#295 In which our hero discusses his mother and her declining health.
My mom is in the hospital.
She had been running a fever, off and on, for about 10 days, she told me. I talked to her on Thursday last week, and she was going to the doctor (again) the following day. When she did, the doctor decided it was best to admit her.
My mother is 78 and, even though no-one really ever talks about it, she is in declining health. She was always very active, playing golf, participating in bowling leagues, teaching swimming lessons… my mother isn’t the kind of person to just sit around and watch TV. Even as she got older she stayed busy with more golf, garden club, her church, meals on wheels, band boosters and the like. Maybe she slowed down a little, but it was hardly noticeable.
Mom also smoked for most of her life. She didn’t stop until after my dad died in 1993. Even then, she only quit because she was getting sick and having breathing issues. And even thought that gives her close to 20 years as a non-smoker, the damage has already been done.
Mom has COPD, and it’s really limited what she can do. She starting having breathing issues several years ago (this is after she quit smoking) and a series of doctors tried a series of things to help her. It got to the point where she was using bottled oxygen any time she exerted herself. Then it got to the point where she had use her oxygen at night while she slept. Now, mom uses oxygen all the time. She was a big machine that somehow concentrates oxygen in the air, and she’s connected to it via a long tube. Whenever she goes out, she brings along a small bottle of oxygen.
The COPD has also made mom more susceptible to breathing/lung problems, most notably pneumonia. Two winters ago mom had a really bad case of pneumonia and ended up in the hospital for two weeks. That was scary.
This last winter she made a concerted effort to avoid people/situations that might make her sick. She was basically a shut-in all winter. She managed to avoid pneumonia, but for an active and incredibly social creature like my mom, it was really tough.
So when mom told me she was being admitted, I assumed it was pneumonia again. And I was right… she did have a patch of pneumonia in her right lung.
When she hadn’t told me, up to this point, is that her doctor also found something worrying in her left lung. Something that looked a lot like a malignant tumor.
Mom had a PET Scan that showed something was definitely there. I found out later that one of her doctors told her that it was most likely lung cancer. She played it cool with me, only telling me that no-one knew for sure what it is.
It’s almost funny that mom is still trying to protect me from bad news, even though I’m 41 years old.
The plan was to stabilize her, try to get the fever under control, then do a needle biopsy of the area to find out for sure what it was. Again, mom played it cool. But I think she was really scared about the biopsy. I have to believe that any hardcore smoker is just waiting for the day they’re told they have lung cancer… and mom thought her day had come.
I got all of this info on Friday. I wanted to get down and visit mom, but I was out of town all day Saturday. So I drove down Sunday afternoon.
Mom looked kinda bad.
Not death’s door bad or anything, but not good. Mostly because mom is always pretty fastidious about her appearance, especially her hair. But her fair was a mess when I got there, and she was hooked up to various tubes and wires. She was tired, but in decent spirits, all things considered.
There was no news to report. Her doctor was going to talk to her on Monday and, most likely, the biopsy would be preformed on Tuesday.
So we sat and chatted. I don’t know what you’re supposed to talk about with a person who possibly has a fatal condition, but mom and I talked about a variety of things, including my children, my achy hands, her lawn, and how she believed the doctors wanted to do more tests just to run up her bill.
We also talked about Christmas. This has been a hot topic between my sisters and I recently. My sisters and I are spread across three states and two continents, so everyone getting together at once is a rare occasion. But we always make sure that someone is with mom over the holidays; either at her house or at one of ours. This has become more challenging recently as mom’s health gets worse.
I’m the closest to mom, and it often falls to me to be with her for Christmas. Which is usually fine, but this year we’re taking the kids to California to spend Christmas with The Scientist’s side of the family. Plus, we’re taking the girls to Disneyland for the first time. It should be a fantastic trip. But that means that I’m out of the equation for Christmas visits.
There’s a very real chance that mom might be alone for Christmas.
Well, that’s not true, really. My middle sister has been talking to mom’s one neighbor and they assure her that mom can spend Christmas with them. But it’s still not the same.
Mom got a little melancholy when we were talking about Christmas. She told me she was just going to give everyone a check, and we could buy whatever we wanted with it. This is a simple, sensible solution in my mind, and mom’s done this for the past five years or so. It never occurred to me that mom would rather shop, if she could.
She told me that Christmas shopping just hasn’t been the same since my father died (this was in 1993). She told me how much fun they had creating Christmas lists, then going out shopping, then hiding the presents from us kids.
This was a bit of a shocker to me. By the time I was old enough to really take stock of my parents’ marriage, then had been married 25 years or more. They never seemed UNhappy to me, but they never really struck me as being really happily in love, either. They just were my parents and they did more things apart then they did together. That’s just the way it was.
To imagine them laughing and fooling around as they shopped for their kids’ Christmas presents… I have a hard time imagining it.
But I do know what it’s like to shop with my wife, and we most certainly do laugh and fool around and have a good time. To have that, then to have my wife die and have to face Christmas shopping alone…? I don’t know whereas I could face it. Maybe that’s why mom just started giving us money.
Mom also mentioned how she didn’t want to end up on a machine. “If something goes wrong,” she said, “Just toss me out with the trash.”
I don’t think mom is giving up on life. But she is facing the end of her, and that cannot be fun. “I’ve had a good life,” she told me. “But the last two years have been shitty.”
Driving home I was sad. Not so much at the prospect of losing my mother, but more I’m sad that my mother, the active, sometimes obnoxious, tends-to-drink-too-much-at-parties social butterfly is stuck in a hospital bed, alone.