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.