“hey Dan! How are you?”
“ahhh. Hi Sep. Ahhh… Not too good actually, Ma’s in hospital.”
“Ma’s in hospital”
“she can’t open her eye. They think she’s got swelling in her brain. She’s in Frankston hospital, but they don’t seem to be able to help her.”
“Sarah… Dad doesn’t know what to do. We think she needs a specialist. He said maybe you could call Tony for us?”
“can I speak to Hambone?”
Maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. Hambone’s dad was hospitalized for a subcranial bleed a couple of years ago. The cavity between the brain and the skull filled with blood, caused swelling and then it had to be drained. He was ok after a couple of days. I google like a crazy woman, and find at least three diagnoses that fit her symptoms and go some way towards easing my state of mind. It could be a subcranial bleed, or a random swelling pressing on the pituitary gland which would refer swelling to the right optic nerve. That could be with or without tumor. Of course it would be without.
I’m stuck. I’m her daughter, her eldest. We’re very close – we email every couple of days, skype frequently. Each year either I go home or she comes over. Mum and dad were due in Dubai . We were going to have 5 1/2 glorious weeks in Europe. My brother, although he lives in Melbourne, does that non-committed drifty thing that all sons seem to do. He’s there, but more on a NEED basis rather than a want one. I regard myself as the important one. But with my move to Dubai I lost that vital ‘R’ and became impotent. I can do nothing. I can’t tell her I love her, or that everything is going to be ok. I can’t make sure dad’s coping. I can’t help in any way whatsoever. I can’t even seem to hold myself together enough to talk on the phone. Hambone plays phone tag with My brother and his own (Tony, our savior in all serious health issues, who is a highly respected and well connected Melbourne surgeon and all round incredibly nice and helpful bloke), sorting out hospital beds, which seem to be very difficult to find despite my parents’ private health insurance and the urgency of the situation. Dan rises up and does all the important things, and the only thing I can do is book a plane ticket.
“Don’t get on a plane straight away. We don’t know how bad it is.” They keep on telling me.
My mother had a knee replacement 6 weeks ago. Besides that, she’s always been the tough one. Her own mother is 92, and they share similar constitutions. I had noticed mum had been a little off-form the last few weeks. I’d even questioned Dad about it, but it all got hidden because of the operation she had just been through. Mum has never reacted well to anesthetic, and her headaches, nervousness around a computer, sudden impatience and baffling frailty in stressful situations had been put down to post operative trauma.
She even told herself that this was normal. When she had fallen out of bed and couldn’t get up, she had refused to let Dad call the ambulance. She was fine. She was always fine. Dad, who takes a cocktail of candy-colored pills each day for cholesterol, blood pressure, arthritis, blood thinning, pain and all kinds of other things was the one who got sick. Mum was always the strong one. So now, when she is lying in Frankston hospital unable to talk, with a morphine drip for the blinding headache and an oxygen mask to keep her breathing, dad tells himself it’s going to be something simple. Mum’s going to be fine. She’s always fine.
Dan calls again at .
“she’s still in Frankston. They haven’t moved her. They’re not doing anything here, but I cant get Epworth hospital to come get her. Tony says to call his secretary but I can’t get onto her. Sarah…. They’ve got the scans back…. It’s a tumor.”
“We don’t know if it’s cancer. Dad says don’t race off thinking crazy stuff.”
“Dan, she’s got something growing in her brain. I’m coming home.”
“Why don’t you wait till she sees a neurosurgeon?”
“Dan, if you were 14 hours away by plane and you got this news, you would come, wouldn’t you?”
“Ok. Speak to hambone. I’ll see you soon”
I put the phone down. I go to the computer. I buy my ticket for the ten am flight, come back to the bedroom and stand in the middle of the floor, shaking and wringing my hands. I know I have to pack a bag, but I can’t make my feet move. Then I can move them, but only to pace the rug, turn around and pace it again, and say “oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck”
Hambone makes me tea.
I finally pack my bag. Once I arrived in Melbourne in the midst of winter I would find 15 pairs of underpants, one bra, no socks, three pairs of high heeled boots, one jumper, jeans, and 6 summer shirts and 6 pairs of dangly earrings to match them. No toothbrush, toothpaste or comb.
It’s my fault. If I had been there I would have known earlier. I left Melbourne thinking this was the best time for my family to be expats, forgetting the older generation of my family. I’m selfish. Then I chastised myself for being so self centered. I’m not so all important as I like to think sometimes. Dan could obviously handle things in my absence. I rethought – maybe I wouldn’t have noticed. My ego gets a guilt trip. Then I feel guilty for leaving my children behind. It will be difficult for my husband. They should see their grandmother. But I don’t want them there, and then I feel guilty for not wanting the work of dealing with my own offspring while monitoring my own misery. Then I am guilty of being miserable, when I am not the one with the tumor. It’s a wash cycle of acid and doubt and it makes me want to vomit.
I approach the airport a different Sarah than usual. I’ve never flown for a reason other than holiday or work. I don’t want to be here. I hate flying, it scares me. The only thing that usually makes me get on a plane is the thought of the wonderful experience waiting at my destination. Airports are horrible. They’re full of fluorescent lights, queues, women feeling you up and making you take your boots off, grumpy looking men with guns and walkie talkies. Shiny floors that mirror my grimace, bouncing my unhappiness back at me in cold grey marble. Nobody else is looking at the floor. They’re smiling at each other, laughing, practicing French, talking about what they’re first going to do when the arrive. I want to curl up in a corner with a huge motorcycle helmet on and block all the buggers out. How dare they be so jovial?
It gets worse when I’m on the plane. They put me between a chattery melbourne woman on her way back from a holiday in Dubai, and a surly Italian who sleeps with the blanket over her head and freaks me out. One I want to punch because she is so happy, and the other I want to run away from because she is dark and scary.
I put on my headphones and tune into the trashiest movies I can find. Then I spend 14 hours saying “oh God please help her, oh God please help her”. And nobody brings me enough wine.
And then, as though from a dream, I step off a plane and find myself in Melbourne. Home. But I’m here for all the wrong reasons, and I just want to curse at everybody. I want to cry, there is water sitting behind my eyes, but my body seems to have released some hormone, and I’m oddly numb. All I can do is plod, plod, plod to the slow tock, tock, tock of that damnable clock, and do the things that by rote I know need to be done. It’s so unreal – a TV soap-drama issue, not an everyday normal family problem. And it can stay unreal until I see her, so I almost want to put it off. It’s wrong to have been so far from family for so long, then fly back just to hold yourself off the reunion. But now the guilt, worry, denial, impotence, all flood through simultaneously in anticipation of the shock that is coming. This is not a good day.
You will be happy to know mum is ok. She could be better, and she has had pretty horrible week or so. Most of the tumor is gone, and she is set on a more optimistic path than the one laying before her this time last week, but she still feels pretty awful, and like me, is scared stiff about what the future holds. Please send anyrecovery stories, they would be much appreciated.
And I’m sorry about the mood. I thought maybe writing it down would help. It didn’t.