Thursday, February 12, 2009


The deep blue of the sky somehow emphasized by the skeletal branches of the trees along the street, moving slightly, daintily in the wind, somehow sorrowful in their leafless state, as if knowing they are incomplete, as if missing something.

This is what I saw as I stepped outside this morning, a beautiful February day, clear and warm. Nothing unusual about that, normally a welcome sight, except it conjured a memory of a nearly identical day almost exactly three years ago, when the two of us passed through this very neighborhood.

Mom had a doctor's appointment, and I'd taken the day off from work to give her a ride. When I arrived at her home that morning, I was horrified by what I saw: Not just the large, tumorous bump on her head from a fall the night before, but the slight, fragile spectre of her former self. She'd been in and out of the hospital the previous summer, and I'd seen her look vulnerable and weak, but I'd never seen her look so...old.

Since her appointment wasn't until mid-afternoon, we tried to enact the regular rituals of the morning. She had her usual breakfast of donut holes and weakly-brewed tea, and we watched the next-day repeats of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, though Mom didn't laugh much. I played with her dog and cats and took a short walk while she watched The Young And The Restless, then it was time to leave.

She hallucinated the whole way to Des Moines. Odd. She wasn't on any new medications I was aware of, and though presumably her cancer grew worse by the day, I didn't believe it was a thing that could cause a person to hallucinate. But she saw the ghosts of long-dead pets along the roadside and mazes in the cornfields and castles on non-existent hills, warning me at one point not to run over the scarecrow in the middle of the highway. When we continued moving forward without hitting anything, she realized there was no scarecrow, and, strangely, seemed comforted rather than terrified by the knowledge that the things she viewed weren't real.

The doctor's office was in the basement of Methodist Hospital, right in my neighborhood. We drove down my street along the way, and she commented how pretty it looked on a day like this, how welcoming, how homey. I asked if she saw any things that weren't there, and she said no, it looked like it always looked, she'd just never taken the time to appreciate its beauty before.

We sat in the waiting room, joined shortly by my sister Ann, who had talked to Mom the night before and was prepared for the sight of the bump on the head, but who was taken aback by the news of hallucinations. "Could be meds," she said vaguely, and I wondered if she knew more than she was telling.

Finally, after the doctor examined her vitals, some good news, or at least somewhat reassuring--her blood pressure was alarmingly low. Mom had spent decades on medication due to high blood pressure, but apparently her current meds conflicted with the chemo she'd undergone recently, and put the whammy on her. Serious and unfortunate, but it explained the hallucinations: Blood wasn't flowing to her brain.

The doctor cut off the meds she'd been taking, ordered a different prescription and sent her on her way. She was noticeably more cheerful on the way home, full of jokes and funny asides, acting very much her usual self. I dropped her off at home while I ran down to pick up her new prescription. When I got back to the house, she sat watching People's Court, making fun of the participants as she always did. Surely she was okay now. Surely she was back to normal. Wasn't she?

The next day, she fell again, landing in the hospital. The day after that, she died. After that, nothing could ever be normal, not quite, not like it had always been, as I imagined it would always be.