Chapter 37: Sick and in love at the Border of Crazy
All eyes turn to me as my phone rings loudly in the middle of a big client meeting. I am mortified to see it’s my Mom. I think to myself: Can’t she just text me?? Ugh! She knows I’m working, and it’s the middle of the day!
The call came around 2:15pm, prime meeting time!
I apologize profusely to the executives in the room and put my phone on silent. Not three seconds later I see it light up again. It’s my cousin, Tony, calling. Now, I’m getting frustrated…what the hell do they want?
Discreetly, I text him and say, “Hey cuz, I’m in a client meeting, is it urgent?” He snappily responds, “Yes, it is Cuz! I’m rushing your Mom to the hospital. Something went wrong with her colonoscopy. She’s blowing up and can’t breathe!!!!”
What does he mean she is blowing up? Blowing up CANNOT be good. Immediately, I excuse myself and tell my boss there’s a family emergency. Outside of the conference room, I call back cousin Tony.
He reveals that the doctor caused a tear in my Mother’s colon during the procedure. She’s blowing up because she might be allergic to the pain medication the doctor administered. He goes on to tell me that the doctor wouldn’t call an ambulance and insisted that Tony drive her to the hospital. I am totally stunned and feeling VERY guilty for the annoyance I felt at their interruption.
He tells me he’s taking my Mom to Staten Island University hospital and that I should meet him there ASAP. The meeting ends right after we hang up, and I share the situation with my manager. With his support, I run out of the office!
By 2:35pm, I am in an Uber en route to Staten Island. Tony calls again and says that my Mother’s breathing situation has worsened. Her body is filling with air and the ER doctors must intubate her immediately. INTUBATE?
My eyes fill with tears as those words sink in. I am in complete disbelief. My Nauna (my Mom’s Mom) was intubated, and she never woke up from that procedure. My breath starts to get short. Tony consoles me and says they are taking great care of her in the ER and that cousin Tori is there with her as well. Thankfully, Tori is part of the Patient Experience team at the hospital and knows everyone!
The Uber driver must have listened to the entire conversation because he puts the pedal to the medal, and we arrive in 40 minutes! An impossible feat especially dealing with midtown traffic…nonetheless, I am there in record time.
As I start to run out of the car before he entirely stops, the driver sends his best to my Mom and tells me that he would say a prayer for her. A moment of kindness, that I am grateful for. I charge into the ER and see some of my family members. The Frodos (this is the nickname for my Mom and her two sisters) have already begun to converge as they are apt to do during any emergency situation.
We all hug and kiss but before I walk into the room to see my Mom, my cousin Tori warns, “Chris, just be prepared that she is VERY swollen. Don’t get scared. They already intubated her.”
My Aunt Moo is beside me, along with Tony and Tori. As soon as I see my Mother, I feel my legs get weak, and I almost pass out. She looks like the elephant man. Her face is unrecognizable, and her body is twice her regular size. My Aunt holds me up, and I fight the tears. I walk over to my Mom and let her know I’m there. Trying my very best to be encouraging and not to fall into the despair that I feel.
By 3:30pm, they do a CT scan and report that the Gastro doctor didn’t tear her colon, he punctured the colon and there is a hole clear through it. The gases in her system are causing her to inflate which is inhibiting her ability to breathe.
They tell my Aunts and I, (Jackie had joined by this time) that they need to perform emergency colon surgery and will likely need to take part of her colon. There is no time to wait. Additionally, if they don’t stop the leak, the gases will move into her brain and potentially cause more damage. The surgeon says that the best-case scenario is that they reattach her colon during surgery. The worst-case is that she will have a colostomy bag for a few months and the surgeon will need to perform a second surgery to reattach it.
It’s hard to describe exactly how I felt at this moment. I was trying so hard to concentrate on the words, but all I heard was this relentless buzzing in my ears. My Aunts were both by my side and sharing my Mother’s medical history with the surgeon’s team. They noticed that I was struggling to remember the details and couldn’t respond.
After the CT scan, we all head back to the ER so she can get prepped for surgery. At this point, more family members show up, including my Uncle Jeff.
As I stand by my Mother’s side, holding her hand, fighting the tears that threaten to spill over, my Uncle Jeff tells me that Mr. Pizza is at the hospital. I did not react at all, it was as if I was deaf to his words.
Then my Uncle Tom (Aunt Moo’s husband) comes into the room and declares that Mr. Pizza is at the hospital. I whisper back, “OK.” Then my cousin Tony walks in and announces that Mr. Pizza is in the waiting room of the hospital (my family is nothing if not redundant. Lol).
OK!!!! OK! I got it, he’s fucking here (I scream in my head).
Finally, my Uncle Jeff comes back in the room and reminds me that Mr. Pizza is outside the ER room. I turn to my Uncle and shout, “I don’t give a shit that Mr. Pizza is here. I am focused on my Mother right now. He can fucking wait!”
Almost as soon as I complete my sentence, the doctors return to take my Mother to surgery. Everyone ignores what I just said and focus back on her. My Aunts and I accompany the ER transfer staff to the OR. Everyone else heads to the Surgery waiting area on the 2nd floor.
As we arrive at the doors to the OR, my heart sinks. We can’t go any further. My Aunts and I tell my Mom how much we love her and to be brave. Even though she is intubated, my Mother hears us and shakes her head, acknowledging our advice. At this point, we have not shared what happened, she does not know precisely what kind of surgery she is getting or the best and worst-case scenarios. With a chill, I think how she must feel trapped inside herself. Able to hear us but not able to respond or see us (her eyes were swollen shut at this point).
As they wheel her farther away and the doors shut, I feel my heart stretch out of my body toward her. I recognize this might be the last time I see my Mother alive. Both my Aunts hug me hard as the tears flow and I attempt to shake those thoughts from my mind.
As we join the rest of my family in the waiting room for the next 2-3 hours, I ask my Uncle where Mr. Pizza is. He tells me he’s sitting in the ER waiting room. He shares that Mr. Pizza didn’t feel comfortable coming up and would wait there instead.
I am furious! Now I have to hunt him down in another part of the fucking hospital. I ask a nurse to point me in the direction of the waiting room.
My head swirls with what I just experienced and all these frightful questions fill my mind: What if my Mom doesn’t make it out alive? What if she does and wakes up with a colostomy bag? What if something else happens? What if these doctors aren’t competent? It’s not like we were able to get multiple opinions before deciding what path to take. It was GO time! We didn’t have any time to process that my Mother’s stomach was about to be cut open and organs removed. The doctors in the hospital had to save her life; all we could do was pray.
As I get lost in the labyrinth of these thoughts, I realize I am going in circles and ask two more hospital staffers for directions. Again, they misdirect me. By this point, I am boiling and about to blow.
Finally, I find Mr. Pizza quietly sitting in a chair. My first words (or more like shrieks) to him were, “Why the FUCK didn’t you go up the waiting room with my family???”
Despite my nasty question, he gently responds, “I didn’t feel that it was respectful and wanted to give you time with them.” I’m way past boiling at this point, and I shout back, “so instead, you thought it would be a good idea to have me running all over this fucking hospital looking for you?”
He just looked at me silently with the kindest expression, which just annoyed me more. I say, “Let’s go outside, I need a cigarette!” (Yes, I know, I shouldn’t be smoking, but now is not the time to lecture me! Truth be told, I have quit again and not smoking for two weeks!)
As we head out the door, he walks behind giving me some space to release my anger. After Mr. Pizza lights, my cigarette (which wasn’t fast enough!) I inhale deeply.
Suddenly the reality strikes like lightning; I feel the wave of panic hit. Bending over with my hands on my knees, I hyperventilate and begin to cry hysterically. Mr. Pizza picks me up and wraps me in his embrace. Squeezing tightly, my body trembles in his arms.
Trying to catch my breath, I hear him whisper in my ear, “Baby, she’s strong. She will get through this.”
Hearing these words causes my body to convulse. I struggle to catch my breath. I look into his eyes and suddenly, it hits me. I realize how terribly rude and disrespectful I’ve been to him. Immediately, I apologize, “I am so very sorry for how I just acted, baby. There’s no excuse. Thank you so much for being here and for putting up with me.”
It’s at this moment, I realize what I’ve been missing most of my life. A loving, selfless, supportive partner that puts his own ego aside because he knows I am afraid and in pain. It’s not lost on me that I was a total asshole to the person who loves me this fiercely; who loves my ugly as much as my pretty.
I once told Mr. Pizza that loving him was similar to drinking from a “love firehose” after being in a desert for 10 years. It can be overwhelming and I needed to adjust to being loved so intensely and unconditionally.
What I learned from this moment, is that he loves me so much he chose to take the bullets I was firing and decided to be there because he knew I needed him. Without me even having to ask.
Luckily, my Mom’s surgery was successful! She is alive and kicking minus one foot of her colon. They were able to reattach her colon so there was no colostomy bag.
It was the best-case scenario, but it would still be a long and arduous recovery. Thankfully, she’s a strong woman and has an equally strong support system. I am deeply grateful to my family for being there for us to care for her and make her laugh, especially when she felt like crying.
It shouldn’t surprise you at this point that Mr. Pizza couldn’t do enough for us. As I stayed at my Mother’s house to help her while she recovered, he brought me clothes, food, and love. He supported and cared for me, as I cared for my Mom.
This is the encapsulation of Mr. Pizza. When my niece Liv Mazz (a fellow Daily Feels blogger), met Mr. Pizza I asked for her opinion. She turned to me, and thoughtfully responded, “His energy is…love. He’s the sweetest, kindest, funniest man!”
What’s even crazier, before my Mother got ill, MSP had the flu. Then, after my Mother’s surgery, I got the stomach flu followed by an ear and sinus infection. An unbelievable series of unlucky events.
As you can guess by now, Mr. Pizza was there 100% each time. Helped me take care of my Mom and MSP, and then took care of me. He got my meds, made homemade chicken soup, held me to keep me warm as my fever spiked. He was even in the bathroom with me while I puked my guts up for six hours straight. Never once, not for a second, did he worry about himself getting sick or about the inconvenience.
I have never been so needy, which made me extremely uncomfortable (I rarely get sick and almost never ask for help). And that was when the phrase “through sickness and in health” struck me. This was the worst two months I’ve had in a long time. Through it all, I could count on Mr. Pizza. He never faltered, in his care of me or those I love the most.
Following this crazy start to 2020, Mr. Pizza took me to St. John as my Valentine’s Day gift. While we watched the sunset from our balcony, he confessed that he wanted to spend his life with me.
HA! Don’t get too excited. This was not a proposal, more so it was a declaration of his love and his intentions. He told me that he was stuck with me, and that I was stuck with him…in sickness and in health. ‘Til death do us part.
And it was there, on that beautiful azure ocean, that I knew for certain, I couldn’t (nor did I want to) imagine my life without him.
While we are still new and the love is fresh, there is no doubt in my mind that we could get through the muck of life together; that we could survive and thrive as partners for life.
During my Mother’s recuperation, my Aunt Jackie stayed with her one weekend, so I could go home and take care of MSP. The day Aunt Jackie was heading back home, we accompanied my Mom to the surgeon to get her stitches out (21 staples to be specific). After she received a clean bill of health from her surgeon, the three of us went to celebrate over lunch.
Afterward, I drove my Aunt back to Brooklyn (she still lives in the house I grew up in!). On the drive there, we got to talking and she shared how much she and Uncle Frank liked Mr. Pizza. She said that she hasn’t seen me this happy in a long time, if ever.
Her words made my heart smile.
Then, she asked me, “Soooo, would you ever get married again?” I am not sure why she asked me this question, but the Mazzola sisters have a sixth sense about these things, and I figured there must be a good reason.
I remained quiet for a moment, considering what she said. I turned to her and answered, “If you asked me that question before I met Mr. Pizza, I would have said ABSOLUTELY NOT!”
SIDENOTE: After living through a tumultuous divorce, it never occurred to me that there would be another person I would want to formally commit to.
“BUT!!!!” I continued, “BUT if you asked me more specifically, would I marry Mr. Pizza? My answer would be YES, I would absolutely marry that man.”
Daily Feelers, I am thrilled and filled with pride to introduce you to Mr. Pizza, BEFORE the havoc of the new year illnesses. New Year’s Eve 2019.
This is my Valentine and I in St. John. February 19th, AFTER the sickness episodes.
Cherry Maggiore is the proud single mom of her 10-year-old super-sassy daughter (aka Miss Sassy Pants or MSP); in addition to being an award-winning senior marketing executive at NBCUniversal.
Beside her side hustle as the Freak of Nurture, she also started a home design company after being inspired by renovating and designing her 1880’s home in NJ.
This insanely curious and passionate “multi-potentialite” can be found dancing the Argentinan tango, swing and Hustle every Saturday, cooking her family an Italian Sunday dinner, singing and air drumming at concerts or searching for her next adventure