The sun has been up for an hour; the paramedics left thirty minutes ago. Last night, I got home from my cousin’s 3rd birthday party around 7:30 to find Mom vomiting in the bathroom. She started a new drug to increase her white blood cell count, a shot in the belly once a day for three days after chemo. I looked it up after she went to bed, the nausea is a common side effect. I stayed up for a little while painting, then sneakily and conveniently “forgot” to turn the thermostat down before I went to bed, so enjoyed a toasty change into my pajamas for once. I fell asleep quickly.
Around 1am, I woke up from a nightmare – I don’t remember what it was, just the image of myself looking out of a window to check for danger. The house was dark and still, and I listened for Mom in the other room. All was quiet. At 3am, I heard her get up, vomit, and go back to bed, and at 4.30 I was awakened by the sound of Mom moaning. I ran into her room before my eyes were fully open. She saw me and in between cramps, asked me to call my aunt and tell her she was dehydrated. I called my aunt’s house, and she and my uncle arrived within 20 minutes to put in a saline IV. This is my mother’s brother and sister – her sister is an RN, her brother is a firefighter.
Between the two of them they tried five times to insert the IV, but Mom’s veins were blown. It wasn’t a surprise – her last two blood draws before chemo have been difficult. Kenny (my uncle) called the paramedics at his station to come down and give it another shot before we transported her to the hospital. They arrived quickly and got it on the second try. The advantage of having a big family in a small town – the paramedics were the same two who transported Mom to the hospital in November after her portacath slipped a wire and punctured her lung.
I hovered throughout the two hours while they tried to get the IV in, removing trash, cleaning the basin Mom kept at her bedside, holding her hand. When the paramedics were looking for a vein, I kept telling Kenny to talk to Mom, because she can hear his voice the best. Mom was confused and occasionally fought the needle, and couldn’t hear any directions the paramedics were giving her. When everyone slipped outside for a cigarette, after the paramedics left, Mom was drifting in and out of sleep. “It’s too much, too much” she kept whispering. “You’re all done now, Mom, you were very strong. You’ll be feeling better so quickly” I nearly hollered, so she could hear me. “No, it’s too much. I’m cold.” Over and over, until she fell asleep.
So what do you do? Kenny is in her room right now, lying next to her, rubbing her back occasionally. When he was holding her hand while the paramedics worked over her, he would give me directions to fetch things using the nickname from my babyhood. There isn’t much to focus on, except that I have to do the dishes and I just slipped into her room and gave her one of her anti-nausea meds. I tried to stay out of the way when everyone is here, but I am one of those people for whom the task of boiling water during childbirth was invented – give me something to do, for the love of pete. Otherwise, I meander. While I waited for Tammie and Kenny to arrive, I got dressed, braided my hair, packed Mom’s bag with all her meds and her books and snacks in case we had to go to the hospital. I moved piles of medical paraphernalia from one room to the other. Yesterday, I gave Mom the shot that made her so sick last night, and while my hand was steady and I was calm – it was an easy shot, short needle, in the belly – afterward, she went outside for a smoke and I sat here and shook for a second. What can you do when you can’t keep busy and you’re afraid that if you start thinking to much you’ll stop doing anything at all?
It wasn’t a crisis, and I was calm, but there are two equally divided halves of my brain, the practical half that wants to be effective and useful and ameliorate the situation, and the creative half that was seriously tempted to grab my camera and start shooting the scene in the bedroom. It’s as if the creative half doesn’t want me to forget these moments, so I can make sense of them later and put them in a perspective that lasts, that the practical half will understand later. It’s the creative half that is writing this so incoherently right now.
At one point, before the paramedics arrived, when Mom started sobbing and fighting the needle and I could hear how hurt and confused she was, I left the room and started to cry in the darkness of my own room. I let the tears well, from that place of dream-disorientation and fatigue, and before they could spill and before I made a sound I thought “Okay, that’s it, that’s all you need right now. Shake it off and get back in there in case they need something.” and I was right. It was all I needed, that two-second release of chemicals that allowed me to take a deeper breath and return my focus.
I just had to write it down. It’s okay, she’s okay, I’m okay, Kenny’s sleeping a little bit next to her, and Mom has kept her anti-nausea med down long enough that she should be alright for awhile. Tammie and I were laughing about some funny things the babies were saying at yesterday’s party, and it’s not as though I’m upset, really, it’s just that I think if I don’t write this right now, and then maybe go for a run later and exhaust myself, that I’ll start turning inward, start falling into those useless and repetitious thought-patterns that ask why, why, why all the time. Why every week the doctors want to try something new, just when we are starting to get a rhythm with what we’ve got, why every day brings a new curveball. I know the fruitlessness of “why”, in this context. I know this line of questioning leads nowhere. So for right now, I will dump the coffee I made down the drain, so I don’t drink it. I will finish the dishes, peeking into Mom’s room every few minutes. I might paint or sit and read or anything to keep my head going even though all I want to do is curl up next to Mom and Kenny and sleep for a few minutes.