“I had a dream last night about water,” my
mother says as we dice cantaloupe and brew our morning coffee. “I
woke up with wet sheets.”
She wears Depends, but last night her protection
failed. To any passerby, she appears to be a vigorous
eighty-year-old; but they don’t see her falling, an almost weekly
occurrence. When we walk together, I try to anticipate the cracks
and dips in the pavement and warn her so she doesn’t trip. I keep
night-lights on all day in my dark hall when she visits. No matter
what I do, she still tumbles. She lands with the grace of a bird, as
if her bones are filled with air. I hold my breath while I watch the
scene unfold like a slow motion sports re-play.
After breakfast, we get ready to pick up my
husband from his chemotherapy treatment. He has colon cancer and he
is about to finish treatment number four out of 12.
I’m also a cancer survivor, but now I’m learning
about what it’s like to be a caregiver. So far, I think being the
patient is easier, but I would hate to have to go through chemo
My mother always requires advance warning before
we leave the house. First, she needs to find her glasses and her
purse. Then she needs to apply her signature coral lipstick and
spray her silver hair. She is now ready.
When we enter the sunny chemo room, Alice the
nurse folds me into a hug. She flits from patient to patient, like a
hummingbird, taking blood pressures and temperatures. She gossips
and laughs with her patients, always monitoring the bags of
rainbow-hued liquid that will make some of them sicker before they
can get well.
My husband dozes in his recliner as the
chemicals pump into his veins. Soon a beep sounds, signifying this
treatment is over and it’s time to go home. I notice the hem of his
polo shirt is wet.
“It’s a long, disgusting story,” he says. He
looks down at his running shoes and rubs his left heel over the toe
of his right shoe. “I’ll tell you about it later.” I know not to ask
any more questions.
At home, while my mother talks on the phone, he
tells me that his ostomy bag accidentally unlatched while he was in
“Shit spilled all over the bathroom floor and
splashed on my shoes. I had to rinse my pants out in the toilet
bowl; the sink was way too small.”
I picture him in the tiny bathroom maneuvering
his IV pole while he cleans up the mess.
“It took me so long, I was surprised no one
banged on the door.”
Now I understand why his shirt hem was wet. It
soaked up the moisture from his navy blue drip-dry pants.