Hope you’re all doing well. This excerpt is about recent events, as most of you are aware…
In the early morning of March 21st, the day my husband would accompany me to receive the results of my scan, we received a call from the doctor at the hospital where my mother-in-law was being held since the previous Monday. “How is she?” I asked, after he introduced himself.
“Oh, no.” I thought the doctor was calling to say she had passed away. I quickly passed the telephone to Mariano. Instead of announcing what I had feared the most for her, the doctor wanted permission to commence stage 4 care, so she would be more comfortable.
My mother-in-law never had excruciating pain – or she never led on how much she was really suffering – and the prior evening, she had struggled to express to her son, “Don’t let them give me that medicine that makes you…” She was too tired and weak to continue, but waved her arm as best she could, signalling the unconscious and vulnerable state she refused to be in.
Since she hadn’t been in too much pain, and the doctor was giving her some medicine already that seemed to keep the pain she did have under control, Mariano told the doctor, “I’d like to come in and see how she is, before I decide to give her morphine.”
It was only 6:40 a.m., so when he hung up with the doctor, I told him, “Why don’t you go to the hospital, and I’ll go to my appointment alone.”
Now, despite the fact that I have gone to my result-appointments alone for several years, this time felt different. For over a month-and-a-half, I was experiencing pain in my esophagus, a pain only Mariano and Isabella were aware of, that led to concerns about recurrence. Then, I realized I had never had this particular pain before. It consisted of tenderness and irritation on the inside, even pain while eating increased. I kept having to unhook my brassiere to relieve some of the pressure in the area. About one week before I realized I had the pain, my daughter and I were in what seemed like a small car accident. But, even after a month-and-a-half later, she is still suffering from whiplash symptoms, and I still have neck and back pain as well. I began to question if the pain in my thorax was related to the accident. Could it have been?
It doesn’t make sense. Aside from the pressure of moving forward and back in our seats as a result of the two rear hits, Isabella and I didn’t actually hit any part of the dash. Although the muffler was pushed down to the ground and hung by a thread, and the bumper had a large crack, you wouldn’t think we would have received such an impact.
All this to say, I didn’t want to be alone to receive my scan results this year. But the way things sounded for Mariano’s mother, I was ready to deal with it on my own. His mother’s situation needed immediate attention.
“How long can it take at your appointment?”
“I’m not sure. I’m one of the first patients, so it shouldn’t take long. But if you need to go, I’ll just leave earlier so I have time to find parking.”
“No, it’s ok. We’ll stop by on the way back.”
When we arrived at the hospital that is following me, I went in for my lung X-Ray, while Mariano looked for parking. My surgeon wants to see the X-Ray before each visit. Since all tests and reports are on a server, they can be accessed immediately.
I was called after about thirty minutes (since I was forced earlier to go to admissions to renew my hospital card, waiting time passed quickly), so we headed to room 16 to meet with the surgeon. There, we waited again a few minutes so the doctor could finish with the patient in room 18. He rotates between three visitor rooms, and his assistant keeps things rolling from the center desk in that sectioned-off clinic.
The surgeon always walks in with a friendly, “Hello, how are you?” during this one-day-a-week clinic to give each patient good or bad news. Room to room, you might hear some of those results, since he doesn’t close the door.
I suggested that Mariano ask my surgeon about the stage 4 care his mother’s doctor recommended, and he agreed. I thought his decision process may be easier and his perspective clarified if he learned more about the protocol.
My doctor reviewed the online lung X-Ray, but didn’t see the technician’s report for the abdominal and thorax scans. He opened up the scan pictures and scrolled through the images. “I don’t see anything obvious, but I’m not the expert.”
I explained the pain that recently began, and, as expected, he said, “You have always had pain.”
“This pain is different.”
He gave me a physical exam, but didn’t find anything worrisome.
“My family doctor showed me where he felt something in the abdomen, and said that if I was not scheduled for a scan already, he would request one – especially considering my history.”
The discomfort as my family doctor pressed on the ribcage where my brassiere rests, was also very evident. Then he directed my hand to the lump in the center of the abdomen, right below the ribcage, where the stomach used to be. There was definitely something large and rounded, but the pressure created more pain, so the investigation was brief. I took his word for it. When I needed to show my surgeon the lump, I couldn’t point it out.
“So, there are two things here.” My family doctor had explained that brassieres can cause chest pain. “Some women feel like they’re having a heart attack.” Wow! But he was genuinely concerned about what he felt in my abdomen. “Go see your surgeon about this, and let me know…” He quickly added, “…the next time I see you.” I wonder if his attitude toward this issue didn’t give me more to worry about than need be. But better to worry for nothing, than to have real reason to.
“So since I don’t have the official report, you’ll have to return for the results.” It was the only way to rule anything out.
I wasn’t sure if I should be relieved. He didn’t have a specific concern about the pictures, but still wanted the report to confirm anything he couldn’t see.
Before we headed out, I gestured to Mariano to ask the surgeon about his mother’s situation. The doctor confirmed that it is indeed the point where doctors realize the patient is in final stages, and they want to be sure the patients are not in pain, so they will administer morphine to keep them comfortable.
It was so sad to see that Mariano had come to understand that he was losing his mother. Throughout the recent months, I got the impression that he may not have wanted to see the truth about this mother’s destiny, regardless of her age. For that reason, I felt I should continue accompanying them to her appointments with the oncologist. I know how difficult it was for him, and although he wouldn’t ask me directly, I know he wanted me there. When we knew about the progression of her cancer, I asked his mother directly if she wanted me to accompany her for her doctor visits. “Of course, I do. You don’t even have to ask.”
Mariano’s eyes watered as the doctor went on about end-of-life protocol, and he needed no further confirmation. As he walked out ahead of me, the assistant and another woman speaking with her, looked perplexed by Mariano’s reaction to the visit with my surgeon. The assistant likely knows the patients’ results, so she wondered why he was crying. Even I reacted when he turned to me with red eyes and face, and tears trailing down, “They think this is because of you.” He smiled.
We walked out of the hospital and headed to the car. “My cell is dying,” Mariano said – a common occurrence for him. He barely uses his cell phone, so he doesn’t think of charging it overnight.
As we approached the hospital on the return from my appointment, Mariano offered to drop me off near the entrance before passing it. “…so you don’t have to walk.”
Parking in the hospital lot was twenty to thirty dollars, so Mariano always parked on the road (what a nuisance to have to do this constantly). Finding a parking spot near this particular hospital was frustrating, because there were few areas where you were allowed to park.
I walked through the front doors, sprayed some hand sanitizer that we were forced to use so we wouldn’t bring in more germs, and headed down the hallway on the right to the elevators that would lead me to my mother-in-law’s room on the eighth floor.
The elevators here usually took a lot of time, so you would have to squeeze into them because so many people would be waiting. This time, it was quick to arrive. As I arrived on the eighth floor, I walked out to the right. The nurse’s station was ahead on the right, but the room was in the first aisle on the left in front of the station. I wondered why the doors to access the rooms within that section were closed today. When I stood in front of her door, she wasn’t there. The woman that stood outside of the room, chatting with her colleague, asked me who I was looking for.
In French, she replied, “Have you spoken to the family today?”
“I’m her daughter-in-law.” My heart is racing.
“It’s five minutes we haven’t been able to get a heartbeat.”
My heart fell. “Where is she?”
“She’s in 806. There’s a woman there with blondish hair.”
I headed a few doors further as quickly as I could. Somehow, I thought I would see her alive. There was little time to think.
“Ma!” I cried. Staring at her half-opened eyes and still, parted lips, there was no reaction from her. She was gone.