It's been one month since my mother, who was diagnosed as having eight inoperable, malignant brain tumors, entered the health care system in Chattanooga.
It began with a couple weeks at Erlanger then nearly two weeks at Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation and finally to St. Barnabas Nursing Home, where she will reside during her six weeks of radiation treatments, scheduled to begin this week.
It's been a long month -- one filled with lots of tears, a ton of hope, bouts of discouragement, an ongoing family reunion and a renewal of faith in the goodness of mankind -- from Erlanger, where Mother got incredible medical care, to Siskin, where it was like walking into a family of loving, long-lost relatives whose No. 1 interest was getting Mother stronger, to St. Barnabas, where everyone welcomes you with open arms.
One night last week, I was sitting outside my mother's room in a "quiet" area when a nurse asked me to tell her a little bit about Mother's life. After we talked for a while, she asked about me.
"How are you doing?" she asked. "I know it's hard to see your mother suffering."
I was blown away. In fact, I've been blown away with everyone's kindness since Mother was taken by ambulance to Erlanger on June 8.
And I've learned there is light in the dark -- and this has been a very dark time for my family. We know Mother's life is coming to an end. Every day I study her face, touch her hair, kiss her cheeks, rub her arms, knowing this day could be the last day I see my mother alive.
But I won't let her see me cry. She's always been the strong one in the family (like my late father, I am super-emotional. Mother sometimes referred to us as "big babies"), so it's now my job to fill her shoes. I am being strong.
One of the highlights, if not the biggest, of Mother's journey is spending time with her great-grandchildren -- Tilleigh, 7; Evie, 4; and William, 22 months. Mother lights up like a Christmas tree when she talks to them on the phone and even more so when they visit her.
One day last week, I had the bright idea of one of my daughters bringing the children over and staying a couple hours with Mother and me. I planned ahead and had crayons and paper, iPads, board games and snacks for them. For the first 30 minutes, everything was going smoothly. Mother, sitting in a wheelchair, was elated to have them there. They gave her endless kisses and hugs, constantly fussing over her, making sure she was propped up and comfortable in her wheelchair; they drew pictures for her.
Mother was in heaven.
Still, we were in a hospital setting, and I noticed the children were actually having fun, but gradually getting a little loud. Mother was in a private room and the door was shut, but I didn't want their voices to be heard outside the room. After telling them a few times to use their "inside voices," I began rethinking the planned two-hour visit was one of my worst ideas.
Then, after Evie started wheeling Mother toward the door to take her for a ride ("It's OK," Evie said to me. "I know what I'm doing."), I knew a two-hour visit was at least an hour too long. I called my daughter and told her to come get them.
"It's not working," I said. My daughter laughed; she was expecting my call.
Note to self: Though children are the best medicine, measure out the dosage. Children will be children wherever they are, but a quiet hospital setting is not the best place for extended visits, especially with very young children, or three at one time.
Live and learn.
Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6396.