Posts Tagged ‘not safe for mom (nsfm)’

at the grave’s portals.

26 January 2009

for years, friday has been date night for my parents. each week they go to dinner and see a movie or attend a concert. this past friday, a nurse brought flowers into my mom’s room in acknowledgement of the ritual.

this morning i returned home for a few hours of sleep because the recliner at beacon place doesn’t encourage restful nights, my dad relieving me at my mom’s side as he has for each of the last sixteen mornings. after tucking myself in, i received a phone call asking me to return. he told me not to speed.

it had been less than an hour since i’d seen her but things had changed drastically. she was the color of untrodden snow, of milk, of ghosts. she died within five minutes of my arrival, at twelve sixteen, with the three of us holding her. after waiting for over a minute until her next breath, someone said, i think… and someone else didn’t let that sentence run to completion, interrupting, yeah. someone said, what do we do now? wondering if we need to contact a nurse, but also meaning, how do we continue living after this?

look, i don’t want to think about the present or talk about the future, so i’m going to go back to december, to a hospital room where i was looking up songs with my mother’s name in them. the problem is the majority portray her namesake as being bibulous and/or loose. i explained this to her and, as a sort of apology, added, love hurts. i then looked up the words to the nazareth song.

after finding them, prepared to sing, i lifted my head from the screen. she was already mouthing the lyrics and gesturing, fist pumping.


approaching the speed of light.

23 January 2009

this is the fourteenth consecutive night that my sister has stayed at beacon place with my mother, while i’ve slept here about eight of those nights. yesterday a nurse suggested we contact my father, due to my mom’s staggered respiration and pallor. her skin feels dry and pebbled, like an ostrich with its feathers plucked. we wait for the next breath, sometimes fifty seconds elapse between, her chest becoming concave with the effort, every fiber strained to capacity to produce a single inhalation. she wasn’t supposed to survive a week, and now it’s been two.

we lie to ourselves, pretending she’s still aware of our presence, so every wince becomes a smile, every spasm becomes a grasped hand. sometimes her eyes open and frantically dance around the room, glossy and confused, frightened, blind. a pump, with a trigger active every eight minutes, releases a bolus of dilaudid. ativan is administered to (somewhat) calm involuntary muscle twitches. eventually she falls asleep again, peacefully. and we wait, deep furrows forming on our foreheads.

the last movement of hers that i can unequivocally rule as natural and controlled occurred earlier this week when i leaned in for a kiss before leaving the room. she pursed her lips to meet mine.

to the lighthouse.

10 January 2009

my mom was taken by ambulance to beacon place, leaving home for the last time. all the rooms are named after lighthouses, hers after one in key west. by the front door, there is a glass cylinder filled with pebbles, each one representing someone who died there last year. a similar glass vessel collects stones from the current year. i tried to create a math formula using the number of beds (fourteen) and the number of elapsed days in 2009 (nine), but all the calculations were too depressing even before factoring in the number of polished death-pebbles (a lot).

william faulkner writes, in the wild palms, between grief and nothing, i will take grief. i agree with his choice, however difficult it is to face at the moment.

the shadows go their way.

7 January 2009

i don’t know what to tell acquaintances when they ask about my mother. i mean, when a neighbor shouts from their driveway while you’re taking the garbage to the curb, can you say anything other then, oh, she’s doing okay? even when they continue to look at you, waiting for more information, decorum probably dictates that you nod a few times as you utter a cliche like we have to take each day as it comes.

at any rate, you cannot tell them the truth. you cannot say that earlier you kissed her lips, and, for the rest of the day, a pungent smell lingers regardless of the number of times you bathe. it hangs over you like a cloud, following you into your car, making itself known in line at the grocery store or while watching a movie with your sister or while having sex with your girlfriend. you don’t want to acknowledge its presence, but that is impossible, as your pores seem to secrete it. it is the scent of decay.

the specters return.

6 January 2009

sitting with my mother, i’ve been silently reading about my grandmother’s death. though i wrote those entries over six years ago, they’re poignant and prescient.

it seems disingenuous and lazy to merely offer links to the former posts, so i’ll do the next worst thing and reprint, minus a few melodramatic sentences about pain winding through the corridors of the heart, a large section that highlights the similarities.

in hospitals, the staff operates at twice normal speed, while everything else moves at a much slower rate than usual. the digital clocks display seconds to help our brains register that change. i trained my eyes on the wall, promising i wouldn’t look away until one second became the next. my contacts dried out and my sight worsened before anything happened. tenths and hundredths became palpable. molecules, heavy with unpleasant scents, hang everywhere, permeating clothes and hair, acting as constant reminders. is she squeezing my hand or is it a cruel trick played by imagination?

sometimes her eyes shone with recognition. she craned her neck to see the person who was talking, the corners of her mouth rising into a not-quite-smile, but at-least-not-frown.

please don’t think of me as terrible and selfish during the times i wanted to separate us, with the densest wall, when her eyes closed tightly until tears ran across her cheeks to her hair. she clenched her stomach and held her breath, the alarms sounding on the ventilator. a tracheostomy ensured that her words remained trapped. she mouthed replies to our questions; we pretended to hear answers, nodding in satisfaction, attempting to mask our thoughts.

i’m not sure where one goes from this point. might i, six years and three months in the future, be in the same position as my mother is in the present and her mother was six years and three months in the past? before anyone assures me that the pattern effects only females (by the way, you’re making my sister cry), i’ll point out that my maternal grandfather also died young, i just wasn’t old enough to document it.

albert camus began writing his autobiographical final novel the first man after visiting his father’s grave. the idea that he was older than his father had ever been struck him as perverse, as if he had now become his father’s father. it left him feeling isolated. he saw himself, like adam, as the origin of the species, whose creator was more a concept than anything else, an amalgamation of memories, some real, many imagined.

i’ve thought about how i’m assuming this role, as my maker’s maker, and how i owe it to her to be as accurate as possible in my recollections, even when it causes pain to wind through the corridors of my heart. again, narcissistically quoting myself:

suddenly every detail seems significant. it is unfortunate that real time doesn’t function by the same constraints as hospital time, allowing me to take notice.

candles burned at both ends.

4 January 2009

two years ago on this date my mother received her initial diagnosis of cancer. my family treated it, as we do all hardships, with alacrity. treatment was just a part of life, to be weathered like anything else, and we’d greet each other on the opposite side, healthier and stronger. honestly, why shouldn’t one be optimistic when the experts are saying, minor and full recovery? i won’t pretend, however, that their opinions held much weight in relevance to our behavior, because, whatever the prognosis, it didn’t fundamentally change who we were. we proceeded with caution, certainly, but with what some may view as levity but could more accurately be attributed to keen senses of humor and the inability to censor one’s thoughts before verbalizing them. plus, the ghost of richard carlson advised us that no stuff was worth our sweat.

on trips to the cancer center for radiation and chemotherapy, my dad for prostate and my mom for tonsilar, they joked that they were taking their marriage vows too seriously and, perhaps, they didn’t have to do absolutely everything together. aside from my mother ordering only soup at restaurants for months, nothing substantial changed: i visited from time to time and talked to her on the phone frequently. then my dad was cured. then she was cured.

today, sitting next to her on the bed, my mother, whom eight months previously, a couple days before she had surgery to remove her larnyx which would render her mute, confided, i don’t like the sound of my voice anyway, passed me a handwritten note. in it she told us that she couldn’t fight any longer. she recognized that continued treatment was only making her weaker, thus she was canceling all scheduled appointments. she ended with, you need to be strong.

today is my thirteith birthday.

nil per os.

20 December 2008

while writing yesterday’s post i had two memories which didn’t fit within its constraints. i’ll list them now.

1. after sleeping most of the day, my mom got out of bed and wandered downstairs without our knowing (my aunt and i had gone into the other room). when we went to look for her, she was at the bottom of the stairs, carrying a tray with three glasses of orange juice and fighting off my dad who wanted to help her back up to bed. we hesitated and gave her space, watching her take each step gingerly, trembling like an autumn leaf. she relinquished the tray only after sitting on the edge of the bed. it took all her strength, and, once she finished chiding us for not believing in her, fell back asleep.

2. about a week ago, my mom broke her almost yearlong sobriety with a rum and coke. when i went to toast her with my own glass, i noticed hers was empty, then realized that she tipped her glass toward mine only because she wanted a refill. she put her hand to her mouth as if to conceal giggling.

goldenrod and the 4-h stone.

19 December 2008

1. last week a stuffed animal, pencillin, arrived from giant microbes for my mom. she’s allergic to the actual antibiotic so i figured she’d enjoy a plush version, which she has affectionately named penny. it rests on a machine used to suction mucus from the opening in her trachea.

2. today i brought her blueberry juice from trader joe’s. she doesn’t drink liquids by mouth regularly, due to the complications with her feeding tubes, but has recently craved juices to determine whether her sense of taste has improved. pear wasn’t strong enough. if nothing else she’ll appreciate the irony of drinking such an antioxidant-rich beverage.

3. for christmas i’m giving her a copy of the stone diaries by carol shields. the book is a fictional autobiography of a woman whose mother dies during childbirth. from there, her life continues rather ordinarily (she marries, has children, grows older), but as we examine her resiliency through difficult times, we understood that she is vibrant and inspirational. true, that’s pretty much the idea behind all of carol shields’s books, but this is presumably her best.

memories of beauty.

11 December 2008

1. every three hours a nurse pricks my mother’s finger to determine whether a dose (or more) of insulin is necessary, and she, smiling in an impish manner, often offers her raised middle finger for the sample. after weeks of this regimen, her fingertips are peppered with circular gray bruises.

2. upon seeing her newly-shaven head i remarked that she resembled the thirty-fourth president of the united states, dwight eisenhower, who ironically entered office in the year of her birth. i’ve since stopped calling her ike in favor of my peach.

3. sometimes you wonder if these images will be the ones that are stored in your head. you worry that maybe a barrier has been erected, like early christians not remembering a world before christ’s birth.

the doctors’ worries.

7 December 2008

the hospital uses a variation of the wong-baker faces scale to measure pain, from one (happy) to ten (hurts real bad). the scale, as can be seen in the link, offers drawings of faces to make quantifying pain easier. honestly, though, having the pictorial representations (and words, for that matter), makes it more difficult. i have problems with everything from the idea that someone can’t be happy but still in pain to the use of the adjective real rather than the adverb really to tears only being present with the highest amount of pain (perhaps i’m a wimp, but i cry often when my pain reaches a three), but i guess this isn’t the point.

until recently, my mom could measure her pain on one hand after being given an additional dose of medication, but increasingly infrequent are the times when it dips below a seven now. seven has become the goal, the nadir, manageable.

i’ve been thinking a lot about pain tolerances. for instance, how would she rate the worst pain i’ve endured in my life? during baseball practice, from the pitcher’s mound, i tried to catch a line drive with my bare hand and dislocated my right ring finger, but i’m inclined to score this pretty low on the scale, even if my face resembled the guy in the final stage, since i went back onto the field to play first base after my dad popped it back in place. other injuries occured too early in my youth to trust any memories associated with them.

also, if seven is her baseline, how long could i continue with even a five or, god forbid, six before submitting? to get an idea of her threshold and how they might compare with mine, i researched her medication, specifically a fentanyl pain patch which remains effective for seventy-two hours, and its recreational use, of which, thankfully, many interpid souls have experimented and documented on the internet.

first, let me explain that it’s eighty times more potent than morphine. in some places it’s sold as heroin, leading to overdoses, as it’s hundreds of times more potent and produces significantly worse respiratory depression. those that had used it reported hours of drooling, shortness of breath, and other unpleasantries, namely, replacing heroin’s euphoria with sedation, and cautioned others from following their lead, detailing how easy it was to overdose.

as i read more, in some shock (a four on the shock scale, perhaps) at what my mom is enduring, i realized something that quickly increased the shock to nine (the only reason it wasn’t higher is because i’m not one of those people who believes that one can exceed the boundaries of a scale (that is, i cannot possibly give 110%) and because i am one of those people who is too fearful to speak in extremes): none of the accounts mentioned more than a fifty microgram patch.

certainly much can be said about my mother’s opiod dependence by this time in her treatment, but i think it says more about her tenacity and spirit (and her inhuman ability to withstand pain) that she continues to communicate (and joke) with us even though one hundred and fifty micrograms of fentanyl are being released hourly from her body fats into her blood stream.

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