Sunday, September 5, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.39: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 39

Robert Gallagher, Wake

Goodbye to Ann, Part I

"Meet us at the hospital," my father said.

Those were my instructions when I called to let him know I was bringing their grandkids over. He informed me that, no, he would not be at home. The pain my mother had been feeling for the past weeks had gotten worse. My brother and father had taken her to the doctor. The doctor, seeing her in pain for the third or fourth time, had sent her for a consultation.

"We had to come home for an hour because I forgot my medicine. But we're headed back. You should visit us. Your mom would like it."

Forty minutes later with my wife and kids in the car, I arrived at the healthcare center. We walked in to find my father and brother sitting in the waiting room on padded vinyl chairs. I hadn't seen the place for a decade. The slightly-faded salmon walls seemed odd. I guessed they had been re-painted. The partly antiseptic smell in the hallways felt familiar, though. I glanced around. My mother was nowhere to be seen.

"They keep saying they'll send her out," my father complained, "but they keep sending her for more tests instead."

For this visit, we had planned in advance. We had coloring books, novels, homework, and games for the kids. In between the sessions of childcare, the adults could talk. The only topic we cared about was how long mom had been in pain. My father said it had been at least a year. He suspected more.

"Because Ann never says anything," he sighed. "Now that she's saying something, I'm afraid it's really, really serious."

After only another forty minutes, a doctor came out. He wore his dark, straight hair parted to the side. His hands came out of the pockets of his white, lab coat as he strode forward to greet us.

"Who is next of kin?" he asked. "Are you all related?"

We took a moment for introductions. It didn't take much longer than that for the doctor to notice our impatience. He paused for effect. We all fell silent. He got to the point.

"We don't see a relapse of the cancer," he admitted. His tone grew darker. "But the CT scans of her abdomen look odd."

"The radiation." Three of us had the thought at once. The doctor gaped the adults around him. He hadn't expected that his view would be so widely anticipated. He recovered a moment later and nodded sagely.

"We want to do a very small surgery to look at what's causing the pain." Unconsciously or not, he made a small incising motion with his right hand. "Do you know what a laparoscopy is?"

We groaned. It wasn't good news. But as we exchanged glances, we realized it wasn't the worst, either. That would have been cancer. A laparoscopy was the next logical step. The main risk to my mother during it would come from her lungs. Her previous doctor had said he didn't want to send her into any procedure that required anesthesia. Her breathing rasped from the fungal infection she'd gotten in her portable classroom years ago. A short surgery, though, might not carry too much risk for her.

"I suppose that you do know." The doctor seemed wary of us. "It's the least invasive way that we can look around. It's possible that there is some scar tissue left over from her last surgery. That was what, four years ago?"


"And it may be binding parts of her organs together. That would cause her discomfort." He sounded like he was developing a slight drawl. His understatement sounded confident.

"You know about her lungs?" my father asked.

"Tell me about her lungs," the doctor said.

After more talk about her medical history and her diagnostic tests, the medical team at her health center put her on their schedule for surgery in two weeks. Soon, they realized that her pain meds weren't enough to let her move. Since she was bed-ridden, they bumped up her priority. To six days. It caught the family by surprise. Everyone agreed it was probably good, though, especially my mother.

For once, the procedure was so routine that I didn't bother to take off work for it. My mother went into the operating room at noon. At one in the afternoon, I called to check on her.

"She's not out yet," my father said. "I don't know what's going on."

What was going on was that the laparoscopy had found so much damage, so close to the incision, that the surgeons decided to operate. They had to remove the scar tissue. I kept calling the health center to get updates. By the third call, a nurse had told my father what was going on and that the procedure would take a few hours.

"I didn't bring enough medicine to stay here all day," he replied.

"You might as well go home and have dinner," the nurse told him.

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