November 27th, 2005

art

8 am wake-up call

I have been staying at my mother's assisted living complex since I arrived at 6 am on Thursday. Though last night was the first night I got to sleep in an actual bed as someone else had reserved the guest suite for all of the other days.

Alas, I did not get to enjoy the bed nearly as much as I would have hoped. My mom called from upstairs to downstairs at 8 am to inform me that she needed to go to the hospital, that they would admit her to 7D, the women's cancer floor, since she hasn't been able to keep anything down, including water, for the past several days.

It's a great way to wake up in the morning -- stumble out of bed, swallow a bar for breakfast and start packing and arranging for your mother to head to the hospital. Not to mention driving her minivan (normally I drive a very cute, very tiny little VW Golf... so the Windstar is quite a change in basically every direction). I drove in icky Minnesota winter weather, no less. Hard to see as there is sand/snow/slush mix that is liquid enough that the cars ahead on the road kick it up into the windshield. Unfortunately, windshield wipers are only marginally helpful, and the "washer" function must be utilized more often than one would probably care to use it.

But I digress.

I packed Mom into a wheelchair, drove her to the hospital, took care of the registration/admission paperwork and sat with her while the nurses asked what'd been going on.

The last few days haven't been pretty. She had surgery (minor) on Thursday, and hasn't been able to keep food down since. She's been hungry and trying to eat, and her body rejects it and rejects it. Friday, we snuck out of the house to get as far as the CVS that was a block or so away in order to buy enough food to continue subsisting for a few days. (Which really meant cold cereal and things for me to munch on, more than anything else).

Saturday, we'd promised to see friends and family, so I spent the morning cleaning Mom's apartment while she huddled in her chair, crying from pain and weakness and frustration. For people who don't know my mom, she's not the teary type. She's not the type to curl up and cower in pain, or weakness and certainly not the type to cry from it. She felt so weak that we almost cancelled the visit... at the last minute, we didn't because people started showing up. Mom hiding sort of in a corner was able to protect people a fair amount from seeing how sick she really was, and if you can engage her mind and distract her, she temporarily gets a break from the pain.

But it's hard not to be at least a little sensitive to how sick she is, and very hard when all a person can do is stroke her arm and say "deep breath" over and over again.

That's what it's been like, until today, when I drove her to the hospital.

I am so exhausted, I wish I were flying home today. And somehow I have to find the energy to pull my brain back into functioning and do my Chinese homework. I have to go back to life and continue to function, which is awfully hard when things like this keep happening. And somehow, I feel that I need to figure out how to be strong and bear this and not inflict it upon everyone else. I feel sorry for my friends -- I feel like I have to be difficult and hard work and generally a bad friend because I am trying so hard to keep going right now that I don't feel I have the strength to reach out and give. I feel like there's no way I can be pleasant to be around right now and I don't want to inflict myself on other people in this state. I am depressed and I'm angry and I'm exhausted, more than anything. And I'm still trying to find a way to feel and be positive.

I looked into counseling. Not because I don't trust my friends, but because there has come to be such a massive pileup of stuff (and as soon as I get through a little bit of it, more piles on) that I need someone who has to listen to me... because I don't want to drive my friends away by exhausting them... and things have gotten bad enough that without meaning to, I just might do that. Or at least, I worry that I will. (But that is perhaps my independence talking... the person who believes she doesn't, or shouldn't need anyone or anything. Which is a thoroughly false assumption, as even the most independent people need other people, but one I have to remind myself not to make nonetheless).

The truly eye-opening thing about being home this weekend, though, with my mom spending two days (and probably 3 of 5 that I am home) in the hospital and the other two basically out of commission is that assisted living is really what she needs. In some sense, there are days or weeks where caring for her is a full-time job. And the exhaustion on that caretaker role is incredible. Maybe I feel it more than I have in the past because it really is exhausting, or maybe I feel it because I'm trying hard to pick myself up from having stumbled and fallen hard recently, in terms of many areas of my life and this feels like another blow that's trying to keep me down. But I think that that aside, this really is worse than it's ever been.

And I was thinking, as I drove from the hospital to Starbucks, where I am now, that I think moving back home at this point is one of the worst things I could do for myself. I can probably be more help to my mom living in California, because I can stay centered there -- I have people to take care of me, who I can go get coffee with and who I see for stuff that doesn't relate to mom and her illness. Letting that be my whole life, for even a few days, (with the exception of a few hours spent at my high school reunion which was a bizarre but overall good and worthwhile experience, and another couple hours getting coffee with Seton) has left me feeling terribly drained. And I don't know how I could continue to be helpful without resentment feeling so tired.

Somehow, I have to figure out how to make all of this work... grad school, family, friends and myself. Because if I can't figure out how to take care of myself, I'm no use to any of the others.
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