Oxygen shmoxygen

Mom got her port put in place yesterday.

It’s real now. My mom is going to start chemo soon. My mom has lung cancer. It’s gone from mom-in-bed to mom-is-actually-really-sick. It’s thrown off my internal system of checks and balances. She was supposed to go home today after having her port put in, but her oxygen level is too low. If I was with her right now instead of at home, I’d tell her clearly she’s complaining too much and letting all her oxygen out before she can put it to better use. Then she’d smack my arm and I’d kiss her on the forehead and we’d laugh.

Even little things like that have taken on a whole new sense of meaning. Now every time we laugh, every time we hug, every time I kiss her goodbye, I wonder if I will remember that moment when she’s gone. It’s morbid and I hate it, but I can’t not think about it.

But the big struggle today is mom’s oxygen level being low. They’ve had her on oxygen at the hospital for about a week now, ever since they did the biopsy. It’s just a low level of assistance, but now they’ll be more adamant about her not taking it out and they’ll likely turn it up higher. She mentioned yesterday that she hopes she doesn’t end up on oxygen assistance for the rest of her life, carting around a tank with her like her father did. It was a quiet confession, said in the fake privacy of a hospital room with the curtain drawn around you, like that bit of fabric is some sort of barrier between you and the world outside. As she said it, I was in her bed with her, arms wrapped around her, my head on her shoulder, both of us in a haze of being too tired to sleep but neither of us having the energy to stay awake.

I was in first grade when my grandfather died. I still have a select few very vivid memories of him, mostly regarding the Christmas just before he was gone. We brought over carpeting and wrapped it in brown paper bags taped together. We kids got to draw on it. I remember trying very hard to draw a heart and to draw a sunshine and to draw a picture of me and grandpa together. I’m sure they came out horrible, but at the time I remember being very proud. I loved my grandpa. I still do. I remember him pointing out all the pictures on it as I sat on his lap and toyed with his oxygen tube as it hung down, being very careful not to lean on it or I’d pull it out and get yelled at.

One day I came home from school and his oxygen tank was in the living room. After he died, my mom had to take it and return it. For a long time I thought my mom took my grandpa’s oxygen away from him and was responsible for his death. To my tiny brain, that was what happened. At his funeral, I lifted up my little brother because I couldn’t reach to take his tie off. Didn’t they know he had trouble breathing and couldn’t wear ties? Why would they put a tie on him? I had to find a lighter, too. Maybe there was one in my mom’s cigarette case, those leather-looking kind that held the pack of smokes in the big pocket and the lighter in the smaller one. If they close the lid, it’d be dark and he couldn’t see. He’d need some sort of light. Especially to see the Rubik’s Cube toy I put in his casket in case he got bored. It was the only toy I had that I could reach to put in with him. I couldn’t understand why what we did was wrong. Why were people yelling at us? Why did it make everyone cry? Why wouldn’t my grandpa sit up and play with us like he used to? They kept saying things about him being in a better place, but he wasn’t. He was right there. How could he be in two places at once? Was he a superhero? Was he mad at us and didn’t want to play with us?

I understood the vague concept of death, but it wasn’t something I could yet put into terms with real life, with how it impacted me directly. Maybe that gave me this two-fold way of coping with it even now, where half my head turns to logic and lists of things to be done and the other half becomes an emotional blubbering mess.

I was a complete mess for a minute this morning. My sister called me as she was getting ready for work.

“Mom’s not coming home today.” When she said it, I was floored. They said yesterday that she was ready to go, all they needed was for her primary doctor to sign off on it. “Her oxygen level is too low, they’re going to keep her for now.”

Then it came back to me. Mom’s quiet whisper about not wanting to be on oxygen for the rest of her life. At the time I didn’t think she’d be, at least not for a while. I thought it was more a hope that she wouldn’t be stuck lugging around oxygen everywhere, interfering with her lifestyle. Could she even take oxygen into some of the places she went? Her and dad like the casino, but you can smoke in there. Would she be able to be that close to smokers while on oxygen? Would it fit into the car comfortably? Would they be the same heavy tanks they used to be?

Now I wonder if maybe it was really her saying “I don’t want to end up like my father.” Because I don’t want to end up like my mother, having to watch a parent as they die and have nothing left at the end except an oxygen tank that someone has to return.