It’s been an emotionally difficult week. Mom has contracted an infection, and it’s severely affected what remains of her cognitive abilities. She has no idea where she is and what’s happening to her. She doesn’t know how to calm herself and so she calls people all the time, even though she can’t really communicate when she gets them on the phone. And when she calls I’ll try to soothe her and then she’ll call back ten minutes later not remembering that she had already called me. Lately she has been making late-night phone calls to family all across the country.
It would be easy enough to take her phone away, but it’s her only connection to anything that makes sense to her anymore – even if she can’t recall the names of the people she’s calling or why. Understandably, she is extremely distraught that things don’t make sense – that she can’t piece together a narrative of her world that makes sense to her. Often times when she calls she is crying.
It’s all so fucked up. This is what society calls compassion: keeping the elderly alive while their brains boil away, keeping them alive while cognition, understanding and reality all fall apart. I for one can hardly imagine a more terrifying experience. When I was in my early 20s, I had my first panic attack, and it was terrifying, not just because of the attack itself, but the fear that I was losing my mind. Mom’s case is much worse because she really is losing her mind, which is equivalent to death, and to lose it in mom’s way is slow torture – death over many months.
Most of the woman who was my mother is long gone, and for a while it was a relief, as my mom was in some ways a difficult person. But as her mind began falling apart, the worst aspects of her were the first to go – the complaining critical bitching part – and she became a lot easier to be around. That period lasted maybe a year, but over the last few months she has gotten progressively worse, to the point where you can’t really converse with her anymore.
There’s no happy end, no recovery for her. Just increasing dementia until she’s one of those shells sitting in a wheelchair, staring at a wall and drooling. Mom would have been horrified to think this would be how her life would end. Any of us would. Yet we are powerless to do anything about it. I spoke with my siblings and we discussed the possibility of assisted suicide and euthanasia, but that boat has long ago sailed. Talking to her doctor, there’s no way she would be considered competent, so even if she agreed to ending her life, even if that’s what she wanted, it would hold no weight. She needed to have put that in writing years ago, not just tell us kids.
So she is trapped, condemned to go through this torture until she enters a vegetative state.
We never saw this coming. She has had so many health crisis, so many brushes with death, we never believed she would live long enough to have to go through this. But her body keeps chugging along, broken, worn out, yet still functioning, while her brain shuts down.
I’ve considered intervening. You bet I have. Give her something, with her awareness or not, to allow her relief from the hell her life has become. To give her peace. But in our messed-up system that would be considered murder. And while I ache for her suffering, and I long to do something, I’m not willing to throw my life away for her. If it were my wife in this situation I wouldn’t hesitate, because I owe her everything. But my mom lived off of people her whole life, and while she would have welcomed my sacrifice, I wont give that to her. It’s crass, but she doesn’t deserve it. And people like me shouldn’t be put in such a situation, to be given the choice of experiencing the horror of ending my mother’s life directly, with all the consequences that entails, or forced to stand watch while the system keeps her going as insanity consumes her.
The medical system is actually aware of these dilemmas, but people are loath to interfere. Saving life at all costs is so ingrained in health care professionals, the thought of not saving the vulnerable elderly sounds so callous, so unimaginable. I think this is why after her last health crisis they intubated her despite a DNR request; somehow the paperwork that says ‘hands off’ just didn’t find itself to her chart. And even now they have her on antibiotics despite paperwork that says the only medical interventions should be comfort care. Somehow that paperwork didn’t get forwarded to her attending doctor. In the absence of other information, the default is always do whatever you can to keep them alive.
It’s so screwed up. When you are talking about people at this stage of life, the default should be no care unless the paperwork explicitly calls for it. In such a scenario you can bet the doctor would make damn sure he located the form with the patient’s wishes right smartly. This way, not reading the form presents him with no consequences; who can fault you for saving someone’s life?
With the way things are legally, I see no solution for mom, and it’s heartbreaking. All I can hope for is contracting the flu this fall, and then go visit her. Maybe that will be enough. But damn them for making that sad scenario an only option.
Given the pain of all that, I’ve been working feverishly on my boat. Partly to occupy myself, partly because I’ve been doing this for so many months I can’t seem to stop, and because we are scheduled for several days of rain (caused no doubt by my embarking on a project that requires a spell of no rain) and I want to get her hull painted before it stops. Over the long weekend a buddy and I are heading to Vancouver and I want the girl to shine when she pulls into the big city.
I’ve been pulling long, long days to get this done. I can’t believe all the nicks and dings and paint chips in her hull. I spend hours filling marks with thickened epoxy, and every time I go to sand her fair, I find dozens more. It seems to depend on the time of day and the angle of the sun; what’s hard to see midday shows up as a canyon at 6 PM. Eventually I just had to say screw it and go ahead and paint the damn thing.
The first coat I tried latex. Marine paint is hellishly expensive and hard to find, and I thought they must have made advances in acrylic tech. Nope. It’s still just soft plastic, like balloon rubber. I painted one half the hull and although it looked not too bad, when I tested it the next day I discovered it hadn’t adhered at all. The brand was Tremclad and it was also bloody expensive at $75 a gallon, and it claims that primer isn’t required over old paint. Bullshit. It peeled right off. So I then had to sand away the three coats I had applied the previous day. There goes 9 shitty hours I’ll never get again.
That’s when I decided I had had enough and went down to Trotac Marine and bought the real Interlux marine paint, at $50 a litre. God, I wish I had done this the first time. It’s wonderful, wonderful stuff; it feels like painting with sex. 21-year-old sex. It smooths right out, has a mirror shine, and doesn’t dry too fast so you always have a wet edge. I roll it on first with a foam roller and then smooth it with a brush. And unlike the Tremclad I have a choice of colour, so I went with Hatteras off white. Glorious! Worth every penny. And now that I get the starboard side done today it can rain all it wants to, as a ridiculously unseasonable 986 mb low charges the coast.
Before. And that’s not even half. It’s like she has acne, there are so many small blemishes in her 10-year old paint.
My novel. Be like all the rest of the cool kids and buy it. You know you want to.