Sometime around Noon on Monday, January 13th my mother, 80-years-old, scoliotic but sentient, walked from her bed to bathroom, and tripped over a blanket.
She lay on the floor, fully conscious, within reach of her Life Alert. Her phone rang multiple times, mostly from her daughter-in-law trying to reach her to confirm a Tuesday medical appointment. She tried to pull herself up but could not. Her pride stopped her from pushing the green button.
20 hours later, wrapped in pillows and suffering dehydration and two fractured vertebrates, emergency services found her alive and took her, by ambulance, to Marina Del Rey Hospital.
A scan later revealed a spot on her right lung. Then a biopsy confirmed aggressive “poorly differentiated” adenocarcinoma or lung cancer stage 2, in her lymph nodes as well, not removable by surgery or treatable by pill, and perhaps not (pending oncology appointments) by chemotherapy or radiation.
For a few weeks, prior to her fall, she had a hacking cough, something many people in dry and smoggy Los Angeles suffer from. Her weight loss seemed to come from paltry eating. Now the benign explanations are stricken from our memory.
After her hospitalization, next to a vigorous and beautiful California woman of 90, she went to the Mar Vista Country Villa, a palm shrouded facility where the nearly dead lay in rooms along hallways sprayed with chemical air fresheners, and nurses are summoned, slowly, by red button, to change patients, bathe them, puff up their pillows, and place beige trays of tan food in front of weak hands, or feed them, as they did my mother, when the sick are too sick to lift a fork.
There was no sleep at Mar Vista Country Villa, interrupted day and night by screams, moans, florescent lights, coughs and agony. The torturously and humorously named “rehab” center assigned a doctor who never met my mother, a man named Sheikh, who stormed into her room one night, woke her up from a deep sleep and yelled, “Hurvitz! Hurvitz! I read your report. Not good. I give you two years at most. I think maybe the Parkinson’s drug you took gave you cancer.”
As she lay in her bed for two weeks we (my brother, his wife, and I) furiously ran defense, interviewing and hiring home care workers, making appointments with doctors, gathering her financial information and assuming power of attorney over her life, financial and medical. Furniture was removed from her apartment, replaced by walkers, wheelchairs, bedpans, shower chairs, elevated toilet seats, grab bars and adult diapers.
And insurance, that lethal octopus of life entangled with death, the overseer of it all, it went into production, turning out bills and invoices and records, demanding attention for its deadlines and payments and vendors, doctors, lab tests, and deductibles.
And we are only now three weeks and two days since the fall.
And I cry almost every day, sitting in traffic on Sepulveda, walking through Ralphs, riding down in the elevator from her apartment, confronting dread and loss, preparing for that unthinkable and uninvited hour, when the woman who gave me life, dies.