Yesterday Derek and I went to the hospital to see Mom and to visit with Gretchen and Dad. Mom was scheduled for a stress test to check on her heart function so she would be gone most of the afternoon. While she was out we grabbed some lunch and waited at the house instead of the tiny hospital room. When we returned to the hospital Mom was just coming back from her test and Dad said she was alert and talking. We (the kids) had been waiting in the consultation room while they got Mom moved back to her bed and such. As the nurse was getting her situated and hooked back up to her monitors a doctor came in. We weren’t expecting a doctor since the nurse didn’t mention it, she said that there were no more tests scheduled and that we wouldn’t know the results of the stress test until tomorrow (today). The doctor that came in was a neurologist. Ok, we were on the cardiology floor, but if this doctor might give us answers (and while most of us were there) then exam away doc!
He asked us a bunch of questions about Mom’s condition and the changes we’d seen over the past year and especially since surgery and post-radiation*. We answered his questions to the best of our abilities. The doctor then proceeded with a neurological exam. When he asked her how old she was you could see the wheels turning in her head. I could hear that she was trying to do the math to figure it out… “nineteen… (in a muffled voice).” She couldn’t come up with it. He asked how long she’d been in the hospital… nothing. Tell me about your trip to California…nothing. Dad asked, “who lives in California?”… nothing. He asked her to repeat some words. She couldn’t. He asked her to raise her arms. She couldn’t. He asked her to lift her feet. She couldn’t. He asked her to smile. She DID… begrudgingly. She could grasp his hand with her left hand and push on his hands with her left foot. She could feel and express pain when he scratched her hand with the end of swab stick. She could not identify the color of the comb. She could not tell him if she could feel the tuning fork on her legs or head. She will only answer questions from family members and completely ignores nurses and doctors.
After the doctor finished the exam he showed us the MRI images. Derek, Gretechen or I hadn’t seen the images. Dad had, but when he saw them the doctors were focusing on the tumor. All this time the focus has been on the tumor. The size of the tumor, what was removed, how much it had shrunk, what was dead… all about the tumor. Never-mind that all around the tumor the radiation had caused gliosis. Gliosis, put simply, is scar tissue around the nerves in the brain. In an MRI it shows up as a light grey area. It is pretty pronounced in Mom’s images. The gliosis is advanced. There is no treatment or cure for gliosis.
The doctor said a lot of words. He wasn’t beating around the bush, but he wasn’t getting to the point either. Finally I got tired of that and ask him to put it simply. Mom’s condition is because of this gliosis. The gliosis is a result of the radiation. There is no treatment or cure. The state she is currently in is irreversible.
That is not what we were expecting to hear yesterday. For the past week we’ve been worrying about a possible heart infection or some other cause to this. Nope, it is all the cancer and its after effects. In a way this is a bit of good news. I’m not sure about Dad and Gretchen, but Derek and I are relieved to know that it wasn’t something that we could have caught sooner. It wasn’t an infection that could have caused this.
But it’s irreversible.
*a little bit about the post-radiation effects can be found here, but there is much more to the story. Since the end of January Mom has continually declined. Her appetite has gotten worse, her cognitive ability has declined and her mobility is nearly non-existent. Last Tuesday she could raise her arms to scratch her nose, yesterday she could barely do that.