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The C Word
by C. Charman
I have had an encounter with my mother's mortality, and I'm not happy about it.
On the Wednesday before Memorial Day, Mom called me on my cell phone, at work. I'm normally pretty irritable about getting calls at work. Well, I'm normally pretty irritable, period. It was random chance that I answered at all. I recently crushed my cell phone between my car's steering wheel and my other cell phone (long story), and my display didn't work at all any more. I had no idea who was calling, but I answered anyway. It was Mom, and she didn't sound like herself.
She was very apologetic, and got straight to the point. She had been bleeding, and would I be able to come stay at her house after her exploratory surgery? My older brother would be taking her to the hospital, but she needed someone to stay the night afterwards, to make sure she didn't have any trouble recovering from the anesthesia. I'm not sure why, but she seemed surprised that I was willing to help. On my brothers advice, she had told no one outside of the family. We didn't yet know what it was, and she didn't want the burden of reassuring everyone else who would ask until she knew for certain.
A bit of family history might be in order at this point. Medical problems around Memorial Day have some unfortunate precedents for my mother. The first was about a year before I was conceived. Mom had an ectopic pregnancy, and would have died without the surgery she had on Memorial Day. She then got hepatitis from the blood they gave her. The second misfortune was Memorial Day twelve years ago, when Mom began surgery and treatment for uterine cancer. Now, the C word had reared its ugly head again, and she would be going in for an exploratory surgery, three days after Memorial Day.
I came down the night before her surgery. Mom showed me where her will is, and we had a little laugh about it. This may seem like an odd thing to joke about, but there is history to it. When I was a junior in high school, Mom took a job that required her to be an hour and a half plane flight away during the week. She didn't want to make me change schools for my last two years of high school, so I stayed, while she commuted home on the weekends. Every Sunday, before I took her to the airport for her weekly flight, she'd point out the file cabinet in her closet where she kept her will, and remind me that I was a co-signer on her safe deposit box. This time, it was to remind me that my brother and I would be co-executors, and that she had signed her advanced directive in the event that anything should go wrong.
Mom was nervous in the morning, and talked about the inconsequential on the five minute ride in my brother's car from her house to the hospital. We were exactly on time. After the usual round of paperwork and exchange of cell numbers, Mom was ushered back into the prep area, and as only one of us could accompany her at a time, my older brother went back as I sat in the waiting area and wished for a mocha. My brother and I swapped, and I sat with Mom for a bit, doing my best to be calm and nonchalant.
My brother and I went back to Mom's house, and we both worked for the next two hours, until the doctor called to let us know that they were done. Everything looked okay, but we wouldn't be completely sure until the lab results came back. We went back to the surgery center to spring Mom.
As the nurse brought Mom out to the car, I went ahead to open doors. Looking back, I was struck by the strong resemblance my mother bore to her mother. Maybe it was the after effects of the anesthesia. It could have been seeing her in a wheel chair. Or possibly that my mother is reaching the age her mother was in my early memories. Whatever the cause, the spark my mom normally has seemed banked, and it scared me.
I spent the rest of the day working at a table in Mom's kitchen. She slept, on and off, and lightly. She had little pain from the procedure, and only took Advil for that, but something in the experience triggered a migraine. She was too exhausted and nauseated to do much beyond lying in her darkened bedroom, but not asleep enough to ignore the ringing telephone. I did what little I could, bringing her water, some sort of flat cola syrup the pharmacist said would help with the nausea, and answering the phone to maintain the illusion that nothing untoward was going on.
The next morning, Mom was up, shaky from a day without eating, but feeling better. She no longer looked like grandma, but like herself again. She didn't quite bustle around the house, but was up, making toast, talking on the phone, watching the shows she'd missed on her TiVo.
Maybe it is just the point where I am in my life now, versus a dozen years ago when Mom indisputably had cancer. The whole experience has been more real this time. The lab results have come back, and there was no cancer. Obviously, this is a huge relief. I'm just not ready to need to know where that will is.