Running along with my friend Teresa at the crack of dawn, I casually mention that my son Brendan is having hernia surgery. He scheduled it in LA because his groin area hurts too much to postpone it until he is home for Christmas. This is Brendan’s second hernia surgery. The first one eight years ago was not a big deal.
“You’re going out there for it, aren’t you?” asks Teresa as we hurdle a pile of snow on the sidewalk.
“No, I’m not planning on it. Brendan’s twenty-five, and it’s just a hernia surgery. One of his college friends is going to take him to the hospital and pick him up after. We’re going to Seattle as a family for Thanksgiving, so I’ll see him a few days after the surgery when he meets us there.”
Tim and I have five adult children who live across the country. We do our best to see the kids as much as possible, and this year, we rented a house in Seattle because two of the kids live there.
“I think you should go to LA,” Teresa says, arms pumping, legs in unison with mine.
“Really?” I turn to look at her in stride, and she nods.
“Nancy, it’s surgery, and even though Brendan has friends, he’s alone out there without family.”
I think about it for a moment and say, “Okay. I’ll go.” Sixty seconds of advice from a friend, and I change my trip to a Chicago – LA – Seattle – Chicago triangle. Deep down, I think it’s unnecessary, but I’m happy for an excuse to have extra days with Brendan, our witty, creative Northwestern graduate on a mission to make it in the acting world.
I call Brendan. “Hey, Bren, I’m going to fly out for that hernia surgery. I checked with my boss, and he said it’s fine.”
His voice cracks, “Mom, that would be so great.” I’m touched that he wants me there.. It’s just a hernia surgery.
A week later, I board the earliest flight to LA and plan to meet Brendan at the hospital. He has to be there at 9:00am, and my flight lands at 9:35am. In the cab to the hospital, I soak up the sun and admire the palm trees, the looming hills of Malibu, and the beautiful people roaming the streets in sandals and colorful shorts and sundresses. I relax in the back seat and calculate how I can manage to sneak in a run in the sun while Brendan is in the OR.
The cab pulls up, I swing my backpack on my shoulder, and take the elevator to the surgery prep floor with gleaming linoleum and reeking of anticeptic cleaner. Men and women clad in blue-gray surgical wear pass casually as they talk about the latest movie releases.
I enter the surgery prep-room, turn left and find Brendan, gowned and giddy with the anesthesia. Nine years earlier, Brendan and Bethy had their wisdom teeth removed, and they acted so drunk and loud from the drugs that the staff had to put them in a separate room.
A puffy powder blue cap encircles Brendan’s face, making his huge blue eyes even more prominent. He’s loaded on the gurney and ready to go. I hug him, compliment his headwear, and tell him I love him.
He looks up, eyes wide with love, and says, “I’m so glad you’re here, Mom.” Warmth washes over me. I realize Teresa was right..
“Take a picture, will you?” He reaches under his gown and extends his phone. I snap multiple photos and think this generation is crazy with the way they document every move. Is this plastic surgery or hernia surgery? Brendan adds, “You never know when I might need fresh material for my stand-up routine.”
The anesthesiologist checks on Brendan, turns to the surgeon, and says she is surprised to be assigned to someone so young and healthy. She is a specialist who deals with high-risk cases, and she hands me her card with credentials including Harvard and Yale. I am completely at ease.
The doctors ask where I’m from and begin deliberating about where I should eat lunch. They want to ensure that I get a taste of California life while Brendan is “under.” Collectively, they ask what I like to eat and suggest different restaurants before coming to consensus that I should go to a hip Hollywood cafe within walking distance.
I don’t want to disappoint them by telling them I would rather go for a run, so I write down their suggestions. A nurse starts to wheel Brendan away, and he reaches out for my hand. “Here, Mom, take my phone and wallet. Thanks again for coming.”
I find the sleek lunch spot with a menu of dishes with quinoa, kale, pine nuts, avocado, organic chicken, and pomegranate as the main ingredients. I sit on a stool facing the street and scope out celebrities. The tune from the Beverly Hillbillies whirrs in my head: “swimming pools, movie stars . . ..” I don’t watch much tv, so I text my friend Julie that I wish she was with me because she’d recognize these stunning people.
I eat and dodge into Nordstrom’s Rack, a block from the hospital. Struggling to try on the latest stylish black leggings in the dressing room, I catch my reflection resembling a stuffed sausage. My phone rings, and I don’t recognize the number.
“Hello.” My underwear is riding up as the pant legs strangle my thighs.
“This is Dr. Brown. Brendan’s procedure went.. . .” I lose cell service in the dressing room.
Shit! I peel off the second skin, put on my jeans, grab my backpack, and enter the store lobby. I call back.
“Sorry, Doctor. This is Nancy Scannell. I lost service.” I don’t mention that I went shopping while he was sewing my son’s insides.
“The surgery went well, and he is in recovery. You can see him anytime.”
I abandon the yoga pants and bolt to the hospital. I think Brendan will want more photos..
I enter the eery, beeping recovery room. Patients’ beds are shrouded behind thick beige curtains, and the nurse directs me to Brendan. I pull back the drape to discover a greenish, dull hue has replaced his bright, fair skin, and his vivid red hair is slicked into a dark comb-over. He looks awful. Hiding my gasp, I smile uneaslily and ask, “How you doing, Brendan?”
After a struggle to part his cracked lips, he says, “Mom, I don’t feel so good.”
I think, You look like death is knocking, and instead reply, “It will take a little time for the drugs to get out of your system. You’ll feel better in a little while. It’s only a hernia surgery, and the doctor said everything went well. Can I get you anything?”
Brendan shakes his head and dozes; I stand guard on look-out for a twitch indicating a need for a sip from a straw of chipped ice water. He can barely lift his head, and I work my way around the bed ensuring that his sheets are straight. I moisturize his dry hands and pasty feet. I plant myself at his side and watch his beautiful face.
Brendan opens his eyes and says, “I really feel sick, Mom.” After two hours, the nurse urges him to get up and walk. We help him stand, but he is too wobbly to support himself. He grasps my arm as he circles the curtained corridor of beds. I look at him and wonder why he is not more ruddy. I think of our Irish ancestors who endured famines and freezing rain and no heat in thatched cottages. We’re a strong brood. Brendan will be fine. Why hasn’t he bounced back?
The doctor gives detailed instructions regarding the post-surgery prescriptions. He says it is critical that Brendan receive his next dose of pain medication by 7:00pm. Brendan must not go more than four hours without the meds in the first twenty-four hours post-surgery.
The nurse says Brendan will be released soon, and I settle in my chair as my son nods off, in no rush to leave the comforts of this warm bed. I think about getting the meds now, but I figure he’ll be up and out soon. I relax and read the Real Simple magazine I picked up at the airport. I lose myself in mindless recipes and tips for a great Thanksgiving in Seattle with our kids.
Brendan still does not want to get up and walk. The pharmacy at the hospital closes at 5:00pm, and I wonder if I should fill the prescription now. Gray face and slack mouth, he sleeps, and I do not want to leave him. Should I duck down to the pharmacy here and get back before he wakes? He just doesn’t look right. I don’t want to leave him alone in this strange place alone, and I opt to stay at his side.
The nurse urges Brendan that it’s time to go. I check Mapquest for the nearest pharmacy. There’s a CVS on the way to Brendan’s West Hollywood apartment. No problem.
Brendan cannot walk to his car in the lot. He hands me the key fob and tries to remember where he parked eight hours earlier. I roam the parking lot as I search for a car I have never seen before. When did he grow up? I finally locate the silver Prius and can’t figure out how to start this keyless vehicle. My mini van is ten years old and starts with the turn of the key, like a normal car. I focus and systematically hit buttons until the car starts. When I pull up to the circle drive of the hospital, Brendan is hunched over clutching his stomach. Walking like an old man, he stoops to the car and winces in pain. I help him into the seat, shut the door, and check my watch.
Mapquest says the CVS is two miles away, but WAZE says it’s a twenty minute drive. LA. traffic creeps, and as we near the pharmacy, Brendan says, “Mom, please drop me off first. I don’t feel good.” I think he is going to throw up in the car and hand him a barf bag I snagged from the hospital – just in case. It is a long yellow tube with a round mouth hole. Brendan clasps the bag in his hands.
Brendan’s apartment building has two long flights of stairs and no elevator. I consider carrying him up to his place. Baby steps. Doubled over, crumbling with the effort, he reaches his door and hands me his keys. I unlock the door, and we inch our way to his bedroom. I leave him moaning in a fetal position in bed, and I begin my mission.
The line at CVS is ten people deep. Let’s go – hurry up. My turn comes, and I hand over the script.
“We don’t have this medication. We’re out of it,” the pharmacist says mechanically.
“What do you mean?”
“We are due to get more tomorrow. You can try Walgreens.”
I punch Walgreens into my phone, get the location, enter it into WAZE, and wonder how I ever functioned without a cell phone. The streets are filled with Jay-walkers and wanderers. Californians are so damn slow.
The Walgreens technician says, “We’re out of this pain medication.”
What the hell? Is LA full of a bunch of druggies?!”
“You can try Rite-Aid down the street,” he says as he hands back the script.
The Rite-Aid technician looks at the script and asks for Brendan’s ID.
“I am his mother. I don’t have his ID. He should have had this pain medication fifteen minutes ago. Please fill the prescription.”
Maneuvering her gum to her right cheek, she says, “Read the sign,” and points: No prescriptions will be filled without proper ID. I bolt to the car, race to the apartment, get out of the car, take a step and remember that Brendan gave me his wallet before the surgery. I get back in the car, dig in my backpack, find the wallet, and race back to Rite-Aid.
Heroically, I sprint to the Rite-Aid counter and hand over the ID. Gum snapping, the woman says, “It will take a few minutes.”
Are you shitting me?! Why didn’t you get it ready for me? I was just here! I clench my jaw and say, “My son is supposed to have this medication now.”
“We’ll call your name when it’s ready.”
Skin crawling, I manically fill a little red basket with the metal handles and collect juice, ginger ale, soup, crackers, Vitamin water, 7Up, anything that will help settle Brendan’s stomach.
“Nancy Scannell,” the speaker announces.
The metal bar on the fifty-pound basket of acid-reducing groceries digs into my right forearm as I grab my wallet with my left hand as I beeline to the pharmacy counter.
The woman hands me the script, “We don’t have this medication.”
“What?! I’ve been here fifteen minutes and you’re telling me this now?!” I feel like Shirley MacClaine in Terms of Endearment when it’s time for Debra Winger to get her shot.
“Try Target. It’s a half mile down the road.”
I ditch the basket on the floor, bound to the now-familiar hybrid, and floor it to Target. I fight my rising panic as I imagine Brendan writhing in pain. How can three pharmacies be out of Vicodin?
Thus far, I have not prayed. I didn’t want to waste God’s time with requests about a few stitches of folded muscle and tissue when there are so many suffering from huge tragedies. I now reign on the heavens with a litany of Hail Mary’s as I approach the Target pharmacy counter. Please, God, let them have the meds. I hand over the script. The woman smiles and asks for my insurance card.
Oh my Gosh! Insurance card?
“I don’t have it. I flew in from Chicago this morning, and I didn’t bring it. The meds are for my son. Wait, I have his wallet!” I dig in my pocket and rummage through Brendan’s cards to see if he has a copy. He doesn’t.
“It will cost a lot if you don’t have the card.”
“I don’t care what it costs.”
“Maybe your son has a copy at home,” she says. Just fill the prescription.. She asks, “Why don’t you call him?” Because I want you to hand over the drugs NOW!
“Good idea,” I call Brendan, and he says he has the insurance card. There is no way in hell I am driving back there to get it. “Mom, I’ll take a picture of it and send it to you.” What will these kids come up with next?
I show the text to the pharmacist who tells me this will save me over $100. I could not care less. Just give me the bag and stop talking. “Thank you so much!” I dart for the car.
Despising this weather that brings out so many pedestrians who block traffic, I drive back to Brendan’s place. Victorious, I take the stairs like Rocky two at a time and run into Brendan’s bedroom. Looking like an invalid in an senior citizens’ center, he can barely lift his head. He still has the puke bag at his side, and I help him sit up to sip water and take the pills. I urge him to get up and eat something that will help him tolerate the drugs. He nibbles some crackers and takes small sips of juice. He manages to swallow a few grapes and a bit of cheese. He has no energy, and I try to be cheerful.
“So do you think there is a drug abuse problem in LA?” I joke. He dry heaves at the kitchen table, and I help him get back into bed. I lay on the floor beside him and listen to his breathing..
“Mom! Mom! Where’s the bag?!” Brendan croaks. I grab the yellow tube just in time. He retches every sip and morsel consumed that day.
I call the Target pharmacy and ask if I was supposed to get anti-nausea medication with the pain pills.
“No, some people just have a harder time after surgery. This is perfectly normal.” The pharmacist responds calmly.
Brendan’s recovery takes five full days. On day three, he foregoes the Vicodin to drive me to LAX. He can manage the pain on his own, and I will get to see him in a few days in Seattle.
Two major lessons are learned: surgery is surgery, and moms show up.