I left Mom and Dad's house at the beginning of October after a short 4 day visit. Mom was still recovering from her September surgery and a resulting infection, but was otherwise in good spirits. She was so focused on getting through the round of antibiotics so that she could start chemotherapy. The night before I left, my older sister flew in from out of state to help relieve my dad so he could continue working. The day I left they sat together for several hours at the hospital waiting for a follow-up appointment. Sis said that Mom was in good spirits, and when I talked to Mom directly she jokingly complained about living at the hospital. All seemed to be going well and the fever and swelling had gone down enough that the chemo appointments went onto the calendar.
October 9th Mom's Facebook page indicated she was going out for one last hurrah before the hard treatment: "On our way to Palm Springs for a late lunch with friends."
That night we got a text message from Dad - Mom was in the hospital. After lunch, she had excused herself to go to the bathroom for some privacy because she noticed that her tongue was acting strangely. She couldn't make it go to the left. On the way out the door she mentioned it to my dad, who works in health care. Concerned that this was a neurological symptom, he took her straight into the emergency room.
They gave her a tentative diagnosis of a stroke, and started running test to confirm immediately.
I hadn't looked back that far on her Facebook page until I started writing this post to make sure I got the dates right. It's incredible what stress and anguish can do to distort perception of time. I was sure that she had spent nearly an entire month in the hospital in Palm Springs - in reality it was less than a week. So much happened that week: the stroke diagnosis, the brain lesion that couldn't possibly be cancer, the infection diagnosis, the IV antibiotic infusion, the return of the stroke diagnosis, and then finally infection. Behind and through and under everything, pervasive in every tense conversation was the question, "But when will they let her start chemo?" We knew Mom's cancer was aggressive, invasive, and quick moving. She had just disclosed to us (after my visit) that 18 out of the 23 lymph nodes removed in surgery came back positive for cancer cells. She needed to get on the chemo and quickly.
Mom was out of the hospital and in her own bed by October 15th with an intensive IV antibiotic infusion regimen. That means that she needed a dose every 3 hours around the clock for three weeks. With no nurse, that meant that my dad or sisters would need to take turns staying home from work to be with her. A wonderful neighbor offered to step in and give her the infusion on my dad's work days so that we could all save our sick days for when she would start chemo.
Every time I talked to Mom during this time she was grateful for all the help, all the prayers, but she was bored as hell. For someone as social as my mother it must have been the hardest thing to be holed up in the house, attached to a bag of fluids, sequestered from the world to defeat an infection.
As it turns out, it was probably a phantom infection.