Oddments

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Family knows

It is now about 7:30AM. Eighteen years ago this hour I called my mother. She was in the hospital’s oncology wing, and I was at home ready to make my list of what she wanted me to bring when I visited. We chattered as usual, but then Mom started talking about the clock. She didn’t make sense. Then we were back on track. Then her subject floated away again and I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about.

I told her I’d see her later, she said ‘bye, I hung up and immediately called the nurses’ station. “Is my mom OK? Did she have a stroke?” The nurse assured me that Mom had been observed and nothing alarming had been noted. So I went on with my morning. Before long, the nurse called back to ask how soon I could be there. I was stunned by the sudden urgency.

As I learned later, Mom’s oncologist had been in the nurses’ station when I called. Within seconds, the nurse had relayed my concern to the doctor, who grabbed Mom’s chart and made a beeline for Mom’s room, saying to the nurses, “Family knows them better than we do.” She checked Mom and instantly transferred her to Intensive Care.

It was the day from hell, and Mom died that evening. My memories of it are fire and smoke: searingly bright and chokingly obscured. But the doctor’s words rose out of it: family knows.

Those words resounded through my caregiving years. Deniers who said I exaggerated and medical personnel who considered me irrelevant tried to undermine my faith in my own insights. But I clung to the doctor’s words and I pass them on to you. If you are family caregiver, believe in yourself. Family knows.