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The Wakeup Call
October 27 2010

"Wake up. Wake up and pray for your mother."

I heard this insistent, perpetual whisper which was tormenting me. I rolled over, trying to ignore it and whatever it was saying. I checked the digits on the glaring clock. 3:05 am...well, an hour and a half or so was all I'd been out anyway.

"Wake up and pray for your mother."

I sat bolt upright in my twin bed; housed in a generic college dormitory...it hadn't been made in days, maybe weeks. And with good reason. I was working two jobs, taking twenty-two credit hours in advanced theatre studies and rehearsing for shows everyday. Almost seven hours from my small hometown, I had only just had my late night TV dinner a couple of hours ago. I usually closed at the local grocers because of my heavy course-load.

But now...now it was all coming back to me. My exhaustion and agitation made the fire of neurons a little slower than usual, but I suddenly remembered that Momma had had major surgery today. One in a long line of procedures that just wouldn't seem to go right.

And, now I was hearing this voice that I knew so well...the one from the Father above...telling me to hurry. Hurry now, and pray for your mother.

Shaking the lethargy plaguing my body, I hit the floor in a rush. The cement was cold to my tired knees. The skin of my hands was dry from too much work and not enough attention as I clasped them together.

"Father, I do not understand why I need to pray right now, but I do know that I must. I hear You. My momma has been sick, and you know, Lord, that she can't keep on the way she's going. Lord, please bless her to heal. Lord, please be by her side as she goes through the pain. And, Father, let her know that I love her although I am not there.

Please, Lord Jesus, cradle my mother in your hands and help her..."

The tears poured down my face as I continued in this vein, not knowing exactly for what I was praying, but knowing that I should. And with fervor and humbleness and belief this request should be made.

Sleep or no sleep. Disregarding the busy schedule that would not let up for weeks to come, pray and ignore that basic human instinct that pleads for rest and comfort.

After all, there was none of that to be had. Across the miles, I knew that my mother was in trouble. I knew that something was very wrong. I knew, though I should not know at all.

Reflecting as I prayed on the long line of medical traumas which had led to this second of time, all I felt was desperation and a sort of hopeful hopelessness. Was she okay? Or would I soon get the call that we had all feared?

Within my family, the wheels leading to this day had begun turning years before. The untimely death of our maternal grandmother and aunt adding to the fear of our own mortality, and particularly our mother's. We were all afraid, my sisters and I. My father. But none so much as my precious momma. She, under doctor's orders and against her family's wishes, had watched a small mass grow to the size of an egg inside of her bosom.

Not malignant...not yet, the doctor said. Yes, the precancerous cells had been present in the fluids which were painfully and repeatedly drawn from my mother's small form. But it was always just to wait and see what would become of these building block bombs. They could become nothing if they were never activated; or they could leave behind only a mushroom cloud hovering over momma's lifeless form.

Fear...pure fear, to be endured and borne for a full year.

We knew. We were all prepared to undergo all of the preliminaries. A long line of breast cancer through my great-grandmother and grandmother had told us that we were at a far greater risk than those who lacked the genetic markers to develop this killer. Our mother would meet the threat first.

A lumpectomy, which left a sizable and visible cleft in her small breast, led us all to believe a second opinion was in order. The fact that another mass was beginning to form just adjacent to the first only reiterated that belief.

Dr. Malloy, a surgeon, encouraged our mother to consider a complete double mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery. It was his belief that at least one of these masses was cancerous. He also thought that our mother's fight with breast cancer could be headed off at the pass, and that having this mastectomy would eliminate the road on which the cancer would undeniably travel. It was just a question of when the trip would begin.

How were we to know? In fact, how could we know? How could we possibly have any inclination that the measures she was being encouraged to take would lead her closer to death's arms than the threat of cancer ever would.

The reconstruction with silicon implants was a complete and total disaster. The implants were so painful that momma often could not stand upright, but hunched completely over. And although she had requested the same 'B' cup she had had for her entire adult life, these implants were noticeably larger. She felt like a freak because of the disproportion between her breasts and the rest of her petite frame. The pain was incredible for her. Misery was the ultimate deciding factor that something must be done.

As a family, we all thought that pursuing other measures to return to her a more natural looking figure would help her physically and mentally. It was apparent to us that she was going through a deep depression, sleeping hours on end and crying incessantly. She was obsessed with death...understandably so, and fearing that at any moment her soul would rise as prematurely as her sister and mother's before her had.

We spoke with Dr. Malloy, along with the doctor who had aided him in the first reconstruction, Dr. Houssand. Dr. Houssand suggested another method which basically entailed clipping the stomach muscles and creating breasts from them. Since the material used was organic and natural to the body, it should not be rejected.

This doctor was highly celebrated as an ethical and competent doctor. We had no reason to believe that he was not completely qualified to do this procedure. However, his own confessions after he lost our mother three times on the same operating table told us otherwise.

This...this life changing surgery took place only hours before my early morning wakeup call from above. I had not heard from anyone in the family because I had gotten home so late. I had planned to call bright and early the following day. What I discovered when I spoke with my older sister was beyond horrifying, and plainly told me that it had been both prudent and wise to lift momma up to the Healer of All in those wee hours. It was quite evident that the supposed healer who had touched her from this earth had almost realized every fear that we as a family had.

My sister and father were told by the surgeon that there were some complications; excessive blood loss most significant among them. She had to have a transfusion and plasma. As a result, her blood pressure had plummeted.

Finally, after hours of operating, this surgeon with whom we had trusted our mother's life came to tell the small family congregated that he had asked the anesthetist to wake his patient. He meant for the family to be able to speak with her. He had not even sewn her body back together, and in hindsight it was painfully obvious that this was to be their last living moments together.

He closed her so hastily and incompetently that for months thereafter staples randomly surfaced under the skin around the incision, and then pushed themselves out through that tender barrier. The actual incision ran completely from one hip to the other, and going as high as her belly button. It burst open on three separate occasions throughout the next five months or so, because the skin and the flesh were rotting away rather than repairing themselves.

Again she could not stand straight for fear of tearing the incision further. Weeks after the surgery, I myself packed the still gaping whole with gauze, and cleaned it with saline. We tried to clean as much of the puss and infection out as we could, but they continually seeped from the wound.

More staples. More infection. More puss. More blood. More tearing. More pain.

By some miracle, my mother did pull through after all that she had suffered at the hands of trusted physicians. She did live, and is still dealing with the consequences nine years later. Her physical body would forever bear the excessive and jagged scars. Her spirit and mentality would also bear the marks of shame, depression and a general diminishing from the vibrant woman we had always known her to be. There were to be more surgeries, more agony and more disillusionment toward many medical professionals.

Dr. Houssand later confided to our family that he had never actually performed this operation prior to taking a scalpel to my mother. He admitted to loosing her on three separate occasions while she lay helpless on his operating table and that he truly felt that she was not going to survive the ordeal. He admitted to not explaining that she would never be able to lift more than eleven pounds for the rest of her life because the only stomach muscles left uncut would shrivel and become useless. He admitted that he should never have attempted this surgery on his own.

He admitted that he himself had found his way to the chapel to pray as the family made their supposed last goodbyes.

He admitted that it was only God that gave my mother the chance for more wakeup calls.

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Comments from Our Readers

  "Truly astonishing what horrors your family had been put through due to medical incompetence. Valuable lesson for those considering any elective surgery, research your surgeon's reputation carefully, ask around, talk to nurses. Learn about your surgeons specialty and subspecialty. In other words what type of operation they perform the most frequently and find a doctor who specializes in exactly, or closest to what you need done. " - Stan, October 27 2010 - reply

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