Friday, October 06, 2006


This week marks an anniversary - of sorts - for me. I don't remember offhand now what the actual date was - either October 5th or the 6th - but it was 27 years ago that I watched my mother deteriorate daily from cancer that had originated in the colo-rectal area and spread to her liver and spleen.

About 7 or 8 weeks earlier, Mom had been complaining to me that she didn't feel good and asked me to go in town to the drugstore and pick up some kind of over-the-counter stuff that was supposed to be good to use for a urinary tract infection. This is what she believed was the culprit of her ailments. That Mom was a registered nurse and should have known better about self-medications, etc., made no impact on this matter in her mind.

Instead, I called a local physician, told him who I was, who my mother was and explained the situation to him, in particular, that she was refusing to go see a doctor but could he possibly call in a prescription for her that might take care of this problem - if indeed this was the problem. He said the over-the-counter stuff she was referring to was no longer being marketed and he agreed to provide a prescription for her that would alleviate a bladder infection (if that was actually the problem) and would do no harm to her if it wasn't the problem either.

Apparently the prescription didn't help her because one evening shortly after I got home from work, she came over to my home and asked if I would take her into the local medical center to see a doctor. Certainly, I would and once in there, I spoke to the doctor alone, requesting that he give her as thorough an examination as possible because as I explained to him, she probably hadn't had one in 35 years, since I was born.

After the examination, the doctor told me he had detected a growth in her rectal area and wanted her admitted to the hospital that evening so they could do a biopsy the next day. She agreed to that. The biopsy was done and they kept her in the hospital for a week, running all kinds of other tests on her during that time span. Each test run came back with the same information - benign, benign, benigh. She was discharged with a diagnosis of a urinary tract infection and arthritis of the spine.

And yet, roughly 6-7 weeks later, while I was at work one day, she contacted my aunt, asking her to take her to the emergency room. My aunt, who hated the medical center and hospital where Mom had been treated before, took her to a hospital in another nearby town and she was admitted directly from the emergency room.

That was on a Friday. Two days later, on Sunday morning, I finally managed to contact the physician my aunt said had been assigned to my mother's case and I asked him what his opinion was at that time of her condition. He told me although they had not yet been able to schedule her for any extensive tests, it was his opinion that she had cancer and in very advanced stages.

And six days after that conversation, she died.

Early in the week, when I had gone over to see her, I had my son with me. He was just over 6 years old at the time and I had left him to sit alone in the waiting room just down the hall from Mom's room. To my surprise and my Mom's great pleasure, one of the nurse's on duty as seen him and struck up a conversation with him and figured out whose grandson he was and she had brought him into the room for a quick visit with Grandma. She told Mom she knew right away from talking to him that he must be the little boy she talked about all the time. Seeing how her eyes lit up when he came in the room was like having won the lottery!

The night before her death, I was talking on the telephone with the pastor of our congregation, explaining to him the various things the doctors had told me. Each day, when I had gone in to see her, you could see the changes in her on a daily basis, how quickly she was losing ground and fading. During our conversation, I mentioned to the pastor that because her condition was so poor, the nurses having told me that there was no amount of pain killers they could give her that would allow her to rest comfortably, and because of that, it was my belief and his that it would be best to pray for a fast a passing as was possible to eliminate her suffering.

Little did I know how that talk would years later come back to haunt me.

While talking with the pastor, I received an emergency call from the hospital telling me that she had gone into a coma and the doctor had recommended I get to the hospital as quickly as possible.

My husband was working about 150 miles away from home and I tried to reach him before he left work to return home for the weekend and tell him to meet us at the hospital if possible and took my two younger children over to stay with my brother-in-law's family. I decided to take my older daughter, who was then 12 years old, to the hospital with me. Being at that age, I felt she was old enough to go with me and also, because all week long she had talked incessantly about what we would do when Grandma came home, how we would care for her and although I had tried to explain as much as I could that it was highly unlikely Grandma would ever return home, I felt she needed to see, to learn the full gravity of the situation.

THe doctor met us in her room and explained to me that although Mom was in a coma and could go at any moment, she had then somewhat stabilized and his recommendation was that we return home that night and try to rest for what he felt was going to be a very long, hard week ahead of us. He also mentioned to me and my daughter about the level of pain she was in even in a coma and with being given the strongest amount of pain killers available, there was nothing that would quell the pain she still felt.

We returned home and the next afternoon, two of my aunts who were at the hospital to visit my Dad's brother - a patient in the room directly above Mom's as well as their niece who was in the room at the end of the hall where Mom's room was, were trying to spend as much time with Mom as possible and they were with her when she started to fail completely and called to tell me to come right away.

My ex-husband and I rushed over but by the time we arrived, she had already passed.

Funeral arrangements were made, viewings held and the funeral and dinner after the services went as smoothly as is possible for the circumstances.

About two years later though, the conversation I had had the night before her death became the focal point in an argument with my older daughter. I don't remember what the fight was about originally, but in the middle of our squabble, she blurted out that she hated me because I had prayed for Grandma to die. I was dumbfounded by this accusation by her and asked her to explain. As it turned out, she had been listening to my end of the talk with the pastor and realized we were advocating prayer that yes, was for an end to her suffering and by the only means possible then, death.

Trying to explain then - again - to my daughter about the circumstances and such, I reminded her of the last visit she and I had with Grandma and what the doctor had said at that time too and asked her if she really wanted Grandma to stay alive knowing how dire the pain was that was wracking her body. It took a lot of talk and explanations that evening to calm my daughter down a bit but finally, I got through to her that sometimes it is in the best interest to pray for death to take someone to a better place, one that for certain, is painfree.

It's been probably a quarter of a century now that has passed since that talk with my older daughter and often over the years, I got the sense that she still wasn't quite sure whether to believe me or not on the issue but she has finally accepted that no, I didn't want Grandma to die, but I didn't want her to live on in the physical state she was in at that time either.

My younger daughter knows my wishes should I be in a similar circumstance and I know she will follow through with them. But I still worry that the older daughter will think that is wrong and try to interfere and keep things going in a prolonged state as long as possible.

I hope I am wrong.

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