the barbarian invasions.

because i’m not one to mince words, i’ll just come out and say it: my mom is dying. currently i sit next to her, holding her hand intermittently, as she sleeps in a hospital bed.

seven months ago she had surgery, the worst possible outcome of which, we were told, was the removal of her voice box. the night before, my family stayed in a hotel room in winston-salem across from the hospital, creating characters on the wii and talking about the future. in february, in town for training with the red cross, she had taken me to dinner — brick-oven pizza — which she ingested with only minor difficulty (noteworthy because much of the year before, while she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, had been spent on a feeding tube and, directly afterward, solid foods, especially something as dry as pizza crust, were impossible to eat). for the next several months, leading up to the aforementioned may surgery, i drove to greensboro frequently, about every other week, her cough becoming more persistent and her throat growing increasingly scratchier with each visit.

in the waiting room, we received updates from a wall of red phones. at the end of each call the doctor would tell us when to expect the next one. the actual call always came thirty or forty minutes after the specified time. the rhythm was comforting, so there was a sense of foreboding when we received word that evening that news would be coming much earlier than indicated. a few minutes later i learned that the saddest word in the english language is impasse. what had once been deemed the worst possible outcome was now a pipedream. the cancer cells were everywhere — the lymph nodes, salivary glands, tongue, imbeded in tissues out of reach of scalpels and lasers and whatever other instruments doctors use. she was given twelve to twenty-four months to live. following fifteen hours of surgery, the first thing she wrote was, are they still talking about it as a cure? it was a couple of weeks before anyone could answer her honestly, though it was quite obvious she already knew her prognosis by then.

after two months recuperating in the hospital she returned home with a collection of machines that, when running, sound like a muffled hurricane or a freight train running on foam rails. there was a mortar and pestle for grinding medicines, a long set of tweezers for retrieving blood clots and pockets of phelgm from the opening in her throat, and cans upon cans of high-protein, high-electrolyte food. a skin graft had been taken from her left wrist to rebuild the base of her tongue, creating a rectangular scar (during a hospital stay, a nurse would ask, oh, honey, did you hurt yourself? as if my mom had attempted suicide by cutting a box into her arm).

three weeks ago she checked back into the hospital as a fifth or sixth feeding tube had failed. she remains, a surgery planned for the morning and then, hopefully, a return home at the end of the week, after an eight-hour chemotherapy session on thursday. recently they’ve told her that the cancer has spread to her spine and hip, and that her life expectancy can be measured in weeks.

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2 Responses to “the barbarian invasions.”

  1. RB Says:

    My Dad’s last words to me were written on a napkin, he was on a ventilator, a piece of his face was missing from melanoma, lung cancer had ravaged his body, the light in the hospital room was always yellow, and I found the blue polka dots on his gown to be menacing for some reason.
    It said “Big Mac?”
    then – I love you .
    He was 51 and that’s about how many freckles jumped off of him and onto me.

    When I think back to burning up the highways for each – this could be his last night moments, I remember how taxing it was on my soul and how I got lost in auto-pilot. Call family. Pay his bills. Water the Cat. Sign the DNR. Watch him sleep. I never asked any weird questions…like if actually believed we went to the moon, or if my dog really did go to a “farm”, or how he knew he was in love. So that’s my advice, ask some weird questions. Be random.

  2. Jessica Says:

    I’m sorry to hear your mom’s taken a turn for the worse. I wish there was something I could say that might actually be comforting.

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