Guilt, meet thy maker

A while back I wrote about a call I received in court on a really bad day. It invovled mistaken identities, my mother, and the possibility of cancer. If you recall, there was an instant when I was relieved it was my mother – because it meant it wasn’t my wife. I’d made a choice, consciously or not, and it made me feel terrible. We all make them. I don’t think we can help ourselves. I think my guilt came not just from realizing I’d made it, but from letting it be known.

So what did I do then? I recounted my mistake online for the masses dozens handfull reading my blog.

Ah, but you’re my therapy, and the price is right.

The last post I briefly discussed root causes. Today’s (wild ass guess at a) root cause* is lithium toxicity. My mother took lithium to treat bi-polar disorder for 20+ years. A little more than three years ago, right before I was diagnosed with leukemia and my dad had a little trouble with his heart again, doctors detected partial renal failure/deficiency in my mother. This was (partially) a product of the damage the lithium did to my mother’s kidneys over the years.

In hindsight, I wonder if the anxiety of this news led her mind, on top of everything else, to its rapid decline that summer/fall. From what I know of renal failure, it’s not something your kidneys ever recover – it’s a downward slope. The only question is: how steep?

Well, that was three years ago, and while her mind has improved (relative to a year ago) her kindeys have not. She seemed to be getting along, though none of us (her kids) knew exactly what her kidney function was. It’s not something we ever though to bring up, and I honestly don’t think she’d have known anyway. That’s what the drugs and a two year break from reality do to you.

Well, I’ve led you to the dot. Have you connected it to it’s friends yet?

That call about the suspected tumor? I found out two weeks ago it’s in one of her kidneys. What’s worse, it’s in the better functioning of the two.

Better is a relative term. The ultrasound report suggests both are seriously atrophied. The nephrologist in the family was a little shocked.

I don’t have a lot if hard facts to go on, but my sister is the aforementioned nephrologist, and I have a poor man’s background in pyschology. Pooling those resources with the facts we do know makes me worry the prognosis is not good.

Mom’s mind has shown some signs of regression, though it’s still a long way from where it was a year or two ago. I just hope it stays that way if they confirm a cancer diagnosis. Or if they have to remove too much of her “good” kidney. Or if she has to start dialysis. Or if she has to be hospitalized at all.

I fear fragile doesn’t begin to explain what she is, physically or mentally.

I know. One thing at a time, John. One thing at a time.

– – –

*I don’t mean to imply lithium caused the cancer – or even directly caused her poor mental health. I only wonder if its known toxic effects led to a domino effect starting with her kidney failure three years ago… to mental breakdown… to institutionalization.



I have a plan. Do you have any idea how odd those words sound in my head, coming from my mouth? Thanks to a gentle nudge from Cheryl, I’m going to try to exorcise a pinch of guilt this Friday by making the long drive up to Chattahoochee to see my mom.

Let it be known: this doesn’t make me a good son. A good son wouldn’t suffer from mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong, he’d have them – but they wouldn’t torment him. You see, I don’t want to go. A piece of my soul leaches away every time I go. It’s that kind of place, a place without hope. Resignation reigns… learned hopelessness. It’s like a low-income nursing home for the young and old alike, only there’s nothing wrong with their bodies – other than neglect (mostly self-inflicted). It has that same institutional smell, a smell that greets you before the first hello – a smell that seems to weep: “we’ve given up.”

I try to bring a smile with me, but it’s hard, and I wonder if she’s perceptive enough to see the effort it takes. It isn’t much of a smile if you have to try. Maybe you’re wondering why I’d go at all. Sorrow and hopelessness are poor companions. It’s ok to ask. I ask myself every time I go. I hope trying shows her one thing, even if it isn’t reassurance: love.

Someone said love conquers all, but I’ll wager they didn’t say it from an institution for the lost. It’s still something though, and it’s the only thing I have in me to give. So I’m going.

I just wish it was enough.