HAD A BIT OF a scare over the weekend. My mother developed a minor physical symptom that, in showing up this way, may end up preventing fatal consequences. The funny thing is, if I ask her one more time if she and my father want me to postpone the Las Vegas trip to be close to home, she might actually kill me.
Yesterday afternoon, the vision in my mother's right eye changed. It blurred in the lower section, so that part of her visual field disappeared. It went on and off for a half hour, then stopped altogether. She called me about an hour after this happened to let me know she had contacted her ophthalmologist to arrange an ASAP visit. Her father had suffered a detached retina in his middle age, and she wanted to rule that out.
I, however, wanted to rule out another cause, the one that had struck her mother: a stroke. Loss of sensation or vision on one side is a marker for an ongoing stroke. Plus she is at risk: overweight, a lifelong smoker, and a moderate drinker; on anticholesterol medication; and the daughter of a stroke victim. Her speech over the phone sounded perfectly clear, though, and she said she didn't feel numb or weak on either side. So all we could do at this point is determine whether the eye guy would see her that day or today.
It turned out to be this morning. I waited anxiously until 11:30, then called home. I punched through their call-waiting on the third attempt. My mother said it was Hollenhorst plaque, and that although the visual distortion hadn't recurred, she wanted to make an appointment to get her carotid arteries scanned. It turns out someone in the Elks Ladies Auxiliary had this done, so she felt speaking to this former patient would throw a lot more light on her condition.
While I was speaking to her, I was skimming the page to which I linked above — and feeling more and more nervous. The gist I picked up is that this sort of thing doesn't happen unless a patient has some sort of major blockage somewhere, and that my mother was incredibly lucky it wasn't a larger embolus or a cerebral vessel that was occluded. I asked her if she wanted me to email the article, and she asked, "Is it going to upset me?" To which I had to answer in the positive. If she wasn't going out of her way to upset herself before she had the test done, who was I to disrupt that?
This didn't mean that I couldn't get upset though, and I spent the better part of the day steeling myself against any potential next step. Surgery on a woman with compromised lungs and a balky heart. The sheer wrongness of surgery that required a major artery to be laid open like a bio-class earthworm. A stroke before she got to the OR. My father and I helping with rehab. Or worse.
And then there was the trip to Vegas. When she called with the diagnosis, she repeated strenuously that she didn't want this in any way to change my plans. I began to wonder how well I could fake being in Vegas while secretly monitoring the situation from New Jersey. For a poker player, I am a lousy liar, so I expected this plan would fail spectacularly — perhaps in a Twilight Zone–like twist, my parents would run me over accidentally while on the way back from the doctor with a clean bill of health.
Most of all, if I stayed home from Las Vegas, my mother would actually feel like there was something terribly wrong. If I pursued my business as usual, she could do the same, regardless of what the doc told her.
I spoke to her again on the homebound train before it left Hoboken. By then, my mom had gotten in touch with the woman who had had this surgery done. The surgeon apparently did this procedure day in and day out, like some specialists do tons of prostate or ACL jobs. This she found very reassuring. Her tone was very positive, and she said she basically wanted to find out the problem, have it removed or extracted or whatever, and move on.
She credited her experience with breast cancer as helping with this attitude. When she got that diagnosis back in early 1991 — during my final semester of college — her overwhelming emotion was not fear, or powerlessness, but anger. If she got through the diagnosis, surgery, and rehabilitation of that experience, she said today, she could face anything. And in addition, this minor condition may serve as an early warning of some cardiovascular condition that could have made its presence known in a lot more fatal way.
I have to say that this conversation was the first point today at which I stopped worrying. Once again, she exhorted me not to worry about her or my father (who no doubt dug into the Internet as I did to decipher what the hell Hollenhorst plaque was), to enjoy Las Vegas, and not to think about the next step. This time, I silently agreed with her.
So that is how things stand. My mom will see her family doctor late this week, bring up the name of the vascular specialist she got, and take it from there. My orders are to go to Las Vegas and loot the locals in the name of the family honor and her — and her parents' — reputations as jubilant degenerate card players. What sort of son would disobey?