The oxygen machine is hypnotizing, the whir, lulling me to sleep. I think I may be losing my mind.
I’ve been in California since November 18. I was supposed to be here for the holidays till sometime after New Year’s, a vague departure date because life itself has become so very vague. But a few days after Thanksgiving, while staying in Stinson Beach, my mom couldn’t get out of bed. She was weak and nauseous and eventually required an ambulance. With the fthht-fthht of the careflight helicopter hovering over our heads — just in case the twisty-road drive would take too long — I watched as she was wheeled away.
Being in the hospital during covid is not ideal. No one can visit. A week went by with differing diagnoses; she was barely strong enough to speak. Her return home lasted only 24 hours, when extreme nausea and distress necessitated a return trip to the ICU. In addition to a random intestinal infection: stage 4 lung cancer. She was out in time for Christmas.
Since then I’ve been in a guest bedroom at my sister’s in San Francisco, across the hall from my mom.
Every morning I make her tea. Then I reheat the tea. Then I reheat the tea again. I’ve pressed the buttons on the microwave a million times. I try and talk her into eating…something, anything…and I bring her jello or toast or celery. I dole out the drugs. There are a half-dozen, to be taken once a day, twice a day, as needed. At night, I tote her oxygen machine upstairs and apply her lidocaine patch. She’s been through 10 radiation treatments and just started what will be 18 weeks of chemo. I suppose it goes without saying that it hasn’t been a picnic and doesn’t appear it will become one.
I hardly leave the house. I barely move. I’ve been wearing the same exercise pants since, well, Thanksgiving, and have worn holes in three pairs of socks. When I packed, it was festive holiday attire and beach clothes, as I anticipated Christmas celebrations followed by New Year’s Eve in Mexico. The Bay Area went into lockdown and Cabo was cancelled. No need for those flip-flops. Long past time for my holly and ivy turtleneck. I may never wear red again.
We have watched hundreds of hours of TV: movies, documentaries, entire series. Since there isn’t anywhere to go, we don’t go anywhere. I don’t go anywhere. I’ve seen friends four times. Four. Times. (YES, safely. YES, outdoors.)
I no longer feel anything. I’ve become numb. I can’t even cry. I suppress missing my life — friends, work, my own bed, privacy — by turning off my brain and consuming as much chocolate as possible. Unfortunately there isn’t enough chocolate in the world to fix this.
The situation has made me call on parts of myself I didn’t know existed. If you know me even a little, you’re aware that I am not a patient person. And if we are actually friends, you know I’m terrible with illness. In short, I am NOT the person you’d want taking care of you if you were sick. Yet. Here I am.
And yes, I know, in years to come I will be grateful for this time spent with her. I am fortunate to be able to help. I just wish she had more good days than bad days. That she had the energy to chat instead of nap. That she wasn’t disoriented on an assortment of medications. And that she wasn’t so helpless and frail.
Sure, she’s strong. But this is her fourth cancer. And she’s 85. And we’re still living in a dystopian horror movie. It is difficult to be optimistic. It is mostly just difficult.