Yesterday my mother left the Bozeman Deaconess hospital and went to a nursing home. The week before she fell on the way to a radiation appointment. The fall was serious enough to put her back in the hospital. The poor woman has been in and out of hospitals for six months. She has terminal brain cancer and is about half way through her radiation treatments. When her radiation and chemotherapy treatments end the focus will be on keeping her comfortable and pain-free until she dies.
My mother’s mental state is up and down. The tumor started near her speech centers on the left side of her brain. The surgeons managed to remove most of the tumor and the radiation and chemo have kept the remnant in check. Unfortunately, the cancer and surgery have impaired her speech and memory. She cannot reliably recall her birthday or tell us what year it is. Sometimes she cannot recall why she is in the rest home and her sense of time is out of whack. Today she was asking for her own mother: a woman who died six years ago.
People have mixed feelings about losing your mind when you’re close to death. Some say it’s a blessing. It takes away the fear and blunts oppressive anxiety. Others feel it’s a premature death. What’s the point of living if you cannot remember your life? I’ve watched Alzheimer’s drain people from the inside out leaving breathing hulks where sentient beings once dwelled. Brain cancer is faster but it seldom dulls the fear and comes with a menagerie of cognitive deficits. Believe me sudden unexpected death has many benefits.
One thing is clear, don’t expect your golden years to unfurl like some idiotic AARP or Viagra commercial. Forget about banging hotties or gathering around the campfire with a horde of cute grandchildren. You’ll be lucky to get out of bed for bowel movements. Old people smell is a real mixture of loaded adult diapers and stale body odor. Live now — there’s always time for death.
Visiting hospitals is almost as tiring as staying in them. For the last few days my siblings and I have taken turns spending the night with our mother in the Bozeman Deaconess’s palliative care ward. She is terminally ill and doesn’t want to be alone. Keeping her company is about the only thing we can do for her. I am pecking out this blog entry on my phone while my mum sleeps. It’s her sole break these days.
About two months ago my mother was diagnosed with stage four Glioblastoma Multiforme a nasty aggressive terminal brain cancer. I was terribly upset when I first learned of her illness. This cancer is utterly lethal. If it doesn’t kill you it’s because something else gets you first. In black humor circles this cancer is called “the terminator” and unlike Arnold’s robot this terminator cannot be crushed in a machine press.
We’re all adjusting to this new reality in our own ways. I have been surprised at the excessively decent behavior of my greater family, my in-laws and even my “outlaws.” My long divorced first wife, a Canadian physician, made the trip from eastern Canada, to help my parents. My dad said, “that was darn decent of her,” and it was. My younger brother has shown an ability to care for others that we never noticed before. He is determined to see mom live as long as possible. My chaotic sister has a very effective bedside manner. She’s been brushing my mother’s teeth and fussing with her scarves and hair. My dad, never noted for doling out care, is spending long hours sitting and talking with mom. My wife, currently tied down in Toronto with her own demented mother, is more upset about my mom than I am. Her sisters are encouraging her to let them look after their mum so she can get west to see mine. Everyone has shown compassion and concern. I may have to reassess my negative view of mankind.
As for myself, I had a few teary moments when I first heard the news, but I have recovered my phlegmatic state. Right now I am more tired than sad. I expect to grieve and mourn soon enough. For now I will keep my mother company and try to steal a few hours of sleep on the bench beside her bed.