[NOTE: This is Part Two of Chapter Nine. If you haven’t yet read Part One, please do so first, or you will be missing some context.]
After being bumped two days already, my mom’s surgery gets bumped yet again, however we are promised it will happen that afternoon or evening. I find myself wondering just how many transplants and heart surgeries there are in any given week in Baltimore. My begrudging is begrowing.
As Lyena and I wait, we receive the call from Dr. VaJayjay regarding the results of the blood test. In his standard, soothing voice, he informs us that, unfortunately, the hormone levels dropped by half instead of doubling as we had hoped. It may take a couple of days, but we’re going to lose the pregnancy.
Plummet seems like the right word.
As hard as we’ve tried to keep our expectations reasonable, it’s still a blow. We’ve both gotten excited over the past couple of days thinking about the possibility. Now, though technically still pregnant, we can only wait for the inevitable.
That night, I get a call from my sister about mom’s surgery. Unfortunately, things didn’t go well there either. The surgeon was unable to insert the tubing into my mom’s abdomen quite like he had hoped, so he wasn’t able to drain more than a little of the fluid buildup. It did ease mom’s pain a bit, but was essentially unsuccessful. “So what’s next,” I ask. “I really don’t know,” she says. She tells me there is a meeting scheduled with the oncology team in the morning and we’ll know more then.
About 11pm California time (2am Maryland time), I get a call from my mom. I’m surprised to hear from her so late, but figure maybe she just couldn’t sleep and wanted someone to talk to. She tells me that she met with the surgeons after the “procedure” (she’s still calling it a “procedure”) and that it didn’t work. “Things are bad,” she says. “How bad,” I ask. “I think it’s a matter of days.”
Now it’s days?! We went from pain management to hospice care to… a few days? When? How? I’m trying my best to stay emotionally upright, but virtually everything inside of me is crumbling. The only part still standing is this little piece that is either logic or denial telling me that this simply can’t be right.
The rest of the conversation is a series of long silences broken with the occasional touch of conversation. There is so much to say, and yet words don’t seem relevant. She tells me she’s known for a while that this day was coming and that she’s ready. That she’s glad it’s happening quickly and won’t be a long, drawn-out, painful process. She asks me to call my brother, Ted (who also lives in LA), and come out as soon as I can. She says she’s glad I have Lyena to help me through this. And, more than once, she tells me she loves me. For my part, I take it all in as best I can and respond in kind. Every syllable seems precious now.
After mom, exhausted, hangs up, I call Ted and relay the news to him. We, too, have a mostly silent conversation. Several times he asks the same question I’m asking: “How did we get here so quickly?” Once, he states my thoughts as concisely as I can imagine: “Fuckin’ cancer.” I tell him there’s part of me that doesn’t think her self-prognosis is right and that I want to hear what the doctors say in the morning. We talk for a short while and agree to talk more tomorrow. I can almost hear him booking a flight moments later.
As I tell Lyena the news, the first wave of true grief hits me. I’ve never understood the term “wracked with grief” until now, but it’s an appropriate description. My emotions take over my body and beat it from the inside out. I cannot control the tears, the wails, the convulsions or the instinct to curl into myself until I disappear. Somehow, Lyena manages to hold me, hold space for me and gently guide me through the pain and back home.
When I finally relax a little, I decide for sure that I’m going to wait to book my flight until after I hear what the oncology team has to say in the morning. A few hours isn’t going to change much. And something still doesn’t feel quite right. Resigned, I pour myself a stiff scotch, drink it in a swig and fall into bed.
The next morning, my sister calls and tells me that they met with the oncology team, who informed them that we weren’t looking at just “a few days.” Though they won’t give an estimate of how long, they dance around plans for another procedure several weeks away, which leads us all to believe that they at least think she’ll make it that long or longer. We all take a deep breath.
I call my brother to tell him but he’s already at the airport about to get on the plane bound for home. We chat until he has to board, and then I start researching flights for myself. My dad and I have determined that I should head out mid-week after mom is back home (she has decided on home hospice care) and Ted has headed back to LA.
After I book my flight, I take a moment to steel myself for the difficult week ahead. What will I say? There are so many things a son wants to say and ask his mother and now that I know our time is short, I am determined to say and ask them. If I don’t, I know I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.
I head into the bedroom to find Lyena with a look of deep, visceral sorrow on her face. Instinctually, I know what it is. “I just got my period,” she says.
We are no longer pregnant.
Up next… The Mother and Child Reunion