In the lobby of the hospital, they didn’t tell me her room number until I showed the Power of Attorney and the medical directive and two pieces of ID. The last thing I did before I went back home to Kansas City to start school was give her a false identity, Lisa Swann, to hide her from her husband, Bill.
Now, it was just a few weeks since I’d seen her and she looked like a baby bird. The chemo had taken most of her hair and left some wispy fuzz. Her face was gaunt; her skin, yellow. Her head wasn’t shaved yet; long thin barely there dark hair floated above her head while she talked.
She thought that yogurt was killing the lesions in her brain, “like Space Invaders,” she said.
“Stop crying. I’m not dying.”
“Yogurt is killing the lesions.”
She made both of her hands look like a gun, index fingers pointing toward each side of her head, and animatedly, shoot, while saying,
“Pow Pow Pow — Pop Peeew. They laugh at me; I’ll show ‘em. Doctors don’t know nothin’. Nobody knows.”
“When this is all over they’ll put my picture on a carton of Lemon Yoplait,”
Her vision blurred and then rolled, “like the TV with no vertical hold,” she said.
Some moments, usually late at night in the dark, she would be lucid, while I was just about asleep. One of those times sounded like this:
“I won’t really die until you and Marty are gone. I will live through you.”
Post-steroids, she was emphatic about everything so she’d bob her head when she talked. Her few wisps of hair trailed her head-bobbing, a second or two out of sync, like a poorly dubbed Kung-Fu flick. I blamed her intensity on the steroids. She had what I came to call, ‘roid rage.’ She threw tantrums.
Sometimes her words were slurred, sometimes she couldn’t walk, sometimes she was confused; occasionally, she couldn’t see. I blamed that on the lesions. They moved all over her brain and affected her speech, her motor skills, her moods, her personality. And the steroids, god those steroids made her hungry. And angry. They also gave her ‘steroid-induced diabetes’.
The cafeteria personnel would deliver low sodium, low sugar, ‘diabetes plates’, lots of greens and lean, flavorless meat. Magic marker on masking tape would declare, “Diabetes Dinner”.
Tears rolled down her cheeks. She clenched her fists, her chest heaved, and she whisper-screamed, “Who cares if I have diabetes; I have fucking brain cancer. I. Should. Get. Cake.”
She had a point.
That was only the second time in my life I ever heard her say the word, “fuck”. I mobilized.
I smuggled chicken fried steak and chocolate cake from Larry’s, Texas home cooking located just down the street from the hospital.
I scheduled meetings with her nurses, an oncologist, and our social worker to sort out her ‘check-box’ medical care. One problem with bureaucracy is that two things can never be true at the same time. There are binaries everywhere.
“Yes, it is true that she has temporary diabetes. However, she wouldn’t have diabetes if she didn’t have brain cancer with a side of steroids. Brain cancer trumps diabetes, no? Let her eat cake,” I reasoned at her medical team.
My advocacy felt like a game of Farkle. What I wanted to say: “Paper covers rock, assholes.”
#cancer #diabetes #yogurt #spaceinvaders #braincancer #hospitalfood