Monday, August 24, 2009

Why I Really Really Hate Sarah Palin

On Christmas Eve in 2006, I received a call from my sister about an hour before they were due to come to our house for a holiday dinner. Our mother, who had been battling colon cancer since her diagnosis in May, had collapsed and been rushed to the hospital.

My parents were at their home in Florida at the time. They had been love-slash-snow-birds for about 10 years. They were so happy down there doing their own thing. You'd call them in October after they settled in and they'd sound like they were dating again, giggly...having a blast.

They decided she would have her cancer treatment down in Fla because the side-effects of chemo included intolerance to temperature. Cleveland is too cold. Plus they had so many friends down there for support.

In September she had an MRI that showed the tumors had been eliminated. She did not tolerate the chemo well, was barely over 90 pounds when they halted it after the MRI. Of course, her oncologist said she should have her last two chemo treatments when she got up to 92 pounds, even though her MRI was clear. So after Thanksgiving...they put her back on it, she had two treatments in the following few weeks

Then, she started losing weight at an alarming rate and could not keep food in her system. At her funeral her friends told me the last time they saw her was December 10th. I believe that's about the time the chemo started doing it's damage. Mere days after her last treatment

I booked a flight down there on Christmas Day as did my other siblings. A couple of days later, she looked good. I got to joke around with her and make her laugh as I always love to do. When you could get a real laugh out of my mom? It was big, loud and beautiful. I got one of those out of her. We thought it was OK to go back home to Cleveland, that she would be back home with our Dad shortly after.

Weeks went by...we were told she had C-Diff, an infection unfortunately too many folks get in the hospital. But no, that's not it. I flew back and forth, paying through the nose to go see her stuck in a hospital, still losing weight, not getting better. My mom's condition kept declining and the hospital kept attributing it to everything else but her cancer or the effects of the chemo.

Finally, a few days after I returned home from the last trip I received a call from my sister again telling me my mom was at the end. But when we got there what we found was the hospital still trying to treat her and the doctors refusing to tell my father it was no longer going to work.

My mom was a totally different person from the last time I saw her. She was drugged for sure but she was also pissed. She wanted to die. But nobody would let her. Picture a kleenex draped over a pencil...that's what her arms and legs looked like. She was starving to death, she had no muscle left, her body had cannibalized every ounce of muscle and fat. I was told at that time she maybe weighed in the 60's. Her skin was full of black marks, a needle mark left a bruise the size of an apple.

So, while we're there and she's pissed and in pain and sick of shitting herself and waiting 45 minutes for somebody to clean her up; the doctor decides she needs a sigmoidoscopy. I'm in the room when the doctor comes in and recommends this. My mom's face just falls. My dad's face brightens, The Doctor is trying to save his unsaveable wife.

I dare to ask the doctor if this is wise, because my mom is staring at me....pleading... 'Don't let them do this to me'...I know her, that's what she is saying. My dad who wants to save her at all costs, who hasn't had a doctor willing to be honest with him yet, talks her into it and glares at me for thinking otherwise. At that point she gives up trying to have a dignified death. At that point I give up trying to help her get one. I still remember mouthing to her 'I tried' and her turning her head away. That moment haunts me still today.

After the Futile Sigmoidoscopy and the ridiculously horrifying attempt at making a dying woman who weighs less than 60 pounds get up and do physical kids finally have enough. We talk to my dad into having a conversation her oncologist whose responsible for keeping this bullshit going.

The doctor meets with us in the corridor outside of my mom's room.

I tower over and easily outweigh her by half. So, I have the guts to ask her very pointedly: 'Do you think my mom can gain the weight back...all 60 plus pounds she needs to and go back home and get better or do you think she is, in reality, dying and we need to get her to hospice?'

Undaunted..she smiles at me...and I'm so blown away by the ovaries this woman has to form a fucking smile at a moment like this. Smiling Dr. Ginormous Ovaries says 'I don't know'. But the kicker comes next. She says this: "I'm so disappointed, I thought she (aka my dying mom) was a fighter". This bitch did not just diss my mom for dying did she? Yes, she did.

I reply to the effect: 'Yeah mom is dying just to disappoint your pathetically self-important piece of crap ego'...I think.. in a more polite way, probably not, but who knows. I hardly remember, it's still fuzzy to this day.

My brother grabs my arm and pulls me down the hall. My dad is not amused. I make no apology. I really want to run back down that hallway and drag the smug doctor by her hair over to my mother and make her sit with her for the next hour so she can see. I want to make her put Vaseline on her cracked lips and stroke her head like I've been doing for the last hour. I want to make her understand the gravity...the humanity of what we're going through.

That meeting finally helped convince my dad to get my mom to hospice. After waiting for two hours on a gurney under the emergency canopy to be moved a quarter of a mile down the mom died 11 hours later. She weighed something like 55 pounds.

We said our goodbyes at the dad wanted to be alone with her. I understand. They were the quintessential love story, I've never known two people who loved each other more. He tried to live without her but loved her so much, he didn't last much longer without her and died literally a week after she had this past February.

But..looking back as we are all prone to do. My family sure could have used one of those Evil Nazi death panels to help us all decide what to do. But psychologist or psychiatrist visited us at all. Wasn't covered by that awesome Private Insurance Company...or Medicare for that matter.

Nobody with any authority or professional experience helped my dad make the right decisions for her or himself. Nobody helped us kids help him or her.

The woman who had brought us all into this world; who had kissed our boo-boos, dried our tears, stood up for us against bullies, made our Halloween costumes, nursed us through sickness & health, who had counseled us all on so many things that made our lives better literally up until the moment she couldn't....was treated like a freaking a dollar sign by the system and duped the man who loved her more than himself into thinking he could save her so the system could make more money.

I dare Sarah Palin to tell me to my face that end-of-life counseling is a 'Death Panel'...I'd tell 'Miss You Betcha' about how when I went to Florida for my mother's funeral in the first week of February, that under the Christmas tree my dad left up for my mom in case she came home, I found the gift he meant to give her and in the card I found atop the beautiful sweater he wanted her to Dad wrote: 'My Darling I will love you for Eternity'.

My father spent about two years trying to live without the love of his life. It didn't go well. He didn't know how. We tried so hard to be there for him but we were his snot-nosed kids whose butts he used to wipe.

We found out after he died from the lawyers he hired to prepare his estate and the financial advisors who held his accounts, that when they called him to talk to him about what he should do...he'd spend the whole time crying. They told us this happens often with widowers, they don't know how to function without their partners. My dad let everything go, the estate lost more money than I care to even think about because I know he didn't want that to happen but he was just so lost.

Had both of my parents had access to some real end-of-life counseling....spent some time together talking with a mental health professional, health professionals, etc. I think their story would have ended differently, I think their story might not be over. My heart tells me my father would still be alive. At the very least...a lot of unnecessary pain would have been avoided. And as you can tell from this post....that pain has a lasting effect.

End of life counseling is absolutely one of the most important services we can cover under healthcare. Ironically, before Sarah Palin became famous for being the World's Worst Running Mate Pick...she felt the same.

Sigh. I hate this woman but that doesn't change things, does it? Only we can.