance (2%) of surviving the next 12 hours. After that, she had a 50% chance of surviving the next 24 hours after an operation, which was urgenty needed. This operation (aneurysm coiling ) is fascinating, yet very very scary for us who didn't know if she would survive it...
We were allowed to finally see her and there she was: Laying on a CCU bed, still, quiet, without any movement, and plugged in to what seemed like a hundred machines. In the Critical Care Unit, one specialized nurse watched over her every breath, pulse and heartbeat, and at that moment we realized how little we really knew about her.
Sure, we knew she adored her family above anything else, liked gardening, took the most amazing photographs… We knew her favourite foods, that she hoped to one day have the money to travel to Egypt, we knew she often felt lonely living four hours away from her kids and grandkids. But did we know enough to help the nurses and doctors make decisions which could possibly affect her care, her future?
The nurses administered Tylenol, because it's a fairly safe drug to bring down the fevers she was having. But the Tylenol was causing a big drop in heart-rate. Did she suffer from high blood pressure? Wait a minute – was she on some sort of medication that they didn't know about, that could be counter-reacting the Tylenol? Aneurysms can cause huge headaches, sometimes for months before the "burst" happens. Did she take anything prior to the aneurysm? Was she awake after, and took something that could've made things worse?
Lots and lots of rehab
While in the CCU at Sunnybrook, the head doctor mentioned my mother was very underweight. Apparently, as people age, this is a "no-no", as any emergency circumstance such as this one can cause a whole slew of issues such as kidney and heart failure when the body is struggling to heal.
At that time my mother weighed 55 kilos, at 5'8 tall. This proved to us that underweight does NOT equal health.
Thankfully, and after much prayer and amazing care from the doctors and nurses, my mother came out of the coma and was transferred to the ICU, where she was constantly monitored and cared for. We visited daily. The hour-and-a-bit drive to and from the hospital seemed like nothing, just to have her alive and around for us to care for and love.
It was touch and go from here on forward. Every day brought on another issue: Her blood pressure was too low, then too high. Her heart struggled. Intense fevers meant she'd have to lay on ice blankets for hours at a time. Her memory came and went, she did not recall much of the incident she had gone through, and spoke very little. This would be a slow healing process...
Then there came another 4 weeks at Sunnybrook's Rehabilitation Unit, and then another 6 to 8 weeks at St. John's Rehab Centre in Toronto.
By the end of January, 2013, my mother was receiving great care at St. John's Rehab Hospital in Toronto. We were constantly concerned at the thought of her time at rehab "running out" because of the way our medical system works here in Canada: After 6-8 weeks, you're outta there.
She had to be monitored to sit on a wheelchair to eat, they wouldn't even let her get up to use the bathroom unattended - which gave us great comfort. We began to bring her in meals (home cooked is best, and most healing to the body) and her special "treats" of fresh fruit, stinky cheeses, and Spanish olives. We had to bring everything for her to wear, her own toiletries, special shoes, additional pillows, bags, colouring books, and so on.
By mid-February we were allowed to take mom home with us, just for one night. I think she was the only one who slept that night! I gave her a hair-cut and my sister painted her nails... It was fantastic to pamper her again!
By the beginning of March, my mother was "released" and allowed to go home. We felt she was a little "pushed out" and the release was perhaps premature, but we had no choice of the matter. So off she went, back to her home up north, three hours away from us where others would come in and care for her.
We are thankful for all the care mom received; all the support, thoughtful prayers, and well wishes from family and friends. We believe all this love helped her heal. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village (and a heck of a lot of love!) to heal a person back to life!
These circumstances taught us many valuable lessons: Life is beautiful but it's also unpredictable. Life can be harsh. And none of us are EVER well prepared for unforeseen emergency circumstances.
This is why I was determined to create the WISH workbook: To help people get their affairs in order, their wishes for care and home jotted down somewhere safe, and known to family – because you just never know what life will bring.