A Bump in the Road

“”Do you think you could take me into the hospital for my check up?” My mother asked at six am, poking her peach fuzz covered head into my doorway.

My first emotion was annoyance.  I had just committed to an assignment for the day, a third grade classroom in a school near where my sister lived.  I had just enough time to get my shower, get Zach together and pack by substitute bag of tricks in order to get to the school on time.  I hated when schools called me so late; if I didn’t get a call by five thirty, it was always a rush for me to pull my act together.

But I didn’t say any of this to my mother.  I stopped my negative line of thought for a second and thought.  I had literally hung up the phone two minutes earlier.  How big a deal would it be for me to simply call back and cancel?   Probably not that big a deal.  And if my mother was asking for help, there had to be a reason.  She went down to the city every day for work and handled it.  But maybe she didn’t want to do this alone.

Which would I regret more tomorrow?  Not teaching at a school where I knew no one or not helping my mother?  The answer was clear.  “Sure, Mom.  Let me just call back the substitute teacher coordinator and beg off the assignment they just gave me.”  And just like that, I was free for the day.

It had been two months since stopping her treatments.  We had hoped that she would be feeling worlds better by now.  And while we were both busy and working, it was obvious to me that my mother was not getting any better.  By the time she made it up our front stairs from walking from her car, she was often out of breath.  She spent most evenings on the sofa, quiet and recuperating from her day, and went to bed early.

On the way to the hospital, I asked my mother what was going on.  “OK Mom, level with me.  I know you haven’t been feeling great, but what exactly is going on?”

My mother gave me a look.  She hated talking about herself, and she hated talking about her illness.  But it was clear to both of us that I was going to need some details if I was going to be able to be of any help today.  “Well, I always am out of breath unless I’m sitting still.  Just walking down the hall and I feel winded.   It’s not getting any better since we stopped the chemo.  Actually, I feel worse.  I can feel my hands and feet at least, but I always feel tired.  And anxious, like how you feel when you know something is happening; the butterflies, heart racing, sweaty palms.  I feel like that nearly all of the time too, even if there is no good reason for it.”

“That’s weird,” I said.  “Like you’re actually sweating?  It’s not just a feeling inside, you see actual physical symptoms of it?”

“Yes,” she answered.  “And always out of breath.  I know you’ve seen that.”

“For sure,” I answered.  “I’ll drop you at the door today and then get the handicapped spot.  I think that even is probably too far, am I right?”

She let out a breath.  “Yes, it is.”

“Mom, why didn’t you say something?  You’ve been going to work for a month.  How are you possibly getting to your office?  The handicapped spot is a whole block from your building.”

She was quiet and then answered, “It takes me about fifteen minutes to get there.  I walk slow and stop a lot.”

“You need to tell the doctor this stuff, Mom.  We probably should have called sooner instead of waiting for your monthly check up.”

She looked at me with such a sadness in her eyes.  “I just don’t think I wanted to know why it’s happening.  I kept telling myself the next day would be better.  But then each day wasn’t better.  And now it’s worse.  Much, much worse.”

I gulped.  “OK, Mom.  Well, let’s get in there, figure it out with the doctor and get a plan together.”  A plan would help.  A plan would define the problem and give us a course of action.  A plan was something concrete, a focus, something to work for.  We needed a plan.

“I’m so tired of plans,” my mother answered.  “I’m just so tired.”

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