Some find it so shocking when a person is killed by a member of their own family. Frankly, I have to wonder why it doesn’t happen more often... Okay, I'm kidding... mostly.
Two Sundays ago, I flew back to Familyland in the upper mid-north. I grew up there but I left half a lifetime ago so it's no longer my home even though all of my family still lives there.
My dad is scheduled to have major surgery the next day and my mother's mind is getting a bit too fuzzy to fully cope with this kind of stress. The surgery is necessary to repair a prior surgery-gone-wrong from last August. I won't say screwup or malpractice because pointing fingers serves no purpose at this point. I will say that this time I resolved not to be 1000 miles away and at the mercy of others to be my dad's care advocate. I will also say that in spite of my mother, my two brothers and their wives, my dad might only have survived last summer because of my former sister-in-law and a cousin who were good enough to jump in and demand some answers.
Oh, have I mentioned that I'm the family bitch? Yeah, I have the misfortunate character flaw that causes me to question authority and say what I think. The rest of my family does not make waves. They secretly complain about my differences but have no problem exploiting them when it suits. Whatever. Some times you just have to block out all the disfunctional noise that is your family and do what feels right.
The biggest reason I'm going back for the surgery is because my dad wants me to come.
But, oh, as long as I am packing up my B-ness and coming that way, could I have a talk with my mother about getting some help for her developing dementia, they asked. I mean, it's not like they don't see her every day whereas my contact with her is pretty limited. Bitter? A little.
So, in spite of a crappy nasal gomboo and a buttload of job-work, I take off for 10 days of family fun. I am actually thinking of it as a bit of a break. Sometimes my optimism is a bit misplaced.
The plane ride was fairly uneventful... except that my eardrum ruptured at 27,000 feet. Wow. At least the plugged up feeling is gone... in one ear.
My dad picks me up at the airport and takes me to their house where I soon realize an early Thanksgiving dinner is in the making... with the WHOLE family. In this case WHOLE doesn't imply a large family so much as it means every member of the family. Including my newest sister-in-law - who is not very new but I lack a better identifier. As much as I dislike her for the selfish witch that she is, I can be civil around her. She, however, cannot return the favor because she believes me to be the soul reason for the sad state of my brother's family relationships... but that is a complete 40,000 word blog of its own. My brother, with whom I once shared a close relationship, pre-witch, mostly pretends I'm not there because to acknowledge me with other than vague pleasantries would probably cost him sleep and sex for a year. My mother thinks that we will all be one happy family again soon. I have given up trying to teach her about reality.
The next morning we take my dad to the hospital bright and early. He is optimistic and ready to have done with it. The people at the hospital are SO nice. Really. Unless you have spent time in the 'Otas, trust me, you do not know NICE. Even the doctor is nice. Not curt or quick or all doctor-talky. My dad is off to surgery and 5 hours later is in his room to sleep it off. Growing up my dad was the strongest man in the neighborhood. He was the one the neighborhood called on when they needed some serious muscle. Now at 83, he is lying in bed, tubes snaking out of every opening with my mother looking on helplessly. I am suddenly aware that life has changed. A lot.
With the surgery out of the way, the next day I resign myself to getting some professional help for my throbbing, bleeding ear and drive myself to the quickie-clinic even though I feel like shit. My mother offers to take me but I can’t let her do that. I am 50 years old and she is 78. We’ve crossed the equator as far as who cares for whom and there is no going back. I don't 'want my mommy' anymore.
I tell the receptionist right up front that I have no idea whether my health insurance covers their services because I do not have the strength to track down an internet connection to find a ‘participating facility’. I even go so far as to tell her that I am pretty sure it doesn’t. No worries, she tells me. Why don’t we just run it through and try. She wants only my co-pay and neither my arm nor my leg. I am too sick to lecture her on how the wonton trust of her culture will surely bankrupt them. That nice thing again. I take a seat and wait no more than 5 minutes before my name is called.
I’m examined by a kindly, older nurse practitioner who sees my burst ear drum and raises me a double ear infection. Ten minutes later I head out with three prescriptions in my pocket and try to find a pharmacy based on my fuzzy recollection of one in the general area of… okay, I’m lost… and I’m sick… and I am driving around aimlessly in my dad's truck with an empty prune can rolling around the passenger floor - probably the remains of his last presurgery 'binge'. I am thinking that my life can’t get more pathetic than this. I am way wrong.
I struggle through the pharmacy experience and finally make it home. Oh my! My mother has plugged the toilet. I glance briefly into the bathroom and see her plunging brown water. I tell her that if she will leave it alone, I’ll take care of it later but I just can’t deal with it… right now. I hit the couch and focus on fighting my nausea. I drift off only to be roused by the periodic sound of plunger suckings, which join up in my mind with the brown water visual. Finally, it’s unavoidable. I run to the brown water bathroom and puke into the sink… several times. No way was I getting close to that toilet.
Meanwhile, my mother has called my father... in the hospital! to find out what should be done. He asks to talk to me. He says she is plunger-challenged. I tell him I will take care of it. I tell my mother that I will take care of it. I tell myself that I WILL TAKE CARE OF IT! What a big help I'm turning out to be. I finally sleep a miraculous, rejuvenating 90 minutes and arise to battle the crap clog. Once the pipes are clear, I notice that my mother has obviously been using a wire hanger... or something, to try to poke out the poop. There are black scratches all over the bowl. Not my problem... bitches don't do toilet bowls.
So over the next few days my dad's condition improves... and deteriorates... and he's better and he's worse. He's trying so hard to get out of the hospital. My dad, unlike his daughter, follows his doctors orders to the T. But he's a textbook case of what isn't in the textbooks. What should work doesn't. IV's in... IV's out. They try liquids... and take them away. The tests show that everything should be working. It's not. Then it is. My dad is very sad and I cannot fix it no matter how I try.
I put off the 'talk' with my mom until my dad's condition seems somewhat stable, which doesn't happen. My other brother, the one who put in the bitch request, keeps asking about my plans to take care of the mom business and about this time my own husband starts calling persistantly asking when I am coming home... and can I make it sooner. All the while where I once had ears it feels like there are large cotton-stuffed conch shells. I am able to hear less every day. But that doesn't stop my mother from talking to me... while my back is turned or I'm out of the room. Everything must be repeated at close range. Again... and again. I want to yell 'WTF don't you understand about I CAN'T HEAR YOU?!?!' The 'Ota nice is obviously not catching.
Okay, now go back and read those last two paragraphs over and over... at least 4 or 16 times and you will have an inkling of what goes on for the whole first week. I feel mean and unhelpful... and like I should not have come.
I run off with my BFF for yummy Indian buffet and some mad lipgloss shopping on Black Friday, then it's back to her house for mojitos and 'What Not to Wear.' We totally poke fun at everyone - even the 'experts'. Just the therapy I needed.
When I get to the point where I am almost completely deaf, I go back to another doctor... who gives me more drugs and the 'sucks to be you' rush. I am dreading the plane ride home. I am dreading the talk with my mother. I find ways to misplace my cellphone because I cannot handle even one more call from home. My dad wants me to stay another week. I feel like the worst daughter in the world because I can't... or won't because extending my stay another week would make everything else beyond difficult. I am a wimp and I am feeling depressed and totally ineffectual when I make a visit to my in-laws who feed me the world's best pizza and some empathy... and I leave feeling better.
And then there is more... but for another day if you can stand it.