Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Not Exactly A Vacation

Shadow of clouds on the dry California hills
Roger and I just spent two weeks on the road. We drove 350 miles (563 km) south to the family beach house in Capitola on September 20th expecting to be joined by my mother, sister, and nieces and nephews to celebrate my mother's 90th birthday on September 25. That did not happen. My sister ended up in the hospital for most of that week, so we drove another 340 miles south to stay with my mother to both celebrate her birthday and to take her for her third monoclonal antibody treatment for follicular lymphoma.

My mother lives in a one bedroom apartment with a tiny kitchen featuring a single electric burner stove and a microwave. The apartment is in an assisted living facility that has a nice restaurant for the residents (we call them inmates!), so not much cooking takes place in those small kitchens. We don't particularly like eating food that isn't organic or that we haven't prepared ourselves, so we have found ways to make fine meals on that one little burner. Of course, breakfast is easy. We travel with a toaster, cutting board, and frying pans. Dinners are a bit trickier. Luckily, there's a Trader Joe's within walking distance of my mother's apartment. We don't have to risk losing our very precious parking space to head out to the store for some of their frozen organic brown rice. We pop that little package into the microwave and within four minutes there's steaming bowl of rice. In one frying pan I can make stir-fries of various flavors. We love tofu and veggies with spicy peanut sauce. Yum. It's an interesting challenge to try and be inventive there, but we give it our best.
A screen grab of my eclipse photos from the camera
So, that's how we spent most of the eight days we were in southern California. We did celebrate my mom's 90th at a lovely restaurant with her grandchildren and their partners. My sister could not be there because she was still the hospital. We took my mother to a doctor's appointment to meet her new primary care physician. We also took her shopping and to visit my sister twice.

On the day before we headed back north to the beach house (and then home from there), I spent four hours at the chemotherapy lab with my mother while she had her infusion. The lab has nine reclining chairs for the patients. There are Registered Nurses, nursing assistants, and administrative staff in the room at all times. Each reclining chair has one of those devices next to it where bags of liquid medicine hang and drip into the veins of the patients. There is only the sound of beeping machines and muffled conversations. On the day we were in the lab all of the chairs were full, and eight of the nine patients were women. My mother was the oldest in the room. There was one woman who looked very close to death. I was surprised she was getting a treatment. One woman entered the lab looking like a well-coiffed and well-dressed business executive. She clicked in high heels all the way across the lab to the recliner next to my mother's. She sat down in the chair, took off those shoes, and put on slippers. Then she proceeded to take off her beautiful long-hair wig and revealed a head of sparsely grown-in hair. I enjoyed her presence very much. We had some light conversation, while her medicine dripped into a vein in her chest. Some of the people had friends or family with them. Most didn't. One woman slept during the process, wearing a beautiful cloth eye mask. One read on her kindle. I sat next to my mother the whole time. She read her book. I played on the computer. At one point I showed her the headline of that day: A  Mass Shooting At A College Campus in Oregon. We shook our heads.
My mother after the infusion
While I was in that lab I thought about how that scenario is repeated all over the country and the world day after day. There are places where people are doing all they can to live as long as they can, and there are medical staff to help them. There are places where madmen have guns and are intent upon ending the lives of strangers. There is desire and disaster, dreams and deadly dramas. Everyday. Everyday.

We are home. Weary, and very glad to be here.


  1. You describe irony in that last paragraph. Leave off the guns and you have human nature whether it's to take all of someone's money, damage the environment, live with rage, beat up another, and on it goes while at the same time there are those doing all they can to make life better, more loving, and safer for others. Two types of human nature, which I have called caretaker or destroyer. It's not that easy sometimes to discern which is which...

    Glad your mother is doing as well as she is. Sweet photo

  2. Love the dry parched land with the shadows of clouds that tease with the suggestion of rain. Love love love the screen grab. *Love* the photo of your mother!
    Hate the sorrow and loneliness of people alone in a hospital. Hate how routine mass killings have become.
    Comfort in remembering Kate Knapp Johnson's poem Envoy Prayer. It says it all.

  3. Glad you could spend some time with your mother. And I'm glad you are home safe and sound. Thoughts for your mom and for your sister as well. And, of course, for you and Roger.

  4. How nice for your mom that you could be there for her chemo but also to celebrate her day. I hope she has no adverse reactions to the chemo. Interesting how that one woman was dressed to the nines hiding the cancer patient under it all. Sometimes a good front helps how we feel.
    Your mom has such a nice smile and I hope your sister is much better now.

  5. Rain-- What amazes me is the simultaneity of it all. The caretaker and the destroying happening at once. Nine people trying to survive, nine people murdered. Sad beyond belief.

    CCorax-- That photo of the dry mountains of central California says it all-- the parched land, the rocky upthrust of the earth, the wine grapes, the pastures. I'm glad you liked it, I took when we were zooming by at 75 mph! Also glad you like the photo of my mom. She is such a character! I'll check out Kate Knapp Johnson's poem. Thank you.

    NCmountainwoman-- My mom is doing well. My sister is still suffering. It is so challenging at the moment. Sure wish all this health stuff would resolve well for her. Thank you for your good thoughts.

    Arkansas Patti-- My mom's treatment is not exactly chemo, but it is managed by her oncologist and administered in that lab. It's an antibody treatment that attaches itself to the cancer cells and is supposed to provoke her immune system into a response that kills the cancer. We're hoping it works. I love how your describe that woman as, "hiding the cancer patient under it all." Yes, I think the projection helps how we feel. She did a great job. I'll tell my mom you like her smile. I wish my sister were better. Sigh.

  6. Good that your mom is cogent enough to want to live some more. Not always the case, and not always a good thing.
    Don't mean to be morbid, just frank.
    Love the eclipse series.

  7. Nice picture of your mother!

  8. Your mother looks like she's in pretty good spirits. It's great that you were there for her 90th birthday. I was glad we were able to get my mother to a Japanese restaurant for her 90th. She died soon after that.

    It was cloudy here for the eclipse, unfortunately.

  9. isabelita-- Yes, my mom is pretty cogent. She does have moments, though, when her reality bends a bit in a direction we don't understand. She is a very tough woman in every way. Glad you liked the eclipse pics!

    Sabine-- Thank you, I'll tell her!

    Mark-- She is is good spirits for the most part. She does have her ups and downs, but she is an amazing role model for still loving life. Sorry you didn't get to see the eclipse. It was fun to watch, even if we were having to look at it in the southern California skies.