In limbo

Well, the post I’d planned to write next was going to be about how much I’ve learned from blogs written by cancer patients, and how that knowledge has impacted my work in a basic and translational cancer research department.

But that plan, like all our other plans, was shattered by a phone call on Friday morning: Mr E Man’s oldest sister phoned to tell him that their Mum had had a brain hemorrhage, and was in hospital on the Sunshine Coast waiting for a helicopter to transfer her to Vancouver.

Since that initial, terrible, huge piece of bad news, every tiny morsel of information we’ve had has been on the positive end of the spectrum of possible outcomes for each stage of the journey: her vitals have remained good; the initial surgery to relieve the pressure in her skull was a success; the angiogram they did the next day identified exactly what they’d expected it to; the bleed was small and accessible; yesterday’s surgery to fix the blood vessel went smoothly. But we won’t know the extent of the damage done until they lift the very heavy sedation she’s currently under, and which they plan to maintain for at least another couple of days. So after spending all day Friday and almost all weekend at the hospital we’re all at work today, trying to concentrate and waiting for updates (they told us that having noise and movement around her would cause too much brain activity; they’d rather everything was as quiet and still as possible, so they’ve asked us to stay away for now unless they call to say otherwise).

So, instead of writing about how much I’ve learned and how useful it’s been, I’m left pondering the very opposite…

All those years of studying and researching how human cells and genes work?

Completely useless, when it comes down to it. I didn’t know a single thing more than anyone else while we were waiting at the hospital – not one useful thing that could help anyone – and I couldn’t answer a single medical question that anyone asked me. It was a very humbling experience, to say the least.

We agreed yesterday that the current situation feels like we’re in limbo: there’s a small army of us, all desperate to help, but absolutely nothing that any of us can do. This will change over the next few days and weeks, obviously, but right now we have all this nervous energy and nothing to do with it. Some people are frantically parsing every single possibility – if this happens we’ll do X, but if that happens we’ll do Y – while others (including me) are passing the time with busy work, like cleaning the house.

I did manage to contribute one thing: I used LinkedIn (which no-one else in the family is on) to figure out who my globe-trotting brother-in-law is currently working for, and which country he’s in, as no-one had been able to contact him by phone, email, or Facebook. I then called the parent organisation’s head office in Washington DC, and the people there managed to get in touch with him. He’s flying in tomorrow. I’ve also made approximately 107 cups of tea for everyone.

So: social networking and basic kettle skills are, officially, much more useful than letters after your name. Also: blogging is therapy, as always. Once the limbo lifts, I probably won’t be online much for a while, but for now I’m very grateful to have this space.

Thanks for listening.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
This entry was posted in career, education, family, medicine, personal. Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to In limbo

  1. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    p.s. my apologies to any real-life friends hearing about this for the first time on a blog rather than in person. At every stage, every new thing we’ve learned, we’ve been updating family around the world by phone and email, so there just hasn’t been enough time to let others know. Sorry.

  2. Anthony says:

    Great post – the hospital can be a humbling experience when researchers are forced to come face to face with empirical medicine.

    I sincerely do hope that everything turns out well for your mother-in-law!

  3. rpg says:

    Yikes, best wishes to you and all of yours. (Such words seem never enough, but.. y’know.)

  4. Alyssa says:

    Oh wow – my heart goes out to you, Mr. E Man, and his family. Sending lots of positive thoughts your MIL’s way. Please keep us posted when you have a chance.

  5. chall says:

    Usch, so sorry to hear.

    Best wishes for recovery and all, for you and family! You’re in my thoughts!

    Glad that you could help out with the brotherinlaw thought linkedin. It is still pretty amazing to me at times what can be done with some of those social networks. I totally understand the feeling of frustration and humbleness – but remember that there is always someone to hug and that’s contributing too. <>

  6. Mike says:

    Hope everything goes well, Cath. And even though it might not seem like the best time to contradict you – I firmly believe that even if the tiny steps scientists (and their administrators et al) take might not seem like they make a difference right here, right now, it was someone’s tiny steps some time ago that have helped make the crucial medical advances that allow us to say things like ‘this brain surgery was relatively straight forward’. And any steps you’ve taken may well be helping out someone else in need somewhere else in the future. And the medicinal benefits of a good cuppa should probably not be underestimated.

  7. I”m so sorry to hear your bad news, and my thoughts are with you and your family.

  8. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Thanks everyone, you’re all lovely

  9. Steve Caplan says:

    Wishing you and your family all the best at this difficult time. And though we all have our doubts, occasionally–especially when encountering personal and family-related medical crises–remember that today’s basic science is the future of medicine. Your years of basic research are not lost or wasted, but enriching the next generation.

  10. cromercrox says:

    Thinking of you all.

  11. steffi suhr says:

    Sorry to read this, Cath – thinking of you and understanding all too well how energy-draining such an experience is from recent happenings in my family. Hang in there.

  12. lin says:

    Just hang in there, and try to not let this take you over completely, so you can be there for yourself and in doing so support the family, that is all you can do.. It is a horrible experience, but from what you write about what the doctors say, it sounds as if it will turn out okay. I hope it helps that we are all thinking of you all…

  13. x_ine says:

    Oh dear, so sorry to hear about this. Wishing your mum-in-law all the best and sending positive thoughts to you & your family.


  14. ricardipus says:

    Positive vibes wafting your way from over here, Cath. Hang in there.

  15. Mermaid says:

    Oh Cath, what a shock it must have been for you all. My thoughts are with you, Mr E Man and his mom. Let me know if there is anything I can do, whether it be pick up a box of tea bags for brewing or a cookie to keep you going or just to step in and keep bindweed at bay (if possible). Sounds like you have been a terrific help to the entire family – don’t underestimate your contributions.

  16. Lisbeth says:

    All my best wishes and thoughts to you, Mr. E man and the rest of the family!

  17. Beth says:

    So sorry to hear this news, Cath. Like everyone else here, I’m thinking of you, Mr. E. Man and the rest of your family. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you – even if it’s just to make you a cup of tea!

  18. pika says:

    So sorry to hear this. Positive thoughts to you and all the family.

  19. Eva says:

    Oh no! All the best…

    I was on a secret trip to Holland last weekend (secret so I wouldn’t get Dutch friends trying to drag me out) because my dad has been in hospital for the past….six (?) weeks now. Was supposed to be only two. He was home for the weekend while I was there, but he was super-tired and really shouldn’t have been there, but he insisted and then my mom pulled her “I’m a nurse!”-card and they let him go for 48 hours.

    Hoping that your mother in law recovers along the properly predicted time scale!

    (At least Canada/Holland have good health insurance. I was telling my dad that if he was in the US, there’d be a good chance he couldn’t even AFFORD to be in the hospital for six weeks!)

    • Oh no – I’m sorry, Eva. I hope your Dad recovers well.

      Yeah, excellent point on the health care system. If we had to worry about how much everything is costing right now, on top of everything else, it would be so, so much worse.

  20. gerty-z says:

    I’m so sorry. I am sending as many e-thoughts as possible your way.

  21. RPS77 says:

    I’m really sorry to hear this. Wishing the best for your mother-in-law and the entire family.

  22. Silver Fox says:

    Best wishes, Cath.

  23. SB says:

    Oh Cath, that sounds like such a stressful time. Sending warm wishes to you and your family.

  24. ScienceGirl says:

    Thinking of you and yours. Hugs, and hang in there!

  25. ruchi says:

    So sorry to hear. You and Mr E Man are in my thoughts.

  26. Thanks again, everyone – I’m immensely touched by this reminder of how thoughtful and generally lovely my readers are.

    No updates, really, in a “no news is good news” kinda way. The doctors started to gradually lift the sedation yesterday, which will take a couple of days, so we should have a clearer picture of our future path by the weekend. Right now we’re dealing with fatigue and the frustration of not being able to do anything tangible; I’m also getting flashes of guilt every time I do anything frivolous like post to G+ or Twitter, or laugh at Curb Your Enthusiasm, even though I know that’s irrational. We’re all adapting to our “new normal” though… slowly but surely.

  27. ecogeofemme says:

    I’m so sorry Cath. This sounds terrible. I too will be sending lots of positive thoughts your way.

    One thing that might help just a teeny bit is to read the book My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, which you might have already heard of. Taylor is a neurobiologist who describes her experience having and recovering from a stroke. There’s lots of good advice about how to help someone recovery from a brain injury. It’s a very easy read.

  28. Thanks, EGF – something tangible I can do! (i.e. order the book from Amazon and then read it). I feel a wee bit better already.

    • p.s. this does sound familiar… someone must have blogged about the book at some point. Either that or she was interviewed in Radiolab or some other podcast.

  29. KristiV says:

    Sending positive thoughts and hugs your way, Cath!

  30. Stephen says:

    Jeez Cath – sorry I missed this. My very best to you and Mr E Man in the hope of a good recovery for his Mum.

  31. Makita says:

    Sorry to hear what you and your family are going through. All the best.

  32. bean-mom says:

    What a shock… I am thinking of you and Mr. E Man and his family. All the best for your mother-in-law’s recovery…

  33. Truly sucks, Cath. I hope things improve over the next little while.

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  35. Nina says:

    I only read this now Cath, and I hope things have improved. Thinking of you and sending hugs!

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