Jun 29, 2005

Nosey No More

I was visiting my mom last night at the nursing home and as usual, I was hustling her out the door so we could make our weekly trip to CVS before they closed for the night. I decided to pass on stopping in across the hall to say hello to her friend Helen because we were kind of in a hurry. Thinking I could just stop in to see her another time, my mom says, "Well, I just thought you'd like to say hello seeing that she's only got half a nose now." I stopped walking, stunned by what she just said. And then my mom laughed saying, "Well, at least she won't be so nosey anymore!"

Recently I found out Helen-in the neighborhood of about eighty-five years old-had a relapse of skin cancer. My mom explained that Helen didn't want to have the surgery, but her sons kept pushing her to do it. I hear stories like this all the time from the residents at my mom's nursing home. Something really serious happens to them such getting Cancer or having a heart condition and they want nature to take its course and leave them out of it. It's almost as if they're telling Death, "Go ahead. Surprise me."

I did end up visiting with Helen when we returned. She was propped up in her chair watching Law&Order and enjoying the cool breeze outside. Her left eye was bruised and shut from the surgery and her nose was completely concealed in white bandages with crusty bits of blood from a pretty vicious nosebleed earlier in the day. She looked horrible. I said, "Helen, you look like you've been in one hell of a fight." She replied, "Yea, but you should see the other guy." I laughed knowing that it was a good sign she could make a joke being in so much pain.

But Helen was in pretty good spirits and I think her pain meds had kicked in full force by the time I talked with her. She said she was feeling much better, but was having trouble blowing her nose because it kept bleeding. (My mom whispered loudly in my ear, "I bet she doesn't even know she's got half a nose!") I glanced sharply back at my mom to let her know she should shush about the lack of nose.

Helen went on to tell me how she only had the surgery for the sake of her sons and that she didn't want to be bothered. "Let me die and then they can have my money." I brushed off her comment and tried to change the subject. The rest of our visit went okay, but I could really tell that she had no idea just how rough of shape she was in with her nose.

Helen told me they still had one little spot of cancer that they couldn't get to because it was too close to her eye. "Hey. If I go blind then I go blind. I don't care."

I can't help but feel badly for Helen. I wish her sons would have respected her wishes and not pressured her into the surgery for their sake. I told my own mother that I would never do something like that. I may not agree with her decision, but after all--it's her body and her choice to make. As her daughter and legal guardian, it's my duty to make sure she understands the consequences of her decisions.

Helen is the one suffering with post-surgical pain and bloody nosebleeds--not her sons. How do you think she's going to feel when she finds out that surgery took away half of her nose? She's going to be constantly reminded of what she lost everytime a new resident enters the home and meets her for the first time. They will ask, "What the hell happened to your nose?" And I continue to wonder what her sons were thinking knowing the doctor wouldn't be successful at removing 100% of the cancer.

On the surface it's easy to guilt a loved-one into doing something you want if you say the right words. But my advice is before you do that, take a moment to put yourself in their situation to try and see things from another perspective other than your own.

In the case of Helen, she didn't even have a visit from her sons after letting the doctors take half of her nose and that's just wrong!

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