She Deserved Better.Posted: October 3, 2009
I’m washing her good china in the sink — thick Palmolive suds and fine white china. I have to do something. I can’t just sit. And wait. While the dishes are air drying, I wipe her mouth and lips and tongue with lemon glycerin swabs.
We are close to the end.
I don’t even recognize her now. Her appearance resembles nothing of her former self.
My sister and I have gone through this before, with Dad. We should not have to do it again, with Mama. It’s just so … wrong. Dad died three years ago of end-stage dementia, which means he died of starvation and dehydration. Mama has cancer. And she can no longer eat. It has been 5 days without food or water.
In the back corner of the china cabinet I find a blue pill bottle with PROPO-N/APAP, TAKE 1 TABLET TWICE DAILY FOR PAIN, dated June 1, 2009. Four months ago. This was Mama’s treatment for bone cancer. Pain pills.
Nobody could figure out why she had pain. She went to a handful of doctors over the course of two years with all the tell-tale symptoms: chest pain, difficulty swallowing, cough, congestion, weight loss, shortness of breath. And phlegm. How many times did she complain about that and go to the doctor for that? So for lung cancer she was treated with Benadryl, Chlortabs, Sudafed, Mucinex, Flonase, and other OTCs and prescription drugs.
Her cancer is not only in the lungs, but in the space between the lungs, in the adrenals, and in the bones, and probably in the brain, and now, everywhere. It must have metastasized two years ago because she has been in intense pain since the winter of ’08. She couldn’t ride in a car because of the jarring of the bones, she has cut the waistbands out of all her pants because she couldn’t stand anything to touch her, she has sat in her chair on a heating pad for days on end.
A few months after I called her doctor’s office and left a message requesting a CT scan to find out what was wrong — and my call was never returned, it got so bad that my sister hauled her to the emergency room one Friday night where she got 2 CT scans and 2 more with dye and X-rays and spent 10 hours and left with a diagnosis of “constipation” and got suppositories. Mama told me the next day that the technician said, “Your lungs are full of stuff!” What stuff, and why was nothing else ever said about that?
That was May 1. And Mama took Tylenol and PROPO-N/APAP (Darvocet) all summer for the excruciating pain of bone cancer. And we kept on taking her to the doctor, asking What is wrong? We didn’t learn about lung cancer until the last of August when we put her in a Senior Care facility and said, Find out what is wrong. We didn’t learn about bone cancer until September 2.
So while I scrub dishes and keep an eye on Mama’s breathing pattern and squirt morphine in her cheek and swab her parched dehydrated mouth, my sister goes to the hospital and gets a copy of Mama’s test results from May 1, the results that were sent to her doctor to be discussed at a follow-up visit.
It’s all there. “Several worrisome signs for malignancy, colon cancer, or lung cancer.” “Minimal left basilar airspace consolidation/atelectasis.” “Something eating away at T12 vertebrae, possibly a mass…” “Destruction of the T2 vertebral body and there appears to be involvement of the right pedicle suggesting that this is a metastatic process…” RECOMMENDATION: A PET/CT would be ideal…A bone scan.”
Nothing was ever mentioned in follow-up visits. Nothing was done to address these findings.
At the very least, she could have been kept comfortable the last years…months…weeks of her life. But she wasn’t.
Now she has hospice, and she is getting good care.