Oedipus Wrecks


Mortality, whisky and a friendly cat

Readjusting to the world is not an easy process. There is a great temptation to say 'never an easy process' but what the hell do I know? I'm an American, spoiled by my very nature and position in the world, and haven't had to do it very often at all. There are the usual morphologies in worldview that arise from aging and learning, even in an existence as sheltered as the one I have been privileged enough to wallow through, of course. Everything from the childish to the serious leaves its mark; who am I to know, as the subject, whether the depth of those changes is more or less significant depending on who I am and what I've been?

The changes themselves can only really matter to me in context and relativity. The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a whipsaw, actually.

Note: This is, in fact, an introspective daylog. If this is not your cup of tea, I strongly recommend you skip it - perhaps to another of my nodes, which has explosions in it.

My mother has cancer. Amongst the legion of problems in anyone's relationship with their mother, this one dropped in like the hammer it is. It is complicated by her and my father's recent decision to move, in their retirement, to a pleasantly rural location which they dearly love but which is some two hours (minimum) from what I as a modern and urban American would call a 'capable hospital.' This is further compounded by the fact that both of them are reaching a stage where their ability to drive in severely inclement weather conditions is questionable, especially given the fact that despite living in the far northern reaches of the continental U.S. (and in a very hilly area) they refuse to acquire an all-wheel-drive vehicle. I did mention that they're somewhat mad, right? Right.

In any case, Change One: mom developed a reaction to chemotherapy about a month ago and stopped eating. This is a frequently-seen response to chemo, nothing to really get panicked about. The problem is that the hospital she was travelling two hours to reach didn't really seem to know what to do, and after a couple of days of 'trying stuff' they let her wheedle her way to a discharge. The fact that she's a fairly evil-minded psychiatrist and was facing only holiday-staff residents might have had something to do with that, I don't know.

In any case, off home she went. By this point (I'm leaving a lot of the story out) she hadn't really eaten or been able to drink anything for a week-plus. On top of that she has a long-term muscle disorder (30+ years) and her treatment of that had been interrupted by the chemo, so she was in bed a lot. What happened then was predictable - she started to starve.

There's the rub. The problem is that my father promptly lost his fucking mind. This isn't news; he's been crazy my whole life. It's always manifested itself as 'humorous eccentricity,' though, because he's had Mom to ensure he doesn't do anything really dangerous. He's not malicious, and he's not incapable of doing things - but his judgement just isn't very good, and his emotional state in many ways is that of a febrile four-year-old. With Mom incapacitated, there wasn't anyone to serve as the 'common sense' part of his brain.

My brother and I noticed that when we called for updates, Mom wasn't able to come to the phone, and Dad started using the phrases 'We think...' and 'We've decided...' a lot. Alarm bells.

Finally, my brother flew up and intervened. I would have gone, but was without car the day the tipping point was reached, and by the time I'd rented one, he'd already gotten on a plane and ended up several hours closer to them.

Mom was in bed, and had been there for a week. She hadn't really eaten in about three and a half weeks at this point. The home care nurse who had been coming by regularly had been so cowed by Dad that she (and their housekeeper and secretary) were unable to get Dad to get Mom to a major city and a bigger hospital. She had moved over to professionally saying "In that case, we should switch her care to making her comfortable."

Dad, apparently, had convinced himself at some level that Mom was dying of cancer and he'd panicked and bunkered them in their bedroom, essentially. My brother had to put mom in the car and tell him to get the hell out of the way, he was driving Mom to Boston. The nurse had been telling them to do this for days, as had their housekeeper. Mom herself, weakly, in the few moments when she was coherent, was saying "I want to go to the hospital."

Dad's answer was "Well, I don't see why we have to go right now. What's the difference going now or tomorrow morning?"


So she's now in the hospital. Nobody had thought to sit down and explain to her that she isn't dying of cancer, she's starving to death. This is a normal complication for chemotherapy, but you need a hospital that does chemo all day long and thus sees the condition a lot and is experienced at dealing with it. Since she lives in one of the least populated states of the union, that wasn't really happening.

She's much better now, after two weeks of care strictly for the starvation and the severe gastritis they found had complicated (although not caused) the nausea.

My father has somehow got it into his head that it was all his idea to bring her to Boston in the first place.

The Change: you always know, at some level, that you'll have to take care of your parents. But I had assumed that there would be warning of some kind that didn't involve one of them essentially almost killing the other, and that there would be some form of acknowledgement on at least one of their parts that no, they can't live on their own in the middle of nowhere anymore.

I haven't been able to talk to Dad much at all. I understand that it's not his fault, at some level - this is a dysfunction that he's had all his life, and it's not fair to expect that he would have acted differently simply because the consequences were suddenly much more serious - but Oedipus is involved, now. He tried to kill my mother. I know that's not true, at some level, but at some level, it is. I need to be able to relate to him for all manner of reasons - most importantly, because he's my father and I love him, and whatever his faults he did what I still consider an incredible job of parenting. I can't let this incident sour all that. I also need to be able to help them move to a new phase of life which lets them go on enjoying themselves as much as possible with as little disruption and as much freedom as possible, while also ensuring they aren't endangered.

But he tried to kill my mother.

Today, I logged onto E2 to find an amazingly scary piece of text from someone I have never met in realtime and only chatted with briefly here. It spoke directly of pain and despair, and indirectly of desperation; and although I could in no way describe myself as 'the appropriate person' I had to pick up a telephone, call police in another state, and become involved again in what might or might not be a situation concerning the safety of another human's life. This time, opposite end of the spectrum: not my parent, but someone I barely know.

Now, however, rather than wait for my brother to call me on his cell phone and tell me what precisely the situation is and what's being done, I have no idea what's going on. I don't even know if the situation was as serious as I interpreted it to be. I may have injected official bodies in the form of police into someone else's life based entirely on a paragraph of text posted on E2 - in a node linked to something entitled Fingerfucking your best friend. Explain that to a small city police dispatcher when trying to get them to take you seriously: no, I don't know his real name or address, but I might know where he works; I can tell you the IP address this was posted from, and tell you there's an online history of depression in text, is all, no, I'm not related, no, I'm in another state. Look, I'm worried. No, ignore that link, please.

To their credit, they never once seemed to not be taking me seriously, and as far as I know, did in fact begin to investigate. I don't know the outcome, because since I made it clear I wasn't related or even a close friend, they (properly) won't be giving out any information.

So all I know, now, is that my mother is in a hospital, and there are new masses which need to be biopsied before they resume the chemotherapy, and we don't know what they are. My father is with her and has no idea that he did anything wrong. Somewhere in another state, someone may or may not be in trouble, and even if I knew how to find him, at this point, I've really done all I should given my tenuous connection.

Me? I have a glass of whisky, and a cat who is waiting for me to stop typing and rub her head.

I realize that cats have to have some form of sentient affection for their humans. Most of my cats' favorite petting behavior runs directly counter to instincts that their species has developed specifically to protect their most physically vulnerable spots - their bellies, throats, eyes and neck. At the very least, they have to have learned - okay, it could be purely Pavlovian - to override instinct.

However, those overrides are, in fact, cued to me and others they know. At least in the case of one of my cats. My other cat? He's a whore. He'll roll over for anyone who looks like they might be induced to rub his massive stomach, and purr.

Which, really, is what I need right about now.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled daylogs.

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