Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Things Get Ugly

Yesterday, things got ugly. My aunt Lucha has always been a handful and as she's gotten older, symptoms have intensified. It'd been a while since she'd given us a go. But like the rut of an allergy, we took our places and reprised our roles.

The onset of dementia has been somewhat of a blessing. That sounds harsh. But with the disappearance of nouns and storylines we've also lost petty grievances, grudges, and long-standing feuds. Where once she'd leave the room when a certain someone was mentioned, she now asks after them, concerned for their well-being, unaware they've passed on.

Yesterday she received an ultrasound of the masses in her neck. The cancer-center doctors are not sure what the lumps are composed of, but have three guesses: escaped thyroid cancer, escaped upper lip cancer, or swelling and inflammation stemming from treatment of those two. The south-south-Texas doctors however, assume cancer (sans biopsy) beyond their treatment capabilities, and suggested hospice. So here we are, 10th floor cancer-megacenter, Lucha's wearing the gown, lying on the table, and the sweet twentysomething tech applies goo to the ultrasound wand.

Fifteen seconds into it, Lucha's grabbing at our wrists, eyes filled with terror. Now her arms are flailing, she's trying to sit up. Relax, lay back, breathe deep -- no, breathe through your nose -- deeper. I can't, I can't, I have to go, Let Me Go.

"Lucha, why did you agree to travel here if you were unwilling to undergo the testing?"

"I don't know. I didn't know. No one told me we were coming here."

Thank goodness the radiologist is a man. The presence of this man in the room elicits a docility from Lucha. And (thank you Jesus!) our next appointment included a male nurse *and* a male doctor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Houston

I'm far from home. My mother is trekking to a modern-day Lourdes, hoping that this cancer center will offer up a cure for her sister's illness, and I'm helping out. We join other seekers at this econo-suite-inn we're holed up in, it's teeming with other patients; there's a sort of dorm atmosphere to the place. All those hallway seating areas that usually remain empty in other hotels are occupied by people on laptops and cell phones. It seems everyone's carrying a pillow and blanket. You can borrow DVDs, games and puzzles at the front desk and there's even a free shuttle to the medical center.

Yesterday was new patient registration and the cars streamed into the valet parking, unloading the ill, and those helping their ill. The medical center is a marvel of people management. Ten stories, lettered elevator banks, medical record numbers, online patient communities, emails, and queues work in an intricate, brilliant manner to move 'em in and get 'um done with a minimum of waiting and inconvenience. It really is amazing.

One thing that struck me yesterday (and oh so very much struck me yesterday) was the framed photography at the center. Flowers. Medicinal herbs, many of them. The first one I saw was aloe and I thought, huh, Aloe. But then we were directed to a waiting area called "Elderberry". All the waiting areas were named after plants, medicinal herbs, trees. Our examining room had a huge photo of California Poppies.

I've heard it said that nothing of value is ever truly lost. I guess sometimes it watches from a portrait on the wall.

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