Glioblastoma was the most virulent, fastest-growing, always fatal strain, the surgeon told us. Do nothing, she has 6 months. With surgery, if we can get most of it, best-case scenario, she has two good years. So we agreed to the surgery, anything to have her with us a little longer. Diagnosed in March, she had surgery in June and died two months later, in August of 1995.
She was totally lucid only in the first hour after the surgery and never again. For one brief moment we saw our Mom as she'd always been: the funny, smart, self-sufficient woman who had raised 6 kids alone for 30 years.
After she awoke from surgery, the surgeon came in to see how Mom was doing, mentally. He asked her what year it was, who the president was and if she knew where she was. She was able to answer all those questions without hesitation. But when the doctor asked her if she had any questions for him, the answer left him shaking his head in dismay, scaring all of us kids who had gathered in her room.
"I want to know where the baby is.", my Mom asked brightly, looking around at all of us.
"Where's my baby?" The doctor raised his eyebrows questioningly at my sister and brother, who'd brought her in and had been waiting at the hospital during the 18-hour surgery.
"Do you know what she's talking about?" he asked. We all looked at each other and shook our heads, no.
My sister said, loudly, to get her attention:
"MOM! DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU ARE?"
"Hospital," she replied, " and you don't need to yell at me! There's nothing wrong with my hearing!"
(OK... We looked at each other and shrugged. Now what?)
She tried again.
"WHAT baby, Mom? There's NO baby!" My Mom just looked at her and smiled.
This wasn't an 'I'm drugged and have no idea where I am, what's going on, or who any of you are" smile, either. This was the smile our Mom used to use when SHE knew something WE didn't know and she knew we'd all have a good laugh AFTER she told US what was going on.
For one, brief moment, I saw her face and thought:' He did it; he got the tumor and she's going to be fine. Thank GOD; Oh, Thank You God!', and I could see hope on the faces of my siblings as well.
THIS was our Mom, back from the horrible confusion that'd taken her memory and personality the last two months; but the doctor was frowning and making the 'wait-a minute-here, something is not right' gesture to us.
The doctor stepped closed to her bed and asked: "Why would you think there'd be a baby, June? You're in a hospital and you've just had surgery. Do you understand that?" said in that tone that implied that she'd lost her mind as well as her memory.
"I KNOW." Mom replied, in the same tone that he'd used.
"I'm in the hospital, and I had surgery. Can somebody just bring me my BABY?"
The 'DUH' was implied both in her tone and her expression of frustration.
Somebody said OMG. Maybe it was me, maybe not, but the truth dawned on each of her children at the same time. Some of us started to laugh as we pushed closer to her bed, to touch her, to comfort her, and to comfort each other. The doctor was mystified that we seemed to know something that was escaping him.
Looking back, it was so obvious that Mom thought SHE knew what was going on and that this doctor did NOT. She thought the 'joke' was on HIM.
My sister explained the 'joke' to Mom's surgeon.
Our Mom had been in the hospital only SIX times in her adult life, and EACH of those six times she had gone home with a baby. It was apparent to her that she was in the hospital now, so (despite her age, which she may not have even remembered) obviously, she had had another BABY.
All she wanted was to see her baby, and go home.
The look on her face when the doctor said that there was NO baby, was heartbreaking.
She could not comprehend why she would be in a hospital if it was NOT to deliver a baby.
Telling her that she had had brain surgery didn't mean anything to her. She believed that she was well, mentally and physically, and if there was NO baby to take home, then she must be in the hospital by mistake.
She just wanted to get up and go home.
While the surgery may have been a 'success', in so far as the surgeon was concerned (he had removed 70% of the tumor) his prediction of "two good years" was so far removed from the reality of her condition as to be criminal.
When our Mother went home a week later, she left in a wheelchair and never walked again.
She was unable to feed herself and within a couple of weeks she basically stopped talking.
She didn't know where she was and was often confused as to who some of us were.
She never again recognized me and continued to call me by my sister's name.
I'd say, "No, Mom, it's Me," and she'd say
"Lori, tell rsqdogsmom to make those Dobermans stop barking!" Funny that she remembered them but when I was attending to her she always thought I was Lori, one of my 'good' sisters.
(Mom always stayed at Pam's house when she came to visit and she'd gone on vacations with both Pam and Lori several times over the years. I've never had a vacation in my whole life because I worked two jobs for many years and always had cats or dogs I couldn't leave. Mom, Pam and Lori had bonded over kids and mutual interests that I did not share; so I was neither surprised nor disappointed that she called me 'Lori' after her surgery. At least she recognized that I belonged to her.)
The last few days, when she could no longer see or hear us, she spent at the Hospice with some or all of us, at her side.
To me, it was clear that she was no longer with us and I just wanted her body to catch up with her soul.
I was not there when my Mother died and I did not attend her funeral.
I simply could not bear to be around so many people who cared about my Mom.
As much as she had meant to everyone else, these strangers could never feel her loss as those of us in her family did.
My heart was broken and I was not sure if I could live without her.
This raging pain was nothing I could express or share except with those closest to me who shared my home and my life.
My salvation was found in the ones who could sense my despair without words, the ones who continue to help me survive everyday with their unconditional love: my dogs.