Wow…what a day.
The nurse visited today. She is a very caring nurse, very knowledgeable, and very kind to my mother. However…she is a nurse. No, she is a hospice nurse. Yes, I know it’s not her fault, and she is here to help my mother…I get that. She is also a symbol, though. She is the Angel of Death coming to visit twice a week to measure the progression of my mother’s disease like you or I might check on a roast in the oven. Is she done yet? Nope…add another 10 minutes to the timer.
Okay, that’s harsh. Still, the imagery was reinforced further by my mother’s behavior.
As anyone who has watched this unfold can tell you, there is a progression to this disease that is different than other forms of cancer. With other cancers, there is often a cascading failure of organs that serve as an alert that the body is losing the battle. Conversely, brain tumor patients have been known to still be in possession of their motor and speech skills just a couple of days before their passing because of one crucial difference: the brain, in its role as the control center for the whole body, has the capacity to shut down everything in one motion, without taking it organ by organ. However, the one area that does deteriorate slowly, in stages, is the brain itself. As a result, higher brain functions are often the first to go.
Some of the earliest symptoms of this deterioration of the brain include confusion and memory loss, the inability to sustain a conversation, and random questions or statements juxtaposed with clear, rational questions about death, arrangements, etc. (You might recall that yesterday I mentioned examples of this, when she randomly asked me from the other room what I was drinking and later asked me about brain death and pain.)
To combat this, she has begun a mental exercise. She recites the days of the week to test her memory, first starting with the current day. The manner in which she does this is somewhat eerie; it’s more of a nervous tick you might expect to see in a patient in a psych ward. It was as the nurse loomed over her to check her pulse that my mother decided to perform this exercise. In my mind’s eye, this was almost a perfect reenactment of Van Helsing warding off Dracula by reciting Psalms 23:4 continuously.
Yeah, I know…I’m morbid. Feel free to select your favorite societal scape goat and blame it for me.
Another ‘sign of the times’ is the periods of confusion she is suffering from. Today she came into the kitchen, got three words into a sentence, and just stopped as if someone had hit her off switch. Now, we all have spacey moments (especially when we are tired) where we sit and stare off into nothingness, lost in our thoughts. I know I have. The difference with her is that these moments are occurring with increasing frequency, completely at random, and are more about trying to simply find and hold on to a thought than they are about sitting thoughtless and tranquil.
In a perverse twist, the day ended well, though. In a way, it was like finding a holy relic in a den of iniquity. As we sat down to dinner, I noticed her struggling with her food. As she had done for me on countless occasions when I was a child, I asked if I could help. I then sat there, cutting up her food for her, to which she meekly said, “Thank you.” I told her she was welcome, and that I loved her.
The Angel of Death will just have to wait another day.