She Deserved Better.

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.

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3 Comments on “She Deserved Better.”

  1. Judy Hurley says:

    Kathy: I am so sorry to hear about your Mom and my thoughts and prayers will be with you. I’ve been worried since I couldn’t reach you and finally I decided to go to your blog page as I was afraid that your Mother was worse and there the troubling words explaining where you’ve been and what you’ve been going through. Please remember that you all did all you could do and that our lives are so dependent on doctors and whether they give the right diagnosis or not and whether they tell us or not how long it will be for them – we must not feel guilty and keep giving our loved ones the care that only a loved one can give them so be glad you are with her now and can give her the loving care that she needs. Keep telling her you love her and may God be with you all.

  2. Kathy: your mom deserved her life and i am shocked at the horrific ordeal she endured…you are right…she did deserve better…when my husband died – he got the best. He was young and handsome and had a young family to be left fatherless. My father worked until he was 70 caring for my mother, severely handicapped by a stroke for 15 years; she got good care. He kept working for the insurance coverage. But when my father, in his late 70’s, and just weels after my mother’s death,went to the doctor, obviously dying, he was “hidden” in the local hospital for 6 weeks by the family physician; sent home and, finally, put in a nursing home to die. They loved my handsome husband but couldn’t be bothered with my dying, cantankerous father. And your story is so much worse, I can’t even imagine your anger. May the grace of God be with you….suzanne

  3. Oh. Kathy. Pisses me off. And makes me want to cry to. Ageism!


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