6. Apple Pie

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The relatives who were involved in Mom’s well-being and hospital visit were absolutely shocked at this suggestion.

 

“No way!” was their response, Mom’s response, and my translated response. There had to be another test or another doctor who would take a look and determine how to fix the problem without introducing cancer.

 

Mom’s tailbone pain was so extreme she couldn’t walk because the fall threw her hips off balance. A home-based homeopathic doctor corrected and adjusted her hips and promised it was on its way to fully heal. The bruise and pain on her chest wasn’t getting any better and breathing was becoming very difficult. Another appointment was scheduled. This doctor didn’t receive the full story either, so he contacted the first doctor and had the same “cancer” suggestion. One of the uncles flew off his handle.

“How dare you keep saying it’s cancer? Get some doctor in here who knows how to be a doctor and make my sister better!”

 

After more yelling and threatening, security was called and my uncle had to calm down and be escorted out or else he’d get arrested.

 

This experience prompted us to drive a few hours to take mom to an emergency room in a Seattle hospital. Here her case had a team of students who followed the main assigned doctor around and took notes. One set of the aunts and uncles who regularly stayed with us were outraged and had a huge complaint about “student” doctors who didn’t know anything. They demanded professional doctors, not students. As the translator, I reworded the sentences to make them sound slightly more pleasant. Last thing anybody needed was another security officer adventure.

 

To deal with the sterile, antiseptic smell of the hospital room, I wandered around the building until a different scent reached my nostrils. I’d reached the cafeteria. From the limited food options, the apple pie looked most appealing. I ordered a large slice and breathed in the aroma. The taste was absolutely perfect: a delicious combination of a warm, flaky crust, and soft, sweet apples, with just a hint of cinnamon. I enjoyed it immensely and had a few pieces during that stay. That is where I learned what emotional eating was all about.

 

During the night Mom had a terrible breathing attack and a doctor on duty came to help. Since he wasn’t familiar with the case, he decided to check what was causing this shortage of breathing. He inserted a little tube with a light at the end of it, inspected the area, and said that some veins burst. Mom would need a surgery to repair those veins to get the blood flowing normally and to restore the circulation. The surgery couldn’t be done immediately because first, the assigned doctor needed to go through all the paperwork, and next, Mom needed antibiotics for several weeks before she could be ready for the surgery.

 

Mom requested to go home for the antibiotic treatment. We continued to have people visit us who prayed for Mom in hopes of obtaining supernatural healing. Mom read Psalm 121 aloud on a regular basis. The uncle who had the shouting match received a letter from the hospital stating that Mom’s condition was in fact not cancer.

 

For the first time in my life I was allowed to have a party to celebrate my 15th birthday. The planning didn’t take long; I just wanted a cake and some friends over. The night before the party Mom had a breathing attack and was running out of breath. The closest driver was Grandpa, so he took us to the hospital. Mom was given an oxygen mask and we were placed into a room overnight.

 

Instead of feeling bad for Mom, I was feeling sorry for myself. The birthday party was supposed to be my highlight of the year. I collected some tabloid magazines and sat in the sitting area hating my life. In the morning I dialed a few numbers and briskly stated the party was cancelled due to the fact that I was in the hospital with my mother again. I made friends with the apple pies in this cafeteria too. Well, that wouldn’t be correct. If I made friends with them I wouldn’t be eating them, but I did, so technically I just enjoyed how they made me feel. At least I could count on apple pie. The apple pie paired quite nicely with a can of Root Beer. Unfortunately Root Beer was the enemy because it had the word “beer” in its title, and it caused an unnecessarily long fight with an uncle who couldn’t believe I stooped low enough to drink beer.

 

We were released home again. Mom’s immune system kept getting weaker. She was now barely walking holding on to a familiar steel walker, the kind that Dad used to have. A ten second walk from her bedroom to the bathroom began to take several minutes long with assistance from a person or two. Grandma’s cheeks were streaked with tears as she helped mom with a bath. After she was done and Mom was back in her bed, Grandma would let the tears flow freely and say how unfair it is for a mom to watch her child go through this. That it should be the other way around. I agreed with her. But a child watching a mom go through it was unfair even more! I would think, but keep my mouth shut so I wouldn’t get in trouble.

 

Mom’s voice completely disappeared. Her breathing was raspy and she had horrible hacking coughs to a point where she would cough stuff up. I had to make a phone call to the bank about Mom’s account and had problems when it came to the verification problem.

 

“Am I speaking to the account holder?” asked the bank representative.

 

“No, this is her daughter, but she’s right here. She doesn’t speak English very well, plus her voice is broken so I’m calling for her.”

 

“I’m sorry Miss, but I cannot give you the information you’re requesting until I speak to the account holder.”

 

“She’s right here! Let me turn on the speaker.” I moved as close as I could to Mom.

 

Mom was propped up on her bed and tried to speak. “This is Yelena,” she whispered. The bank rep couldn’t hear anything. Mom strained her neck, applied as much effort as she could, and a croak came out. I tried to use that.

 

“You hear that? That was her voice. Can you help me now?”

 

It was useless.

 

Another time Grandma made a thin soup for Mom. It had some rice, potatoes and grated carrots. Grandma left me with the bowl and said to feed Mom.

 

Mom tried to eat a bite, but it was difficult for her throat to swallow anything. She gave up after several attempts.

 

“I can’t do it; I don’t want any,” she whispered in a barely audible tone.

 

“But you have to! Grandma will be mad at me if you don’t eat any!” I tried to persuade Mom to eat a few bites.

 

Mom’s eyes were filled with tears. “I can’t,” she said.

 

Grandma came in to check on us. She didn’t approve the current status.
“What is this? No excuses. Eat,” her disapproving tone demanded obedience. When she needed to be strict, she could manage it in such a way that anybody in her way would drop what they’re doing and follow her orders.

 

Mom looked at me desperately.
“Please eat a few bites for me, honey. Please do it. I cannot. Please,” she begged. I haven’t seen Mom act like that before and it frightened me. I forced a few spoonfuls down, just in time as Grandma came in again. The bowl was wordlessly handed over, and we received a satisfied “Hmph!” in return.

 

Those months were a blur of hospital visits, faith healers, elders, and more scrutiny of our lifestyle than ever. God definitely must be punishing us for something. Obviously Mom must have some hidden sin in her life. Perhaps a mistake must have been in our decision to switch churches. Mom was required to agree going back to the previous church if she got healed. Perhaps a curse was on our family. Was Dad’s mother a witch? Some of these conversations took place inside hospitals, not just at our home. Mom would be so drugged up with morphine that her speech was babble that didn’t make any sense. In between doses when her speech was more coherent, a helpful individual would shower her with these suggestions and questions.

 

The doctors had some bad news for us after some more tests. The surgery couldn’t be done because the antibiotics were administered too late. They should have been done right away when Mom had her accident. Her situation became worse: either the blood was clotting, or something was happening to the veins and they were affecting the lungs, or the lungs themselves were collapsing. To top it all off, she caught the MRSA bug at the hospital and had to be placed into quarantine. One person at a time could come in, only if dressed up in protective clothing and mask. That day she slipped into a coma.

 

The next day, September 11, in my first period class, something strange was happening. The TV was turned on, the students were panicked, the teachers frantically scurried from one classroom to the next. The World Trade Center twin towers had just been attacked. The dreadful anxiety I was feeling because of Mom’s coma didn’t have to be hidden. It was a relief to let it out and cry with the rest of the students.

1. Ambulance Ride

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I clasped my hands tighter and tried to keep myself from trembling as I sat between the two paramedics.

“Do you want to go really fast?” asked the driver. I nodded, not sure why he was asking me. “How about the sirens? Should we make them loud?” I nodded again. Why was he asking me that? He was the driver, those were his decisions to make, not mine.

The other paramedic asked me how old I was. “Twelve,” I answered.

“And you speak Russian?” I nodded.

“Your English is great! How long have you lived in America?” I shrugged. Why do they keep talking to me?

“That’s really neat! I wish I knew two languages! You know that you can be a professional interpreter? They make really good money! You’re the youngest interpreter I’ve ever met!” He sounded impressed, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

 

Out of the corner of my eye I could see cars flashing by as the ambulance raced to the hospital.

“Is…is my dad gonna be OK?” I asked quietly. My knuckles clenched harder than I thought possible.

“That’s why we’re taking him to the hospital. There are some very good doctors who will take a few tests to find out what’s going on.”

 

The emergency room was ready for my dad. A nurse was talking through each step that she took. I wasn’t paying too much attention because my dad had regained his consciousness and there was no need to interpret anything. He looked helpless and kept offering me a weak smile each time I looked at his face. I jerked with a start when the nurse mentioned drawing blood. That I could not handle, even if someone else was getting the procedure done. The ominous-looking needle, the outstretched arm, and the strong sanitized smell of the hospital was almost too much. Shifting my seat loudly, I turned my head and closed my eyes.

 

Earlier that evening, the whole family had been gathered in the living room for the daily devotional time. We usually sang a song or two and prayed. My favorite part was when each person got to choose a random number and my dad would read that verse if that number was available from the page of the Bible that he’d selected. The goal among the siblings was to choose a verse that wasn’t on the page so that another choice could be made. Most choices = winner.  It didn’t take much to entertain us. All of a sudden my dad yelped and grabbed his leg. “Help! My leg! Something’s happening!” and he fell with his back to the floor and stopped moving.

 

My mom lifted her third-trimester belly and shuffled over, calling his name, shaking him, trying to get him to wake up. All the kids froze, just momentarily, then chaos took over. Some began to wildly jump around, others cry, and since we were in prayer position, still others began praying really loudly. In absolute panic I sprinted to my parents’ room and grabbed the phone. It took several attempts before my fingers landed on the 3 digits correctly and the line began to ring.

 

“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”
One of the most dreadful feelings is when you need help, but you can’t request it. The words weren’t coming out of my mouth. It was like a bad dream.

 

“Hello? Hello? Is anybody there?”

 

“Ah! Ah! Help!” I croaked. It wasn’t easy trying to force words out and breath at the same time. “My dad. Help! Ah…Dying? Please help!”

 

God bless her heart; the operator told me to take a few deep breaths and began asking questions that I could answer with one or two words and the next thing I knew, she told me to go unlock the door because an ambulance had arrived and they needed to come inside. It wasn’t just an ambulance, there were police cars and fire trucks too. The commotion brought out all the curious neighbors. The medics tried to figure out what happened. I heard the word “seizure” a few times.

 

Since my mom’s English speaking skills were limited, I was the person to accompany my dad to the hospital.

 

I heard my dad call my name. I turned my head. His smile wasn’t fooling me for one second. “They’re done with the blood draw. Everything will be fine, you’ll see,” he said.