Sunday, April 29, 2007

Statistically Speaking

Justin should be dead right now. Or in jail. Or a drug addict. Or an alcoholic. Or a high school drop out. Or a high school graduate FULL STOP. Or domestically violent. Or anything but what he is.

Medical and educational professionals have told him so.

But he is none of those things. In fact, right now, my wonderful, protective, caring husband is sleeping so that he can drive us to Long Beach, where we will visit his ailing mother and the rest of the family that lives with and takes care of her. Maybe we'll visit my parents too, perhaps have one or two beers, talk a little politics, play a board game if he and my mom are really lucky. After that, he'll drive me home, letting me sleep, which I will fight so I can keep him company, but we both know that by Irvine at best I'll be out and he'll be listening to talk radio to keep himself awake. Tomorrow he will start his last rotation of his third year of medical school--pediatrics, where the kids will love him because he will explain things to them (if they're young he'll quite possibly even act things out--like pretend to be a blood cell or a germ or whatever it is that needs explaining--or if they're pre-teens or teenagers he'll talk to them like they are adults until they understand; he will be on their side and they will know it. They're parents will bear witness and be comforted and spoken with as well, but the patient--the "child" will be sometimes more present in his eyes than in the eyes of the parents). Then he will come home and we will eat the dinner he made in the Crock Pot (yesterday--it's been bizarre around here lately), he'll study, we'll maybe watch some TV or have some talking-time and then he'll go to sleep and we'll start all over again the next day.

Justin is anything but a statistic, though I bet he has a lot of statistics memorized--his mind is a vault for numbers.

But yesterday, his step dad called to tell him that his mom hasn't spoken since Tuesday. It's not likely by her decision--if she had her choice she'd be bossing everyone around, cracking bawdy jokes and calling Justin at least once a week. If she had her choice "those people" (her mother-in-law and sister-in-law) would not be living in her house. Instead, they are force feeding her (just this week), helping her in and out of her wheelchair as necessary and fighting to get her to do some of her physical therapy.

Justin's mom was hit by a mac truck when she was stopped at a stop light in her car. She's got some fused vertebrae and brain injury--the single parent who put herself through college and became an engineer of some sort while he let himself into the house after school and ate TV dinners often and had to do his homework before playing with friends suddenly couldn't even add simple numbers. A little later, before he went to the River to visit his friends he stopped by and his mom and step dad told him she'd started feeling dizzy and walking into the walls and stuff. He, then a partial-foot amputee so medically retired US Marine and former EMT, told her she HAD to go to the hospital or he would take her there when he got back.

They went. She had a brain tumor. A big one. Statistically, a kind of cancer more commonly found in young children. She had to have surgery. I don't remember the statistics on survival or recovery rates for the youngsters, but since then she has been in a wheel chair with serious deficits in motor skills, speech, cognitive abilities and life functions. Enter the in-laws.

Her young husband still calls her "sweetheart" and "babe." But they used to go dancing and she used to be a photographer. She used to keep an immaculate house (I've been told) and be an excellent cook. She likes me well enough now, but Justin says she probably would have liked me then too; even though she never liked any of the women he brought home. (We all know I'm a serious upgrade though. Those were the accidental women. Oops. Another bad judgement call. And then they were gone.) Now he uses those terms of endearment to get her to turn in her wheelchair and look at people instead of Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel or whatever random show has been turned on while the other women of the house do whatever it is they do. He chooses quite restaurants so she can hear better, and translates if we don't understand her speech. He cuts up her meal in fork size bites and asks for her drinks in short cups so that she won't spill because of her tremoring hands.

You can tell he still loves her--they hold hands and smile goofy smiles at each other.

But for almost a week it's been force feeding and no words. There were two days last year where she did not speak and the doctors said maybe it was because she had a cold too. But this is day six. Sometimes the magical presence of her son inspires her--so we go, our plans to finish cleaning the house and get him ready for the pediatric rotation and go to church, then have lunch, then have me work at Mo's are suddenly changed.

We're used to these changes. These phone calls. My shoulders clench while he talks in the other room. I know bad news is coming when he gets that serious voice. Maybe it's the aging mother-in-law who has had hip surgery and smokes like a chimney while she plays games on the computer set up for her in the kitchen... but without her who would take care of his mom. Maybe it's his mom: fallen out of her wheel chair or the bed and broken another bone, needing a surgery for a shunt to drain fluid from her brain, having a chest cold which is even worse for her because she has to work pretty hard to swallow down the right side instead of inhaling her food and drink. There's a thickener they use in liquids to help her with that.

So we go.

Statistically speaking, people who have these surgeries and then radiation and chemo do not end up like she has ended up. But maybe they have better medical insurance and better doctors or start from a better place.

Whatever it is, Justin says it's taken the spark out of her. She used to be so driven and now she doesn't care. Who would? But also, they've taken the part of the brain that creates will and messed with it.

What is a woman to do? And her son? And daughter in law?

I can only imagine how frustrating this trip will be for Justin, who has held it together remarkably well this time no tears just matter of fact and just Friday took his neurology shelf exam. He's taking his medical equipment with him, he'll run some test, but not the ones he wants to run because he doesn't have access to hospital equipment for her. And then what will he do with the information? He can diagnose, he can think of treatments, but her doctors...


I am calm (though we both knew last night was an Ambien night). I don't do medical care taking well. I don't even do medical observing well. There house is a very quiet place for me, too.

Statistically speaking, her doctors are exactly what you would get in a place where a son should be everything he is not.

Statistically speaking the world is trapped in its orbit and nothing much changes.

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