The Disaster &The Lost Corned Beef: A Tragic-Comedy
Stranger things have happened, but when my mother collapsed in bed two weeks ago, complaining of a tummy ache and an all-over-her-body itch that was driving her crazy I took her to the Emergency Room. Seven hours later, at 3 a.m., I staggered out and drove home, alone.
They were keeping mom. They had to run more tests.
This is how life is. One minute you're giggling in the ER, discussing an upcoming family wedding and summer vacation plans. The next, well, you think you have a diagnosis — because the smart, kind, grey-haired ER doc tells you he suspects gallstones. We were relieved, gallstones we can certainly handle. We started watching Grey's Anatomy on the ER's tiny television suspended near the bed. (Few things are as surreal as watching a medical drama while in the middle of your own medical drama.)
There was just one problem - that nice doctor came back and told us they couldn't find any gallstones. So now we had to get a CAT scan done. And by the time I got back to the hospital the next day - well they hadn't found any stones with the CAT scan either. They found something else.
"Do you know what's going on?" a young resident asked me, as I stood near the nurses station. My mother was worse, in pain, yellowish. There was something in the resident's voice that made me stop. I felt a slight ripple of cold fear run through my body. There was a long pause as I looked into his eyes. "I think I know what's going on," I said, slowly. But it was already clear that I didn't.
The resident's attending (i.e., the older, more veteran doctor) stepped smartly around from the desk, holding a copy of the CAT scan report in her hand. It would be a day before I actually had a moment to glance at the small print on the two-page report, because in the next breath they were using the words "oncologist" and "consultation." We went into my mother's room and the two doctors started very gently to say things like "there's a mass." My mom was trying to understand: "Do you think I have an infection?" she asked.
But then the oncologist showed up. He just walked in, serious as a heart attack. I swear to god, what he said sounded like this to me: "Hi, I'm Doctor Cancer, from the Cancer Center. Cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer."
He said they think mom has a rare tumor, hard to diagnose, usually too late to do much about it by the time they find it, already suspected to have spread to the lymph nodes and oh yeah, he's 95 percent sure that it is malignant. He handed me his card - and for some reason, maybe because I am a writer, the fact that his card had the name of the hospital's cancer center on it IN REALLY BIG TYPE brought it home to me — we were suddenly through the rabbit hole and into another reality.Continued on the next page