I wasn't going to write about this because of the personal nature and I don't like writing things where the obvious response is to gush out sympathy. Forgive me for any spots where I might be vague.
My mother has been in the hospital for a couple of weeks now. It seems like every time I talk to her, over months and months, she is ALWAYS sick. So much that I probably tend to write it all off as Drama-Queen tactics. My mother, the woman who cried "Sinus Infection." But she traveled by helicopter to the hospital in Reno. Then they flew her to San Francisco at the referral of her doctors.
On Wednesday morning, my stepfather called me while I was in the middle of building a sports stadium and he told me it was time for me to come see her. I suggested that I should finish my work shift and then I would figure out how to get to California. He told me that wasn't fast enough. So I left work then and there. Two hours later, I was on a plane to San Francisco.
My mother's vital organs were shutting down. Pretty much all of them. The doctors were saying it was immenent that they would put her on a respirator, despite her pneumonia. She would be sedated. It was likely that if she went on the respirator, she wouldn't come out of it. The doctors topped that with statements like, "If her heart stops while she's on the respirator, we won't make any attempts to revive her." It might be my last chance to talk to her.
I told the people at work I could probably wait the 15 minutes left until lunch time and they practically pushed me out of the workplace. While I was driving home, it hit me that I was leaving work early, dropping everything, and flying out as soon as possible in an effort to talk to my mother one last time before she died. I started swearing angrily. And crying. The hardest I've ever cried. You know, where it feels like someone's trying to pull your guts out through your mouth? I was trying to get my stuff together but strange things were going through my mind. I couldn't find any socks to bring. All the socks I found had holes in them or paint stains and I kept thinking I didn't want be wearing gross socks while I watched my mother die. I felt relieved when I found some good ones.
My wife and kids had to come home early because of the changes in my schedule. While I was throwing clothes in a backpack, my kids were asking me why my eyes were red. I told them, "Because my mother is sick in the hospital. Sometimes doctors can help sick people and sometimes they can't. And she might die. And I'm scared." And then they quickly changed the subject to kids things and pretended like they didn't hear what I said.
I was worried that I would be a wreck through the plane trip. Luckily, I was tired and I accidentally slept most of the way to Las Vegas. In Vegas I thought I might be able to hang out with Native Minnow while I was on layover but the layover was too short. I decided to call him anyway, even though I knew it would be a grim phone call. I tried to keep it light despite the subject matter. I remember saying, "It's weird because everyone knows their mother will die someday, I just thought it wouldn't be for another 30 years."
When I talked to my family about flying into San Francisco, I said, "My plane arrives at 5:50 pm. Can someone pick me up or will I need to take a cab?" I was mostly joking about the cab, but my family answered that I might have to buy my own ride to the hospital.
Now let's talk about San Francisco. When people ask me where I'm from, I have a hard time answering them. I've decided the best answer is simply: The West. I claim it all. San Francisco feels like home as much as any other place. I have memories of Golden Gate Park. It used to be tradition for my family to take a tour of the bay on those red and white boats at the wharf on my birthdays. I remember Stanford Pow Wows. I went to Escondido Elementary School. Even when we lived by the reservation, Eight Graders saved up money over the years to take one big San Francisco trip before graduating to high school. My family loves to root on the Giants and 49ers, even during their dark years. There was a 3 point earthquake the first day I was there. It's always been like that. Like that, it will continue.
Driving in San Francisco is horrible. I wouldn't own a car if I lived there. Even wearing Heely shoes in San Francisco is to take your life in your own hands. I wonder how the people of that city get by without lawns or normal neighborhoods. Everything is tall townhouses and apartments. It seems like, when you go out in public, you have something to prove and the only thing proven is that it's tough to make it around here. I told my older sister, "I would expect to make $15 an hour or more just to be DIRT POOR in this town." My sister said, "Look at all the pretty dogs people have here. They're all so cute." I said, "Of course. Everyone knows that UGLY DOGS are for homeless people."
Okay, let's jump subjects again: The best part about this past weekend is that it was like a mini-family reunion. Not just that, but we all seemed really close. And not just that, but we all kept a great sense of humor. It was nice to know that in the lowest trenches of a crisis, I was still me; telling stupid stories, making dumb jokes, it's just that my mother was ALSO dying. But we kept a good balance of resiliance and joy along with the tragedy. It made me feel good about my family. And not just my mom's family because my family knows that I don't have any money. My step-mother bought my plane ticket so I could see my mom. My step-father got my hotel room. My sister paid for most of my meals. I was in San Francisco for 5 days with 3 pairs of underwear. The trip cost me $40 even though it costs you $20 every time you park your car. I'll make it up them later.
It was interesting to look around at my relatives as we spent days on end in the hospital waiting room. In ways, we are much like everyone else. Decent people who try our best, yet we find it's nearly impossible to avoid plowing headlong into difficulties. You take life day to day trying to make the best decisions but problems fall on you and floor you. Take my cousin John, he got married a couple years ago and had a beautiful baby girl. He doesn't live with his wife or daughter anymore. It's not by choice and he has no idea why he's not welcome in his own family. My mom's sister adopted John from her brother when John was a baby. Uncle Billy is John's adopted father. Uncle Billy kept the waiting room entertained with endless banter and opinions. When Uncle Billy made known how badly he would like to kick the ass of Lou Dobbs his wife said, "Then WHY do you watch his show? You always get enraged when you watch the news." Billy said, "Because. You have to know your enemy." It seems like everyone in the room could tell you a gut-busting hard-luck story but instead we just joked around with eachother.
It turned out that the drive home from work was the worst of it for me. I didn't cry again. At the hospital, we made a rule that anyone who cried in front of my mom was weak. A couple people admitted to being weak.
My mom's Uncle John was the one who picked me up from the airport. We haven't seen eachother for about 10 years. But we saw eachother in the airport and we didn't have to say a single word. We knew who we were by looking at eachother. We knew why we were there. We knew the situation. We didn't waste time drudging through the obvious. Instead, we told each other stories and made each other laugh. He told me about a guy he knew who showed up at Stanford and bought a car. He never registered the car but he drove it until he got his degree and then left the car in the airport parking lot and never looked back. The first thing Uncle John had said was, "It seems like just yesterday I was picking you up at the airport." It was a reference to when things fell apart for our family in Colorado and we came crawling back to mom's home without a penny on us. It was over 20 years ago and Uncle John had picked us up at the airport and took us to his house and let us swim in his pool.
If you saw my mother when we arrived at the hospital, you might think she was dead if it wasn't for the gasping and moaning. She was tied up with tubes from all directions. Later, my sister said, "What's that story where the guy sails around and all those tiny people tie him down on the beach?" I said, "Gulliver's Travels?" My sister said, "Yeah, that's what mom reminds me of with all of her tubes all over her. I want to tell her but I don't think she'll see the humor in it like I do." I said, "Yeah. It's probably funny to everyone, except for Gulliver."
But at that point, I was so relieved just to find my mother alive that she looked quite wonderful to me. She was surprised to see me but she seemed much more excited to see our Uncle John. It think he must remind her of her father or something.
It took days and days for my mom's condition to stabilize. We spent most of our time at the hospital, either in the ICU or the waiting room. I told my stepdad, "The ICU is pretty professional but out here it's like an episode of Scrubs." He said, "Yeah. Scrubs, Grey's Anatomy, I've seen it all around here. Did I tell you this is a TRAINING hospital?"
One day I sat in the sun on the roof of the parking garage with my brother while he went through a custody hearing for his son via telephone. It was hard to listen to. Like ALL of my brother's previous girlfriends, his baby's-momma is crazy. Yet, everyone in the court treats my brother like scum. He makes good arguments and makes good suggestions as to how to resolve differences and to show the court the "things they haven't seen." They ignore him completely. They're just trying to drag things out so long that he'll give up. You can hear it in their voices that they want him to give up. The custody case started before the baby was born. The baby is 2 years old now. The judge says he's turning the case over to someone else. Assumably because he doesn't want to deal with it anymore.
The weather has been amazing in San Francisco over the past few days and I was sad that my wife and kids couldn't be there with me. There was even a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz from the hospital. We tried to get out around town, now and then. My sister showed me a funny business that specializes in removing headlice. The "Headlice Helpers." Man... all the good business ideas really ARE taken.
We've decide that "Little Italy" is just a myth in San Francisco and that's why it isn't on any of the tourist maps despite the many road signs. At Fisherman's Wharf, I was vastly disappointed in the quality of street performers. The best street performer is some black dude who sits on a milk crate holding two severed tree branches in front of him to hide his presence. Then he yells, "RAHHH!" and unsuspected pedestrians. He drew the biggest crowd but I can't say he was any good because while I was walking past him a pigeon flew up between me and some asian woman and the asian woman screamed. I figure, if a pigeon off the street can be just as entertaining as the bush-man then he really doesn't have much of a talent going. I told my family that I was going to strap two branches to my legs, play the guitar and dance like a robot while scaring people and I would completely put ALL of those other street performers out of business. They've got it coming.
We went to the Boudin Bread Company to see the "Mother Dough." Apparently, these people made some dough in a bowl and they've just been adding more and more dough to that same dough for over one hundred years. The Mother Dough. Awesome sourdough bread. Available in alligator, lobster and many other shapes. We stayed at the Cathedral Hill Hotel, which was a fancy place back in the day, with guests such as Ronald Reagan, Wilt Chamberlain and Mr. T. A nice hotel. Across the street is a bar called Tommy's Joynt which is a historical building of sorts. They fed me some good grilled salmon.
Amid all the joking and goodwill, serious things kept coming up. And strange combinations, like when we bought lottery tickets and decided that any winnings would be applied toward buying my mother new organs off the black market. While we were eating lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe I told my brother he was following my mother down the road to the hospital and that he should change his behavior because I only planned on going through this ONE TIME. He got really mad and defensive and walked out of the restaraunt. I'm worried about him.
My mother made it through her body crashing. Now she has to hold on for one or more organ transplants. She's hanging on but only by a thread. She's seems be getting better everyday but it's still a very fragile situation. The doctors only tell you bad things because then you won't care if they're wrong. I hope they're wrong. I love my mom. I think she's pretty. Even tied up like Gulliver.