Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Mama Drama--Chapter 2

After my mother told me that she has lung cancer and has only 8-10 weeks left to live, I left a message for her doctor to get details. Something she had said made me suspicious--she told me she found out about the diagnosis from an X-ray and that the growth was the size of a golf ball. I told her that, while I wasn't a doctor, I didn't think that a golf ball-sized growth constituted such a quick end. I also asked her why there was no biopsy, but she started to cry and went on about how she didn't want treatment and I moved on.

Dr. Chuck didn't call me on Monday, but my mom's old friend Sharry did. Up until a few months ago, Sharry had been a savior to my sister and me because she lived in town and helped us tremendously with Mom's care by taking her to appointments, stopping by, etc. When Mom dropped her bombshell, I asked her if she had told Sharry. She told me that things had not been well between the two of the lately and she couldn't bring herself to tell her. I told her that she might want to make the effort to work things out before she is gone. I happened to know that Sharry had become quite upset with her when she found out Mom had been drinking again.

After exchanging pleasantries, I asked Sharry what I could do for her. She asked me if I had spoken to Mom lately. I decided to go for broke and told her everything. After I explained the recent events, she said that Mom had called her on Saturday (Keep in mind--that is one of the days that she lost) and told her that her car had been stolen and that she was angry with me for calling the maintenance office. Then she told Sharry that she has THYROID cancer and has 6 months to live. At this point, I started to laugh. I knew then and there that she had been self-diagnosing.

Dr. Chuck called me yesterday and we spent nearly an hour talking about Mom. I told him everything, including Sharry's information. When I was finished, he told me that he hadn't seen Mom in 4 months and that the last chest x-ray she had was in February and it was clear of cancer. She does have advanced lung disease from her smoking, but no cancer. He also indicated that her thyroid has been a mess (which I knew) because he was certain that she wasn't taking her medication properly. He then informed me that based on what I have told him, he is certain that Mom has Korsakoff's syndrome, which is essentially a dementia brought on by alcoholism. Dr. Chuck said he became an expert in the illness because his father had it. She confabulates, meaning she makes up stories and in her heart believes them to be true. He mentioned that he worries about her a lot because she has missed a few appointments of late. He very much would like for us to get her in to see him to get a blood test, a ct scan to make sure there isn't a brain tumor, etc. I asked him how we were going to get her in there when he also told me that we should NOT confront her about knowing the truth. He didn't really have an answer.

Later last night, we talked to our friend Chris, who is a Psychiatrist. Before I even told him what Dr. Chuck's diagnosis had been, he said, "Your Mom has Korsakoff's syndrome." Chris was a wealth of information because he actually treats people with this condition. He also gave us an idea of what our priorities should be right now, like getting rid of her car. Since she is blacking out, the car is a weapon. While it seems easy enough to take the car, it isn't. At that point, she would be homebound, and we have to make arrangements for someone to deliver food, meds, etc. I am sure that we would have to provide state agencies with proof of income (taxes, etc.) Too bad she hasn't filed taxes in SEVEN YEARS and has refused to allow us to do them for her. Chris also mentioned that it isn't that simple to put her into a nursing home. By having her go cold turkey and not drink at this stage of the game could kill her. As a result, we would need to admit her to a hospital and have them wean her off the booze. Chris also mentioned that we need to find out what the laws are like in Indiana with regard to people being committed. In New York, where he used to practice, he had the ability to make a simple call to get someone committed if he felt that they were incapable of caring for themselves. He also has that ability in Canada. In Indiana, it might not be so simple.

Being 12 hours away sucks. What really sucks is that my Mom's brother lives 3 miles away and will never help. He would laugh and hang up on me if I called and asked. Can't say I blame him--she wasn't too kind to him over the past few years. While I felt better that Chris was able to help me, I was sleepless trying to sort out what I needed to do.

I finally spoke to my sister this morning and explained what was going on. I repeated almost everything Chris said, including the fact that we need to now take the emotion out of the equation. At this point, it is clear that she is not 100% of the Mom who raised us. She is not going to get better, she is going to lash out at us, and we need to work through it without being angry AT her. That will be hard.


margalit said...

Wow, what a heavy burden on you and your sister. You have to get your mom some help. I don't know anything about the laws in Indiana, but here are a few things I DO know about how this kind of thing is handled in MA. The department of mental health can provide a home health aide for your mom, someone to take her shopping, clean her house, and do errands like get medications from the pharmacy. With a HHA and a visiting nurse that comes in to ensure that she's taking her meds, she could stay at home until she's sober. Good luck with that, though. She's not going to cooperate, right? Which means that she might have to spend some time in a psych ward, at least for a quick and painful detox before any nursing home takes her. That's gonna be very hard for her and will definately unleash fury upon you.

Not great choices, huh?

Is there any way you can get her to the doctor without having her drive? Can you get the car keys away from her and the car towed so she can't find more keys. We had to do that with my aunt when her alzheimers got so severe and it was not a fun job.

I wish I could help you more, but I just don't know what the heck to do in this kind of situation.

I'm so sorry this is becoming such a terrible burden. You must be a mess of emotions, anger, hurt, worry, etc.

Take care of yourself during this trying time.

standingstill said...

Oh, frau. I don't even know what to say, except that I will be thinking about you and keeping you in my heart and prayers.
The detox option is one that I would take seriously (oh we did this MORE than once ...), and if you have medical power of attorney, and she is a risk to herself physically, you may have a leg up. Once she's off the booze (which they take you off of with some lovely psychotropics in the hospital), and in my mother's case they had to desperately watch her sodium level (which when it is low can cause cardiac arrest) ... we were able to have her admited to the senior diagnostic unit of the local hospital. Very close monitoring for dementia, depression, etc. They found that Mother didn't have dementia, but did have serious depression and anxiety. Duh. That's why she drank. But her body was so used up that it was the COPD that eventually got her.
Dang, girl, I wish I was there to walk through this with you. It's tough, but you sound like you've got an excellent handle on it. Good people around you, smart enough to know what all the docs are talking about. Sorry it's happening, 'cause it sucks and so many women our age have moms that like to shop and babysit and bring over some lunch and bake cookies. Don't know personally what that's like, but I've heard it's nice. Be sure to care for yourself, and let your hubby take care of you, too. That's essential.

Anonymous said...

D the agency in here is real services inc they have a websit you can go to and get everything started also if you need anything call me even if it is just to watch the girls I know how hard it is to handle all of this I still cannot believe that it has been 4 yrs since my dad died and he had some dementia before we found out about his lung cancer so I can kinda relate I know it is hard but just remember I am here for you Aimee

Mrs Big Dubya said...

I'm so sorry

I wish I had some word of comfort, but I don't -- you've got a long road ahead of you

stefanierj said...

Hausfrau, I'm just heartbroken for you. I told my friend selzach ( come over here because I think you and she have a lot in common right now. I don't know what else to do other than to say I just heart you and if there's anything I can do from Utah, let me know.


L. said...

Oh, Hausfrau.....I know about Korsakoff's syndrome. My family has been through some very similar stuff (Polish*sigh*....), but I haven't faced it with a parent -- yet. My mother is showing all the early signs pointing in the direction your mother has taken. I don't empathize (yet), but you have my sympathy. Hang in there!!!

selzach said...

Hausfrau, I'm so sorry you're going through all this. It's not easy to deal with a mentally unstable parent or to know which are the right choices for them. I've been on the crazy train with my mom for the past 6 or so years and so far this has been a banner year.

It sounds like you and your sister are on the right track. I'd definitely look into the laws for getting her committed. In FL we have the Baker Act which allows law enforcement or physician to commit people believed to be a danger to themselves/others. Or a family member can go before a judge and obtain a court order.

cry it out! said...

I really wish there was something I could say, but I'm not sure there is. This is fascinating to read and yet wholly tinged with sadness. I know a little about a mom who is not 100 percent the one who raised me, and I know it's hard. I also know it's possible.


The June Cleaver Diaries said...

Have you been able to talk to the doctor yet about having her brought in as a danger to herself?

BTW, I'm sick now--- so be on the watch for sure. Give me a call---unless I'm sleeping (riiight), I'll be around.

Andie D. said...


Is your sister closer than you? Can she help you out some? Either way, I'm sure you've realized by now that you're going to be the "one to blame". Sucks that you are going to have to step up to the plate in such an insane circumstance only to become the fall guy.

I wish I could do something to help you!