I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. After spending weeks in the Stanford ICU--being fed through a tube and dependent on a respirator--I was finally going to be able to see the outside world. My husband, John, who was beside me all the time throughout those eight harrowing months, was overjoyed and in tears. I was going to be coming back home with him.
I looked at my emaciated self in the mirror; my eyes looked bloodshot, and bruises from the various needles and tubes showed up in glaring contrast to my skin. “Am I ready to go home?” I wondered. Was I even capable of taking care of my family again? I had a newborn 3.9-pound baby waiting for me. I doubted my ability to care for and nurture him in my present condition. The strong painkillers and drugs I’d been taking were still in effect, playing with my psyche. I couldn’t shake off disturbing hallucinations from my mind… I almost felt like I was coming back from war.
“Honey, the kids will be so happy to see their mom back,” my loving husband whispered, squeezing my hand. Despite his assurances, I felt doubtful. How could my children ever love this sickly-looking woman? How could my husband still be in love with me? I felt more than ready to leave this room. I was relieved not to be attached to my oxygen monitor or IV tube anymore. I most wanted to be away from the constant beeping of the machines surrounding me. Finally, the happy truth dawned on me; I really was going home.
While waiting for John to deal with my discharge papers, prescriptions and for the wheelchair to arrive, an elderly doctor--who was probably in his early seventies--came into my room. I thought to myself “Oh no. Did they suddenly change their minds and decide to still keep me?”
He introduced himself with prompt politeness.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Cloutman. I am Dr. Silverman. I was just wondering if you could allow me to examine you a bit,” he gleefully requested. “I have some people outside who are excited to meet you”.
I consented, thinking, “I guess it won’t matter to meet a few more doctors. After all, I knew for a fact that a number of doctors had already been keeping track of my records… with my rare condition. I was like a carnival attraction to some medical professionals. Several doctors came in my room, all of them looking not a day older than 25. Dr. Silverman spoke about my symptoms to them; he went on about the findings and the treatments and procedures done to my baby and me. He held my hand up to them to display and point out the clubbing of my bluish fingers. During this time, I felt an extreme kinship with guinea pigs everywhere. After a few more minutes of Dr. Silverman talking, me just sitting there and the other doctors staring and examining me, the elderly doctor finally concluded.
“So you see, Mrs. Cloutman here is the classic example of an Eisenmenger Syndrome patient. The only difference is she, and both her children, are still alive and healthy.” As Dr. Silverman turned to me I could see tears in his eyes; I’ll never forget how hard he gripped and shook my hands.
“Mrs. Cloutman, in my many years of working, teaching and training students here at Stanford, I am honored and grateful to have been able finally meet an Eisenmenger patient who survived and lasted this long. You are truly a miracle.” Suddenly, these examinations all made sense. It was exactly the kind of prompt that I needed to go on with my life.
When John finally arrived with the porter, seeing all the nurses and doctors who had taken care of me, shaking my hands and smiling at me while I was wheeled to the exit, warmed my heart and remain vivid to this day. I boarded the car with some assistance, and we rolled away from the hospital complex. While the Stanford staff holds a special place in my heart, I don’t think I would want to see them again, at least not for a long time.
The 36-mile drive to back home to Fremont seemed almost surreal. Even the stairs going up to our townhome looked daunting. In the hospital I’d been rehabilitated, re-learning how to sit, walk, stand up, swallow and all the simple things we do every day that are normally taken for granted. I had spent so much time lying down during my hospital stay that some of my muscles atrophied.
Now, I had to walk up the stairs. There were 15 steps; I remember spending at least five minutes in each step… but, during that precious time I thought about all the things I used to do prior to being hospitalized. Driving, taking a whole load of laundry to and from the laundry room on the side of the building, cooking, cleaning, etc. I had been on my daughter’s PTA as an active newsletter editor. I had sped around, running errands for my husband. All of these things now looked impossible to do as I tried valiantly to merely climb my own front steps. John supported me all this time.
“I don’t want to be a burden,” I muttered softly to him.
“Oh honey… I made a vow remember?” he returned. “In sickness and in health…” His tender words made me sob with both exhaustion and joy.
I finally opened the door to my home to a lovely surprise. Everything was immaculate. And then, like an angel’s voice, I heard her... my mother.
“Hello Catherine; welcome home, baby…” My mom was clutching my newborn son, swaddled in a Winnie-the-pooh fleece blanket. My mother, upon learning of my critical situation, dropped everything she was doing in the Philippines and flew in to take care of me. I knew she was going to be there at my homecoming, but I can’t even begin to describe the overwhelming feeling of gratitude that deluged me at seeing her there, with my baby and daughter, in my house.
My mom Carmelita--who had a difficult and traumatic marriage to my father--was left alone to tend for my sisters and me in her thirties. A disciplinarian, principled and goal-oriented woman, my mom focused on her career as a lawyer and pulled late nights at the office to be able to support us. The word “workaholic” is an understatement in describing the kind of person she is. Mom strived and was successful in advancing herself and her profession year after year. She was empowered.
We had nannies, maids and a driver to take care of our immediate needs. Only during a crisis did she drop everything and step in. A lot of people may deem this a lack of maternal skills, but I think otherwise. My mother knew that she raised her children well; she taught us to be capable in many areas of life. She was a fighter, a servant-leader, a straight and uncorrupted official. But I will admit, sometimes I just wanted her to be a mother who would take us to the spa or salon and just have a day of girl-bonding bliss.
I admire my mother for many reasons, but her being somewhat overprotective of her children left me deprived of many things while growing up. Because of my ailment, I was not allowed to ride the bike, or go to the streets without the supervision of the driver or our nanny. She didn’t approve of me eating ice cream from the vendor who religiously passed by our house every two o’clock in the afternoon. It almost felt like a cloistered environment most of the time. But, now that I am a mother myself, I look back and think about her methods of child-rearing; perhaps I would’ve done the same thing.
However, if there is one thing I will never forget about my mom during my childhood and growing up years, it would be her unwavering and steadfast faith in the Lord. She was a very prayerful woman, and I firmly believe that her relationship with God is what made her the person she is now; her children are the direct benefactors of the graces bestowed upon her. I firmly believe that I am still alive because of my faith.
When I arrived home from the hospital, my daughter Amber tugged on my sleeve and told me about all the cool things that she and my mom did while I was away. “Mommy! Loli, Johnny and I played games in my room and baked cookies! She also taught me how to do a neat card trick and massaged my back every night.” I cried inside at her words; I was so happy about what my children were experiencing; I saw myself in her eyes and she is fulfilling that mother-daughter-bonding dream for me. My mom stayed with us until I was able to take care of myself. I had help from therapists who came to my house every day to make sure I was on the road to recovery. That was five years ago, and I am back to working and juggling errands and workload once again.
Today, my mom is one of the most respected public officials in our homeland, and I celebrate her recent victory; she graduated her class with top honors and now holds a doctorate in Peace and Security Administration. The window of opportunities for her just got wider, and I am positive that I will see bigger and better things for her in the future. She has instilled many precious values to her children.
I am especially grateful to my mother, Carmelita, this Mother’s Day for I know in my heart that without her love and protection, guidance and wisdom, I probably would never have made it this far in my own life.
Kaye Cloutman's mom, Atty. Carmelita P. Yadao-Sison, is the
Director for the Legal Department at the Commission on Higher
Education in Manila.
Kaye Cloutman is editor-in-chief of GEV Magazine.
Lasting impressions: Deirdre Lyell on mom risking her life for child: http://med.stanford.edu/ism/2009/august/patient-lyell-0812.html
Eisenmenger Syndrome: http://www.lpch.org/DiseaseHealthInfo/HealthLibrary/cardiac/eisenmen.html