The Problem with Hell…
…is in the definition.
Trying to catch up here. I have been living in purgatory, at least, if not an upper level of hell. As I catch my breath I’ve been contemplating the levels of hell…
Level one: Mom
A week ago last Thursday my mom underwent surgery to unblock a clogged intestine. It was the end of months of suffering at the hands of a quack who treated symptoms rather than dealing with a solution. Her idiot dr. released her from the hospital repeatedly when she was not well only for her to be brought back within hours or a day throwing up over and over and over, violently, and painfully, discharging bucketfuls of bile from a system that was did not work.
Mom closed her eyes expecting that she would never open them again. Between the warnings from the doctor, the serious way she was treated, and the fact that relatives came out of the woodwork that day (seeming to her like they were there to say goodbye) we believe she never thought she’d wake up. We didn’t either.
She closed her eyes expecting to “see Jesus” and woke up in an ICU full of tubes, covered with wires, poked and prodded and in horrific pain. In other words, she woke up in hell.
Within hours we began to notice that her mind had withdrawn from reality. She failed to recognize us, to know where she was, to understand much. From ICU they sent her to stepdown. Doctors attributed her “confusion” to “ICU dementia” or the morphine or her being in the hospital too long.
She got progressively worse. She started having halucinations. She babbled. She spoke to people long dead, including my father. Then she got mean and abusive. Through the course of the week she would cycle through stages of extreme anger and cruelty. She would try to crawl out of the bed, scream and yell, say the worst things to me as I tried to keep her still and keep her NG tube, IV, and ECG wires in place. She cursed, she slapped, she pounded with her fists.
She never slept. She would at times be all sweet and mellow, other times violent, loud, mean and cruel. At almost no time was she ever the mother I’ve loved all these years. That one was gone. I spent three nights with her. Each night was worse. Last night my wife stayed. She woke me up at six thirty asking for relief. Mom was even worse. Today, well, no good news.
We battled doctors who made assumptions and never witnessed the insanity of her life in the wee hours of the morning. We battled our nerves. We battled her, trying to keep her in the bed. I continually corrected the doctors who said she was “disoriented” or “confused.” I told them she was psychotic. I told them she has “white coat syndrome.” Strangely she snapped back to reality when a white coated doctor entered the room. She answered the standard questions: “where are you, what is your name, what is the month/year.” The split second the doctor left she was once again back in her head thinking she was at home, babbling on about God knew what.
Today I more or less called the Neurologist a liar or, perhaps, incompetent. We knew where her head had gone, how she was, we’d seen it up close and personal for days. He took two minutes to ask the “usual” questions and then made a sweeping diagnosis that it’s “probably the drugs… being in the hospital….” and she’d “get better very soon. He had “seen this thousands of times.” What a crock. Where was he when I was holding her hands to keep the NG tube in? Where was he when she was knocking me and nurses around? Where was he? What kind of pompous ass ignores all the obvious signs, refuses to listen to people who have been there, and blithely tosses out a diagnosis as if he was dealing with a kid and a snotty nose?
We had discussions with mom’s MD, today too. We talked about what might need to be done. We talked about the fact that she had to have a sitter. No sitter was available. The only solution seemed to be to put her back in ICU.
The doctors have no clue about why she is like this. At the top of the current list: Alzheimer’s. This condition, they think, triggered by the trauma of surgery, ongoing pain, etc., etc….
So she’s back in ICU. She’s back in the upper level of hell where she woke after surgery. It was the only possible short-term solution but it was a most horrific choice to make.
Could it be that the concepts of heaven and hell pounded into her mind over eighty years of Being Baptist induced the hell of mind she is now in? Could it be that the shock of still being alive in the condition she was in kicked her into a mental state that stole her mind? I really believe this is a very good possibility. How horrid that an asinine doctrine might very well have stolen the last few weeks of my mom’s life from us.
Level Two: my sister
Today we talked with the doc’s about what to do with mom and how to deal with her. Because of her tendency to climb out of bed, pull her tubes out, and get violent, a decision has to be made. The options were restraints or sedation.
The doc’s suggested restraint. To me that would send her in a deeper hell. I insisted on sedation. The discussion became heated and I had to walk down the corridor to blow off steam. My younger sister came after me. She’s been struggling for a very long time about mom. She’s had forgiveness issues with mom for a long time. These events are ripping her apart.
My sister and her husband are staunch evangelicals, very busy in a Baptist “mega-church.” Today she pleaded with me not to walk away, that I was the rock that our family stands on, I was the only thing between her and the nut-house. She told me she didn’t know what to do. She said she had lost her faith entirely. For the first time ever my sister cried on my shoulder. How well I understood the crisis in her heart.
That religion she’d given her life for, the one our mom taught us, has once and for all abandoned us in the darkest hour. That is how it appears to her. My sister’s hell is the one induced when a person recognizes everything believed is wrong but at the same time the only other option is the oblivion of non-belief which, in the Christian world, is eternal and absolute death.
How I wish I could convey to her the answers, the hope, the understanding I’ve found in the words Buddha, echoed in the words of Jesus. I can’t. She is blocked by her brainwashed mind from reaching in that direction. All I can do is feel sorrow for her. She is at a second level of hell.
Level Three: Me.
My hell isn’t such a horrific place as the other three. It’s mostly self-induced because I have not reached the level of understanding and mentality I hope to reach. My hell is the result of attachment, that clinging which Buddha tells us brings so much suffering. But to not cling, in this instance, seems unkind. Still, as Gautama said, clinging is suffering. Suffering is hell.
My mom was abusive when I was a kid. She’s been kind sometimes, not so kind sometimes, through my life. She was unforgiving to my dad who lived a miserable life with her. But she is my mother and above the forgiveness I gave long ago she is one who needs me and has depended upon me. This time I cannot go where she is. I cannot enter her mind, bring her comfort, tell her all will be well. She’s in a place I can’t go and that is breaking my heart.
I spent the week with her. Sometimes there was laughing and smiling when she’d enter a sweet mood, laugh and piddle with the air as if she was busy sewing or who knows what. Other times there was standing beside her trying to keep her together as she cursed me, struck me, called me names and declared she hated me. It was a trying week but I was WITH her.
The brief times I came home bad things happened. She attacked my wife. She tumbled from her bed and was found on the floor. I felt guilty. So I spent my time watching her with blurry eyes, waiting to jump up and grab her hand to keep her NG tube in or get her back in bed from attempts to crawl out or, a few times after she’d pulled her tube out, holding a bucket or whatever was handy as she threw up everywhere including on me. Good, bad or ugly, I was WITH her.
Today the doctor made the decision to return her to ICU. I walked beside her bed as she screamed, she cried, she said I was abandoning her. Down the corridor, up in the elevator, through the ICU doors, they took her. I could not follow there. She screamed my brother’s name and she was gone.
I gave instructions to the ICU nurse. No restraints. Sedation as needed. I told him what she has tended to do, how she reacts, what to expect. I told him that the person they were dealing with, the screaming, sometimes mean, sometimes childish, sometimes sweet person, was not my mother. My mother was locked in the head of that little old lady somewhere, out of sight. I walked out of ICU, leaving her in the nurse’s care.
Walking through those doors I felt relief, exhaustion, and guilt. I WAS abandoning her. I WAS turning her over to more strangers who didn’t love her, didn’t understand the real person, didn’t have a vested interest in her mind and wellbeing. I was and I could not help it.
My life has been on hold all week. Our kids have been shuffled around. Clothes has piled up. My wife and I have lost many hours of sleep. Still, as I write, I wish I was back in that room trying to soothe the beast inside her. I wish I was sitting in that chair near the window so I could watch her ballet as she waved her hands in imagined activities, listen to one-sided conversations with people living and dead, hear her childish voice babble on. One time she said my nose was red and sang “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” to me. I want to be there very, very bad.
I hope mom has been sedated. I hope she is sleeping. I hope she fades into a restful state for the rest of this hellish week. I hope she will wake and be herself. I doubt that will happen. I also hope if she does come back that she remembers nothing at all about the last few days. I hope she never, ever remembers calling me a bastard, son of a bitch, shit-head, and telling me how lousy a son I am.
I know she didn’t mean it. I know she loves me. I know that even in those painful years when I was a kid and she was making me feel like dirt she was just following in the footsteps of an abusive father. I know she loved me then and she loves me now… where ever she is.
I could stand loosing her in surgery. I can live with watching her wither from the cancer in her body. What I never expected in my wildest dreams, though, is that she would survive the surgery, improve steadily in body, but disappear into her head, leaving behind an 86 year old child. This is what has happened. How do I handle that? I can be the son who is stern and makes sure she is taken care of, who stands up to doctors and demands better care, who takes charge when the rest are waffling. I don’t know how to be the son who must sit helplessly, unable to stand up against her demons or protect her from her own mind.
This is my hell. Every bit of me wants to get up and go back to the hospital and stand beside her bed, just stand. It’s not fair to my wife or my kids. It’s not healthy. It’s not practical. But it’s what I want to do. I just want to be WITH her. I can’t. Hell.
The worst part of all is that I just want to say “I love you, mom” one last time and know in my heart she heard it. That may never happen. That is the worst hell of all.
I love you mom.
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