Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Never Thought I'd See the Day

For all of the years that my mom said that she didn't care if she lived or died, for all of the years that she insisted we let her rot & die without ceremony, we landed at the Emergency Room last night for her.  As I wrote back in March, she told me that she knew she was sick, but then she retracted her statement.  I was busy putting two and two together; I was fairly certain she had liver cancer.  It would make sense after so many years of drinking, though she didn't drink heavily.  At least a daily whiskey sour when I was a kid, sometimes more.  In later years, a glass of wine a night.  She didn't talk to me for a week or two when I explained to her that I thought she had cancer, and she needed to be seen.  She told me she didn't care, she wasn't going to bother, and then she claimed she was fine.  I knew better.   So did my husband and my sister.  My father was quick to tell me that she just needed to eat at Sweet Tomatoes more.  Yeah, apparently he thinks I'm dramatic.  I think he's confused.

Well, I tried to push her, but she's more stubborn than I am so I was left to make subtle suggestions and hope for the best.  Finally yesterday, some five months later, she decided she was ill enough to go to a doctor.  I jumped on this.  She thought they would send her to the hospital, so I pointed out that if we went to the ER she wouldn't have to wait for an appointment.  They wouldn't send her home and then to a hospital (like she had thought).   She was severely dehydrated by this point.  She is still dehydrated a day later after several bags of IV fluids.  She couldn't keep ANYthing in her.  I am so grateful that she finally decided to go to the hospital.  She told me that she was so sure that she had cancer that she ordered a wig off of TV.  It was sitting unopened in her living room.  She knew she would need chemo, and lose her hair.  That gave me great hope.  To me, that said that she's ready to fight for the first time.  It always made me so sad that she views herself as so disposable.  We've always tried to build her up, but she's always been a hardened pessimist.  Oh, so much can change in a short time!

She decided the hospital wasn't too bad in the first few hours.  She was a little disappointed that they assigned her a male nurse; she doesn't trust male nurses, but hers was ok. Then they made her drink about 40 ounces of contrast fluid for her CT scan.  She was so happy to have a drink!  Until about ten ounces were gone and she still HAD to drink the other 30.  That's when she started to become less than amused.  The CT went well, and it wasn't too long before the doctor came in with a diagnosis.  She said, "Well, I have some bad news."  Pause.  Waiting for us, I guess.  Then, "You have colon cancer.  A big mass that's blocking the intestines.  That's what's causing all of your discomfort."  Ok.  I think they were surprised at how quiet and calm we both were, but we both knew.  She had told the doctor earlier that she had a tumor.  I had marveled over how distended her stomach was.  Standing up it didn't look it at all.  Laying down... different story.   Next came the G-tube.  Now there's a treat.  I had never seen this before.  From a clinical perspective, WOW is that cool!  When it's your mom, not so much.  She took this like a pro.  She teared up just a bit, but she was so reserved & brave!  She made me so proud.  It's amazing how much crap was hanging out in her stomach.  Obviously, at this point they had decided to keep her.  I had planned for that anyway.  At 4 A.M. we were moving upstairs.  They put me in a waiting room to get her set up, but they forgot about me.  Around 5 A.M. I got back to her.  She was very uncomfortable because of the G-tube, but determined to make the best of it.  At 5:30 I couldn't stay safely anymore.  I had to go home and try to get some sleep.  I finally crashed around 6:30 A.M.  I barely slept because I was waiting for the phone to ring.

When I got back to the hospital with my oldest daughter around 1 P.M., the surgeon had already come to see her.  He hadn't left the floor yet so they asked him to please come speak with me.  He explained that everyone has a valve in the colon that opens and closes to let fluid down.  He said most people with colon problems have that valve stuck shut so nothing goes down.  Well, mom's was working just fine, and was so full that it was getting ready to blow.  They had to operate now before it ruptured.  He couldn't tell me if anything else was affected because the tumor was about the size of a medium potatoe.  Awesome, huh?  He said that even if it hadn't reached the liver or lymph nodes (normally staging it at stage 2 or 3) because it caused such an obstruction it was considered a stage 4.  He said that he would be surprised if it hadn't spread.  Was I shocked?  No, because my mom is immune to pain.  She's spent so many years ignoring pain that she's become an expert.  Why would this be different?  She knew it was bad, but she could still ignore it.  We only had a few minutes with her before they took her downstairs.  I was able to kiss her, tell her how much we love her, and finally get out a few tears.  That's as much as I've been able to get out.  I'm so used to dealing with trauma that I just can't cry like I want to.

She made it through surgery very well.  They had said that depending on how well she did, she may go back to our normal room, or she may go to ICU.  The surgeon also said that she would likely have a colostomy bag, but it would be reversible.  He said that he would try to stitch her up without out, but no guarantees.  Seriously, this guy wins my "Docs That Rock" award.  She came out of surgery missing most of her colon, with no colostomy bag.  How did he do it?  I have no clue, but my relief was amazing!  I was sure that she would be very depressed and lose the will to fight if she had to deal with the bag.  Thank you, Dr. Brock!  He said that the reason her stomach hurt so badly was the tumor had grown into the abdominal wall.  His good work at removing the mass from the wall resulted in a hernia, but that seems like a small price to pay.  They also placed a large, 3 line port in her neck.  She couldn't figure out why she was having such a hard time speaking.  Well, that does it.  She seemed in good spirits this evening despite the pain level being, at times, "an 11 on a scale of 1-10".

I am a huge mixed bundle of emotions.  I am so grateful that she finally agreed to treatment, that she did so well, and that she seems to be going along with their plans for her future.  I am still worried about her prognosis.  We haven't really been given that yet.  I know what stage 4 generally means, but the surgeon also said that it didn't appear to have spread, though he would be surprised if it hadn't.  We will know more when the pathology report comes in.  It's refreshing to have dropped the appearance that everything is fine, what are you worried about?  It's nice to just be there with her.  She's been so darn cute.  I am really not prepared for things to get any worse than this.  She's the only one that I call.  She's been the one I turn to for many years, even when I knew I would get yelled at by her.  I wish to God that she had gone in March, but she was only going on her terms.  I can't change the past, but I can certainly help to mold her future.  With God guiding and strengthening us all, we'll get by.  She probably shouldn't have lived through the severe dehydration, but she did, and she was damn lucky that colon didn't rupture, 'cuz that likely would have killed her very quickly.  The way I see it, she's already sailed through potential death twice.  See?  Miracles do happen.  We are very blessed. 

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