syzygy_dw: (11 Thursdays)
[personal profile] syzygy_dw
This time ten years ago, I was on a plane. 

I was flying from Edmonton to Montreal, via Chicago. I had two huge suitcases and a backpack containing all the stuff I hadn't had put in storage with a moving company, or pre-shipped to my best friend, whose back room I would be moving into that night. I had had a miserable three years in Edmonton. I had just lost yet another shitty job, and I couldn't face looking for another one in that city.  At the same time, my mother was sick, and possibly dying. What had started out as a Christmas trip home had turned into a move.

I spent the long, complicated flight home alternately elated that I was moving back to my city, and freaking out because my mother was so sick. I had received a tearful phone call from my dad that morning, before I headed out to the airport. Mom's condition was so bad that the doctors were afraid for her life. 

My friend Wendy and her boyfriend met me at the airport. We didn't stop at her place to drop off my bags, opting to go straight to the hospital instead. Wendy warned me that my mother was in bad shape. There were Christmas carols playing on the radio. 

I won't ever forget that first sight of my mother. She was lying in the hospital bed, barely conscious. Her hair was wild and dirty, and her skin was a waxy yellow. It was hanging off her body, because she had lost so much weight. At 58, she was the youngest person in her shared room by about 20 years, but she looked like she was the oldest. Her speech was weak and slurred, probably from the morphine drip. And there was a smell. I won't ever forget the smell, either. 

I asked my dad what had happened. I had heard from Wendy and my brother that Mom was sick, but I had no idea it was this bad. The last time I had spoken to her, she had sounded weak, but fine otherwise. She said she felt fine. The others knew she was sick, but not what was wrong, and since my mother hated doctors and hospitals so much, nobody had been able to convince her to go. It wasn't until she was bedridden, wearing Depends, and so weak she could barely move that my father finally listened to what everyone else was telling him and took her to the emergency room. The first doctor to see her diagnosed breast cancer, but also admonished my jaundiced mother for drinking too much. Luckily, she was sent to another hospital for tests before her scheduled double mastectomy, where it was discovered that not only did she not have breast cancer, but that her liver was several sizes larger than normal. She had a raging liver infection. If my father had waited even one more day, my mother would have died. 

Dad told me this in the hallway outside Mom's room. I got so upset at him for waiting so long that I yelled at him, and I hit him in the chest. I have never struck either of my parents before or since, but if I could have slapped my mother too, I would have. How could they spend weeks, maybe months, denying that there was a problem? Could they not see it? I could hear it over the phone, because every time every time I spoke to her, my mother had said "Hey, guess what, I've lost more weight!" That much weight loss is not normal. I could understand my mom being in denial, but how could Dad not have told me she was so sick? Was he in denial too, or had he been lying to me?

I spent some time talking to the doctors, and they explained things to me as well as they could. Mom had nine drains in her liver (hence the smell), was on some serious antibiotics, and was looking at least a month in hospital, if she managed to survive the next few days. 

After a few hours at the hospital, Wendy and her boyfriend took me to my new home, where I was reunited with my cat. (I had air mailed her to Montreal a week or so earlier.) Wendy, her boyfriend and I split a bottle of wine. I went to bed, which was a mattress on the floor of Wendy's back room, but it took a long time to get to sleep. 

The next few days are a bit of a blur. I remember visiting Wendy's friend, exploring the neighbourhood a bit, re-connecting with a few friends and my brother. But mostly I remember the hospital. I remember my dad being sad and unkempt. I remember joking with the nurses on Christmas Day. I remember opening presents around Mom's hospital bed with my father, brother, my brother's girlfriend, Wendy, and her boyfriend. I remember a nurse coming in with a cart, and asking "Who's for the morphine?" and us all raising our hands. 

Mom slowly recovered. She got some of her spirit back just after New Year's, and was sitting up not long after. She was still on morphine though, and one day I walked in to discover her working on one of the crossword books I brought her. She was so stoned that she had forgotten how pencils work, and couldn't figure out how to get her pencil to connect to the paper. So for a while I filled in the answers for her. I brought her illicit jellybeans, because she craved them (I rationed them out a few at a time). I got her a little Christmas tree for her nightstand. I found her books and magazines and listened to her complain about her roommates. 


Mom was in the hospital, I was getting constant guilt tripping from my dad about not visiting her enough, I was sleeping on someone's floor, and I had to find a job. I thought I was holding it together pretty well, but my friends recognized that I was going spare, so they took me out one night to decompress. They took me a karaoke bar in the gay village. I was adamant about needing to be very, very drunk if they wanted me to get on stage to sing, so they lined shots up along the table edge. When I was properly sloshed, we went up, sang "That's Life" and I ran downstairs to hurl as soon as we were done. A drag queen held back my hair for me, and asked "You OK, Sugar-pie?" It was the first time I had ever been so drunk that I was sick, but in retrospect, I needed that.  


Mom spent almost six weeks in hospital. Her doctors were amazed at her recovery. She went home with a walker and a pile of meds, fully recovered but weak. Within two weeks, she was using a cane, tottering around and looking like Jack Skellington due to the weight loss. She slowly started to gain some of the weight back (and resented every pound). She got better.  

Two things came out of my mom's illness, one bad, one good. Somehow, the liver infection caused her to slowly lose her vision. Well, I say slowly. She had diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration, and managed to get the same amount of damage that most diabetics get over five years or more in less than 12 months. These days she has about 7% vision, and has a guide dog. She's a bit of a shut-in because of the loss of independence, especially in the winter, and laments that she can't do things like read or knit or cook. She has developed diabetes (which she was treated for in the hospital, but only diagnosed with about four years ago), although she manages it really well. 

The other thing that happened is that she also managed to stop smoking. Mom smoked for 47 years, but while she was on morphine, she didn't notice any cravings or nic fits. The first thing she did when she left the hospital was light up a cigarette, take a drag, and almost puke. She hasn't touched another cigarette in 10 years.  (I do not recommend her method of quitting.)

Oh, and now? Mom goes to the doctor when she's sick. You're damn right she does.


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