Fei Wu

Humanity and Humility: the story of my mom’s recent surgery and recovery (#237)

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Hey amazing humans, I recorded the episode originally for me to remember this rather incredible and memorable journey from January 2nd to February 6th, 2020, when I became my mom’s caretaker. In many ways, it felt like the most difficult time I had to live through in a long time. 

I want to dedicate this episode to anyone who’s living through medical difficulties, caring for their families and friends, and those who work in the healthcare industries tirelessly to create miracles and care for strangers. 

There are many lessons I learned through this experience, and I hope you’ll share yours as well. 

Love and hugs,

Fei

Transcript

Humanity and Humility the story of my mom’s recent surgery and recovery (#237).m4a – powered by Happy Scribe

Hey, guys. This is Fei Wu, your host for the show. And this show is called Feisworld. And this week I want to do something a bit different, which is to riff a bit, if you’re expecting this to be an interview episode, well, it’s not. It’s me talking directly into the mic with little to no editing.

And I want to capture this moment because I think otherwise we’ll be lost. And this episode is called Humanity and Humility, and this is about moments that bring you down to your knees. In this case, it brought me down to my knees, but I was able to get up again. And this is related to the most recent medical situation my mom is in. And if you have just gone through something very emotional or maybe even tragic in your life, maybe this is the episode for you.

And I will let you know. The fact that there is no gory or scary details about my mom’s hospital experience, in fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s very pleasant. And she is not someone who will bring her knees down or bring her down to her knees when things like this happen. And it really gave me a lot of respect or kind of look at my mom and through a different lens to realize that what cheers her up and what brings her down.

So it was a fantastic learning experience, to be honest, for me. But I want to take this opportunity and talk about the things that we lived through, because so much of what we do as creators is about productivity. It’s about creating. And that is just wonderful. And I feel like for a few years, I fell into that trap of never thinking that I’ve done enough.

I want to do more for myself and even more for my clients, and I want things to go smoothly. I want to be in my top shape in terms of creativity and my learning and all of that. And my life since early the very early 2020 has really changed, not to mention the crazy ongoing coronavirus that’s just hitting every single news channel since the middle of January. But here’s what happened, and I really appreciate you kind of letting me share my experience, because I recorded this episode largely for me, I think it’s really important to talk about the wonderful moments in your life. To me, the good news is there is good news at the end of the episode.

But to live through all the moments, all the experience beforehand, sometimes you really wish that you don’t have to, but we’re all human beings, and this is part of everyone’s lives. And I think of those people who gave me the courage to get through this, because I know people who have. I personally have gone through this. But it’s very different with my mom. As some of you guys know, if you’re new to the show, I don’t expect you to know this, but my dad did pass away and was exactly ten years ago in December 2009.

And my mom came over to visit me at the very end of December 2019. Within days, I decided to take her to a primary care doctor, simply trying to visit her new doctor because her old doctor isn’t working in the same office anymore. And in order to establish care, she needs to see her new primary care. So on January 2, I took her there, hoping that they will do some routine tests and be able to prescribe her with the medicine she needs. Mostly diabetes and blood pressure.

Simple routine. And what ended up happening was her doctor detected a large pelvic mass. And I just remember that moment having to translate this news to her. I had no idea how to do it. I kind of froze and this hit me like this huge shock.

Like a shockwave. I just wasn’t prepared for it mentally or physically. I was completely shook. And I eventually told her it took me a few seconds and she paused and she had to process information. All of a sudden, she remembered about a year and a half ago, she did have an Sri.

And I revealed something that appeared to be a very small cyst. And between her travel and my mom’s, she has some medical sort of blood pressure issues late 2019, and she’s by herself. She doesn’t really have anyone. I was living with her in China, so she kind of forgot about it and ignored it. And all of a sudden, this small cyst has turned into something rather big.

In fact, by the time of this notice, we had no idea where the system belongs to. We don’t know the severity, the size of it. And her immediate reaction was she didn’t want to cause me any trouble. She said, you know what? When I go back to China in mid March, I will take care of it.

When I translated what she said to the doctor, he was not happy because he really wanted us to take care of this in a more serious way. And his immediate reaction, maybe some of you guys have experienced this, was that this can be serious. You guys need to look into this, get the CT scan, everything done. I will write everything out for you, but you need to go see a specialist because this could potentially be cancer. And I just remember the word cancer hit me right away and was giving me an ulcer right then and there.

Almost literally, I felt this. I mean, I personally, I actually have a history of gerd and acid reflux, so definitely denounce it well with me. But I really appreciate the doctor for being so diligent testing everything out. Now that was only the 2 January what happened and as I think as something that we need to talk about and think about as caretakers for our siblings or our parents is you really don’t want to spend the next two weeks in between your primary care appointment and you’re visiting specialists to be about WebMD or trying to research online. Now, we’re all curious.

You might want to take a look for, I don’t know, 2030 minutes or so. Do your research, understand the basics, understanding the terms, but don’t just keep going. And I knew I had the tendency to keep going, and I remember just middle of the day, first thing during the day, or when I go to sleep, I just couldn’t help it. You could see that blue light in front of my face. I had to know.

And of course, my instinct was driving me to look at things like ovarian tumor, ovarian cancer, and the survival rate for that particular cancer, at least as of five to ten years ago, was really bad because women who discover that usually is later stage cancer. And it was very, very challenging for me. Now, in retrospect, I realized that it was much harder than I anticipated, even though and by the way, I felt the hardest part for me as an immigrant woman was to have to put on a poker face in front of my mom and feeling that I did not want to worry her. And I couldn’t really share this with a lot of other people, so I kind of kept it to myself. I didn’t really tell her sisters who live in the Boston area as well.

And my mom kept most of this to herself, except for very few friends that she knew back home. And my partner Adam was extremely supportive and, you know, he’s got the researcher in mind, so he did some of the research without me having to read all the numbers. And I have to say that, you know, the day that we went to get the CT scan and having to watch her put on IV and drink this thing, this liquid literally was like 24oz or something like that, that took her about an hour and had to go through the machine. It was very challenging for me, and I remember just standing in front of the windows and looking out into this parking lot and just praying for her. And the results came back three days later.

And I decided to go see her primary care by myself so that I didn’t have to translate anything on the spot and I didn’t want her to worry about how I would process this. And it turned out to be a really large mass, 17 CM by 16 x 15. So, I mean, later on we joked about it being a kind of a small watermelon, and it is definitely not a baseball size thing. So I was even more concerned since the test, and the primary care doctor was also extremely concerned. And I just remember reading the reports, not understanding everything, and my life still had to go on.

I still have to see my clients and take care of things and thinking about that. I really need to get paid. I need to be more productive, more creative, and do more work. I don’t know, share more podcasts and just keep going. By the time I took my mom to see a specialist in Boston here, and as you guys know, Boston is one of the best hospitals, it was very I wouldn’t say exactly comforting, but it was reassuring in terms of the experts diagnosis or she’s so kind.

She did not firmly predict anything, but said it was very unlikely that it would be cancerous. By the time I heard that, man, I was ready to get up and just cheer for everyone. But I knew that would be too early still until at that point, as you’re waiting for the appointment, it had been another two weeks before I could talk to someone, before I could hear that the potential of cancer being low. That was just extremely comforting. I want to say that since the initial primary care exam to what, you know, happened to be later on of speaking to a specialist, I was testing myself very in a very difficult manner.

I try to meditate and then said to myself, you know what? Let me see how I can grow through this experience, because I know that there’s one person I can control, is my own emotions. It’s okay to feel negative from time to time, but it’s not okay to crumble and let me take this opportunity and, you know, really prepare myself for it. I didn’t know what that entailed, but I wanted to basically give myself the permission to still laugh, smile, enjoy the moments. So what made me really happy, guys, during that time, and if you’re in the same situation, is my mom and I both love shopping so much for clothes.

We don’t need anything extravagant. We love discount shopping. And I know precisely the source she loved. So I took her there, and I took her grocery shopping, which is obviously more constant and more like a regular routine. And she loves to cook.

And I have to say that I treasured every moment with her. It got a little intense one time when I was at super 88 here in Boston, which is an Asian grocery store, which is a place where my mom happens to spend easily 45 minutes to an hour. She would literally examine every single vegetable and pick her favorites. I could see that after all that she’s gone through and she is the patient, and it did not fear her. And I would say my feeling probably was way more intense and probably in some ways much more negative than hers.

And just watching her shop, I remember just asking her to take all the time she needs, and she would go for it, and I would just watch her. I remember myself watching her from afar and feeling, you know, just enjoy watching her. And I thought to myself, wow, what if this is I don’t know how much longer I’ll have her. These thoughts were so I know, so negative and unnecessary, but they were there. I confronted myself.

I caught myself thinking in that way. And I remember watching her walk around, and the tears will come down. I’ll quickly wipe them off coming home. And I would hug her in a very different way than I used to. I’ll hug her and silently, and I will pray that she’ll be okay.

And I pray to the universe, to the Earth, my dad, who’s gone, but not to take her too soon. You know, all those things. And meanwhile, all this is going on. By mid January, the coronavirus in China hit, and it’s immediately affecting our family and friends. Though we’re very fortunate to see our friends and family safe and sound, the lockdown is still impacting everybody’s quality of life.

And specifically, I’m referring to people we know, family that we have in Beijing and Shanghai in particular. Now the next phase is preparing for surgery. My mom’s word of peacefulness, and it was the moment, which is great, because we don’t have to wait till when we absolutely need to have that conversation. She told me that whatever happens and by the way, this was not the first time this came up, even two years ago when I wasn’t ready. But she was.

And I’m really proud of her for bringing it up. And I encourage any parents and their kids to consider having this conversation. There are scripts you can follow online, and there are tutorials, there are cheat sheets. You don’t have to make up the vocabulary yourself, but to talk to your loved ones about how you want to be treated and how you want to live your end of life. And so my mom initiated again, and this time I knew I had to listen, be patient with her.

She said she whatever situation happened now or 20 years or 50 years from now, whatever it may be, she does not want to receive unnecessary treatments. Now, I know that is kind of a vague description, but basically what she’s asking for is she doesn’t want to be treated if the medication isn’t really improving her quality of life, or it means that it’s not really helping her. I guess the technical term really need to be defined by the doctor you’re dealing with. And I knew what she meant. I was proud of her.

I was proud of us for having that conversation. Still wasn’t easy. And she said that she was very proud to be my mom, and she feels like her life is very complete. I’m like, okay, that’s really too early, but thank you for letting me know. And I smiled.

So the surgery was yesterday. Yesterday, all this happened. It was February 6, 2020, and my partner Adam brought both of us to the hospital. Adam and I discussed and strategize that this is going to be the long game. Right.

We knew this was a marathon, not a sprint, most likely. So let me be at the hospital so Adam can go home, work and rest, whatever it needs to be. This could be a multiple day thing. Depending on the type of surgery, there’s a good chance it will be laparoscopic if it’s non cancerous, but if there’s any sign of it potentially could be cancerous, then there will be a bigger incision. Mom will need to be hospitalized for three days or so.

So we prepared her clothes and I made sure mom had her bag to prepare things that she think she will she might need in the hospital, which I think is a really good exercise, because you don’t want to just take over. You want the patient, you want the family member to know what she’s bringing. And the eventual delay to the surgery was two and a half hours. That was very unsettling for us. We checked in at 830 in the morning sharp, and then we sat there until, I think about 1045.

We had this pager that was supposed to be super loud, and it finally did. In between, I checked in at the front desk several times. I said, Is this thing still working? And it was almost funny. And mom was taking walks back and forth.

Eventually she was brought up to the preop room, and it was more crowded than I thought. There were about ten different families and people waiting for their IV, getting ready for the operations. I really have not had much experience being in such place. I definitely felt anxious for my mom. And the transit showed up.

There were a lot of paper to be signed. There were multiple doctors who stopped by asking my mom this exact same questions, and they were pretty intense, and my mom took care of it. I think to prepare the patients and let them know that there will be repeated questions and save their energy the day before, as much as they can on the same day is very important. Whether or being asked to repeat are the procedures they need to know that is being done. And they ask about any loose stenchures.

For my mom was all implants. That makes sense, because they certainly don’t want anything to kind of fall in for you to swallow by accident. And I would say I looked around the different families, I noticed that my mom and I looked a bit odd because most of everybody else were husbands and wives. And there were one man who came in by himself. Definitely felt very different.

You know, when you don’t have a friend next to you, but most of them are the same age, they’re couples. And clearly it was my mom and me. So I felt proud and really fulfilled the whole journey in knowing the fact that I could be there for her was probably the most comforting thing. And so the most terrifying part, guys, with the IV, because my mom has a very high pain tolerance, always, but on top of that, she is diabetic, so she’s very comfortable with needle poking into her skin, which is way more comfortable than I am. But the challenging part, which is something I know for myself.

If anything else comes up for me or my family, I’m going to request not to have an intern or a this sounds kind of selfish, but it was very painful for me to watch the IV being done by someone who’s learning how to do it, meanwhile being instructed by someone else. I mean, those men were those doctors were really kind. At the same time, I definitely saw the pain my mom was going through twice. She was a bit nervous, but it was literally making me feel very uncomfortable. But that was it.

That was literally the worst part, guys. And as they were pushing her way into the operating room, even just leaving the PreOps area, I remember myself sigh so loudly and literally everyone in the room turned, including the doctors, were pushing my mom away. They heard me, they paused, they looked around, I apologized, and I looked at this couple next to me and they smiled. And they thought it was probably like this unavoidable moment. And later on, I saw that man again who was waiting for his wife to come out.

And we had this bond. And I think this is kind of the humanity and humility part of it. And again, as they were pushing away, just watching, I watched my mom enter the double door into the or the operating room. It was heartbreaking. It was very hard because I turned around, because at some point I couldn’t just keep following her.

I turned around and thought that I was this little baby who’s now a grownup, and I fell alone. Even though I had been on my own for a long time, since the age of 17. I’m 36 now. The majority of my adult life was living a foreign country on my own. And my mom, being very supportive, was living eight 0 mile away.

So that was the norm for us. But somehow in that moment, I felt lost. I wanted to be there for her. So after that, I made a decision to say, it’s almost noon and I’m going to eat lunch. I did not feel like eating, guys, but when you’re taking care of a family or a friend, you gotta feel that for you, the food is medicine.

It feels you, even though it won’t taste like anything at all. So I sat at the cafe inside the hospital and just ate quietly on my own, watching everyone else around me, mostly staff at the hospital, I assume, just by the gesture and the looks on their faces. Meanwhile, listen to my favorite music on Spotify. I started with some quiet study music. But then I realized I needed something more upbeat.

So I went through Spotify, my playlist, and anything I hearted or the songs I favorite that I went there and I listened to some Zumba songs at all. Zumba music really cheer me up and helped me relax because it’s something that I move to every single day. So I would recommend that you connect with something, a hobby or a moment or kind of a mindset that will make you happy. So I thought about the things and experiences we have to go through and experience it as human beings. I guess everyone sitting at that cafe probably has had we’re going to have some bad idea at some point in their lives.

And it’s so difficult to think about, but to know that we’re not alone in any level of suffering, whether it’s small, we’re huge. It’s just part of being a human being. So the surgery lasted about two and a half hours. I remember the time exactly 12:17 p.m. To 02:46 p.m..

During that time, I try to calm myself by going to Marshalls and PJ Maxx nearby. But I did not even feel like buying anything for one. I didn’t want to carry them for two. Just like the food, watching the clothes didn’t really give me much joy. However, it did distract me very successfully, and it really helped me walk around, because I walked very little yesterday.

And I remember coming home, regaining my own consciousness of noticing what happened. My knees were hurting just from all the sitting and feeling anxious. So while I waited, I was thinking about like, why is it taking so long? But I started posting a couple of images of myself, pictures of ourselves, my mom and I, when I was very little. Meanwhile, the doctor called to 40 06:00 p.m..

She said, hey, is this phase? She also spoke Chinese. It’s benign. The sister’s out, the surgery is very successful, her organs look fantastic. And I immediately ask, can she come home today?

She said, the doctor said, of course, you know, it’s laparoscopic. I thanked the doctor. It was already 03:00 p.m., and she and her team hadn’t even had lunch yet. They must be exhausted. Then an hour later, around 04:00 p.m., the nurse called.

Because it takes my mom after general anesthesia, about an hour to wake up. I rushed to the postop waiting area. I was in a different building. The same man who was accompanying his wife gave me a nod and asked me to go in. And that moment was so memorable because that bond and knowing that we were both there for our loved ones, we’re both exhausted, and we wanted to see them so badly, was this universal language.

And I saw my mom at 04:15 p.m.. You know, it took me a little while to find her actually in the postop room. And I saw this long spreadsheets with so many different highlighters and just imagining how many people went through surgery that day. It looked maybe a little less than 100, but was like pages of patients and notes. And seeing my mom after generating anesthesia was this kind of profound experience.

She looked tired, but she almost woke up. Her eyes just lit up when she saw me. And so the next 45 minutes went really quickly. The nurse once again explained to me what we need to do, and I already learned everything, even during the first appointment of my mom’s, first appointment at the hospital. And they gave me a spreadsheet.

I translated everything and I was ready to go. And picking up mom. Adam came over and picked us up. And I remember so many cars double parked in front of the hospital, inside or nearby the patient pickup area. It was Ubers.

And taxis and families. There’s just a lot to navigate at the end of that day. And on the way home, I so wanted to celebrate the victory, but I was so tired and utterly exhausted to do it. Coming home, I gathered my last bit of energy. I wrote down the painkiller combinations, set mom’s alarms every 3 hours, and slept outside of her bedroom to make sure that she wakes up to take the Mets.

And then I prepared the crackers and water for her as well, because I didn’t want the painkillers to upset her tummy. So that was my end of day yesterday. And what’s supposed to also happen is for me to launch another episode of the podcast. But I did not. And I should have scheduled it, but the past few weeks were so hectic.

I wanted to share this with you guys, and I wanted to remember this moment for myself. And I understand not every single medical procedure will come through with what we call a victory, but I think what I learned is to treasure our family. They’re not going to be here forever. And for our moments to be cherished, to be celebrated, and to have that conversation about end of life, to know what each other actually wants, especially loved ones, and for us to understand what we can do on a daily basis and to be mindful, what does that mean? Is to allow us in between all these in between moments to enjoy, to live these moments to their fullest.

Because I gotta say, before the surgery and in between mom’s appointments, there’s so many reasons to be miserable for both of us, but we weren’t. And we went shopping, we went dancing, we’re seeing the hot tubs, exchanging stories. It was not perfect, guys. It was not a perfect moment every single time, but it was amazing to be able to do that. So, so much love to those of you out there who’s listening to this.

And if you’re going through something like this, I feel like I’m seeing this on social media every I wouldn’t say every day but like every other days, once you go through people’s updates, once you talk to them, you pick up the phone and call them, you learn so much more than what you didn’t know previously. So everyone’s going through some sort of hardships. My heart goes out for you guys, and thank you for supporting me. I know a lot of you have, you know, kind of enter my life and being so supportive of these moments, so I really appreciate that. And please let me know if there’s anything I can write about, talk about that will help you, and that will be an amazing experience for us.

So that’s it for this week, and I hope you keep on creating, sharing your stories, because a world wants to hear it, and maybe you want to hear it for yourself or later on. So good night. I’m going to upload this now happy Friday night into the weekends and do something fun with your family. And bye for now. See you next time week, you.

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