27 January 2006

Parents, pouring rain, Portland

So if I had any readers, I’ve surely lost you by now. I’m still writing up dinner, even though I’ve successfully worked off the weight I must have gained that night.

Please forgive me, dear readers, for I have sinned. It’s been over three weeks since my last entry, and I have no good excuse. Well, I sort of have an excuse. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks in and around Portland, Silverton, and Mt. Angel, Oregon, attending to my mother after she underwent emergency gall bladder surgery. But let me proceed with the latest shaggy dog stories.

So – I’m recovering from a very fun Blowoff on MAL weekend. Our dear friend R was in town from Manhattan. We hadn’t caused nearly as much trouble as we might have, so it must have been about 10:30 on Sunday morning. We’re reading the Times, drinking coffee, and talking when the phone rings.

Now, a call that early on a weekend almost always means a parental call, and when one is the teeniest bit tired and hung over, parental calls become torture, plain and simple. Avoid at all costs.

When I saw “Silverton Hospital” on the caller ID, I knew this call would be far, far worse. I was surprised to find that it was my mother on the other end of the line. “What are you doing at the hospital?” I asked? “Didn’t you get my messages?” Her voice was full of pain, confusion, and loneliness. I reached for the keyboard, a pack of cigarettes, and shushed R and G2.

First from my mother, and then from the nurses on her unit, my mom’s medical situation was made clear to me. She had experienced pain in her abdomen for almost two weeks, as well as some seemingly associated pain in her right shoulder. So she’d gone to the hospital, only to be discharged when it was obvious she was having neither a stroke nor a heart attack.

Now, my mother is 82 years old, and on her very best days she’s not a model of clarity when explaining herself, particularly when describing her pain or discomfort . These were not her best days. Mind you, she was a professor of nursing, taught physical assessment, and expected everyone she taught to be almost psychic in their ability to infer the cause of symptoms and diseases. Teaching how to assess patients’ pain apparently didn’t prepare her for describing her own.

The pain remained, and she became a “frequent flyer,” returning to the Emergency Room. Much diagnostic imaging, and (presumably) some careful physical assessment lead to a diagnosis of a diseased gall bladder. (Just how diseased figures into the story later. Hold the thought.) Oh, and a liver obscured by a mass, which no one I spoke with seemed to know much about. By this point of the phone calls, I’m shaking. With good reason I think. So action was taken.

Frontier Airlines obliged me with seats on the 6:15 from National to Denver, and at 9:45 from Denver to Portland. Mr. Hertz provided me with a car, and G2 and R helped address my anxiety. (G2 is the best, most supportive partner a human being could ever hope for, and R is my best friend and fellow traveler through life as an only child.) With the appropriate mix of concern, support, and shot of whiskey (Baleveine 12 year old, “double wood”), they sent my on my way.

The flight was completely uneventful. Arriving in Portland was uneventful. Sleeping in my mother’s abandoned bed was deeply disconcerting, as was navigating an apartment that had previously been defined by her presence. Without my mom there, everything seemed completely anonymous.

How much of a shock is it to see your parent in a bed in intensive care, looking more like a porcupine than a human being? It was a huge fucking shock. I’d seen my mother in many settings through the 44 years she’s kept me around: professional Virginia, leading nursing students through the maze of knowledge, skills and experiences required to make them trained and effective medical professionals; queen Virginia, holding forth on all sorts of matters, sometimes knowingly, sometimes full of shit; drunk Virginia; saint Virginia; a whole host of Virginias. But I’d never seen medical Virginia, held hostage in a hospital bed by disease and technology. Medical Virginia was something I never wanted to see.

I never want to see it again, after having seen it.

There’s more to come on the medical front.

I haven’t spent two weeks in Oregon in over ten years. I’ve never had to provide post-operative care to a parent. And it’s been well over twenty years since I’ve been in Oregon during the suicide months of January or February.

I wasn’t surprised to find rain. That’s a given. But most of the time, the storms that blow in from the Pacific across Oregon do so pretty quickly, with a solid shot of rain and wind, then showers, and finally a break between storms.

That’s not the current weather pattern: this year, the storms just seem to keep coming, and the rain is both more constant and much heavier than usual. The two effect of this new pattern are: it’s always damp. Not just a little damp, but soaking, bone chilling damp. And people are both tired of the weather and are constantly talking about the rain, cold and fog.

(Oregonians on the whole don’t complain. Well, they do. But not directly. Think of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” with fewer Lutherans and more talk about rain than snow. You’ve got the picture.)

Finally, Portland: There will be much more on Portland, and specifically about retail therapy and restaurants. Nordstrom, Gotham Building Tavern, Family Supper, and Blue Hour – these are some of the things that helped me stay focused and calm while I was attending to my mother.


Matt said...

Hey Scory. Big HUGS to ya. Sounds like ya need it. Hope your mom is doing better.

scory said...

Thanks! There's been a whole lot of good thoughts and prayers (yup, I said that) coming my way.