Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Problem With Terminal Illness

Beach 007It seems obvious. But here’s the biggest problem with a long, slow terminal illness – it’s just that. It’s long, it’s slow, and it’s very terminal.

For me, it’s like being behind the wheel of a slow-moving car. For much of the trip, the car has been relatively comfortable. We’ve hit a few bumps along the way, but we’ve recovered, got a grip on the wheel and carried on.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, however, I’m painfully aware that this is very much a one-way trip. The car joggles along at a leisurely pace, but I’m not fooled into thinking this is some Sunday drive. I know we’re moving ever closer to a terrible collision, and there’s no way I can avoid it.

There’s no option for simply veering off this road and onto some tributary that’ll take us to a place of safety. It’s like a narrow pass etched into the side of a mountain. We’re stuck on this course and there’s nowhere else to go. Believe me, I’ve looked. I’ve searched the terrain for offshoots I can steer us up; rest stops I can pull into. And despite the fact that our journey takes place at seemingly snail-pace, I look out the side window and I’m watching the landscape of time passing us by. In January, the doctors gave the Girl six months. I have no idea if it will indeed be a six-month journey. I watched summer go by and now here it is autumn. It could be a twelve month journey. It could be longer.

And here’s one of the big problems with journeys like this – those around us, friends and family, see our days melding one into the next. They think that today is exactly like yesterday and the day before that. Believe me, I’ve fallen into that trap. I’ve woken in the night panicking because I haven’t taken enough photos of my Girl, haven’t spent enough time or sung enough songs with her. Suddenly, I find items on that Bucket and Spade list that probably won’t get ticked off, regardless of how mundane they are.

The Girl wanted to go to Valentines. I doubt we’ll get there. Even if she could sit through a couple of hours at the table, I know she wouldn’t eat because all she wants these days are the meal supplement milkshakes I make her. She wanted to go back to the beach again. I was lax. Life got busy. Then one day, summer was gone. It’s too cold to take her to the beach to play in the sand, and even if it was warmer, it’s getting too hard to take her on my own. This is time we won’t get back again. We’re in a steady descent on this journey and those opportunities are now in the rear-view mirror.

And that’s the other problem with a long, slow illness. Just like me, others forget. They know The Girl is ill. They’ve know for six months, some longer. But they have their lives to get on with. They have sick mothers to tend to, and grandchildren approaching their first birthdays. They have trips away and work commitments and all the usual stuff filling in their days. I don’t blame them. My days are full. People don’t see it. They think I sit home enjoying myself.

Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth.

Take yesterday, for example. The Girl didn’t wake early. She didn’t sleep the night before because she had ear ache. She told me she had sore feet, sore tummy, sore eyes. I got up and gave her Panadol and Codeine and went to bed. When she didn’t settle, I got up and took her to the toilet. When she began to cry that her ears were still sore, I sat up and rubbed them. Then I got a hot water bottle and put on her pillow. She finally settled at some time after one o’clock and I went back to bed.

The next morning, she slept late and I let her. Saturdays are art class. She adores her art class. So at nine, I woke her. She didn’t want breakfast, just the milkshake. I got her ready, which takes more time now because I have to assist her everywhere in case she falls. Showers take longer, dressing takes longer. I finally got her to art at close to ten thirty. She said she wanted roast chicken for dinner so I went to the supermarket and got a chicken for her. I got home at twelve, and the phone call to come and get her came at two.

Her art teacher said she’d been complaining about sore ears, so I took her to the emergency medical centre. Two-hours and $70 later, we got the same diagnosis on the ears as we did on Wednesday when I took her to the doctor – a little wax, but no infection. I took her home. She never ate lunch, didn’t want dinner. I put her to bed early and gave her a milkshake.

I have no idea where we are in this journey. I have no road map to indicate how far along we are.

All I know is that this car has no brakes so I can pull over; it has no horn so I can signal others when I’m scared. There are no lights I can flick on and off to alert people to the fact that I’m in this car alone and I need help.

Please, if you know someone in their own car. If there’s someone near you who’s caring for a loved one in the final stages of their lives, please, just pick up the phone. You don’t have to do anything. It doesn’t even take much time. Just ask them if they’re okay. Ask them how their loved one is. Let them know someone out there cares. And do it often.

You have no idea how much it will mean to them.

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