Prompt: “Write about a time when you knew you were going to go through pain, you knew you’d suffer, but you went ahead anyway.”
I’ve been avoiding this one. Although I have been in pain, when I think of suffering I most often thinking of it in terms of the pain I feel over the suffering of others. In particular, I think of my mother.
When her breast cancer spread throughout her body, one of the most awful ways it afflicted her was when her lungs would fill with fluid (pleural effusion). She regularly had to go have the fluid drained (thoracentesis) , at great risk to herself. Having once suffered from double pneumonia, I still recall the heaviness on my lungs and the desperate fight for breath.
Ultimately her doctor recommended a painful procedure (thoracoscopic (VATS) talc pleurodesis) in which they would essentially collapse the space where the fluid kept building by draining her lung fully, then filling the space with some sort of irritant (again, I don’t recall what) that made me think of cornstarch and which I honestly didn’t think had any reason being in the human body, especially not the lungs.
The doctor made it sound simple, but it was not. The recovery was extremely painful, with not one, but two drains out of her chest.
I have blocked most of the details from memory and don’t feel inclined to dredge them up right now. But I know my mom suffered. She suffered like I had rarely seen before (someday I will tell you about Adrienne). And it’s not like I would have or could have chosen any differently, but I chose to stay by her side. This is not valiant and does not in any way diminish her actual deep and unbearable suffering, but I suffered more than I can remember, simply by being witness to her suffering.
The worst part of it all, was being painfully aware throughout her ordeal that the human body has two lungs.
We were only halfway there.
After a long and arduous recovery from the first procedure, my mother courageously chose to go in for the second lung.
And she suffered again, this time knowing exactly how bad it was going to be going in.
It is the first time I recall praying for the end of someone’s suffering.
When you are in the thick of something harder than you’ve ever known, the heaviness of it is with you night and day and it feels like it will never end.
The beautiful part of this story is that my mom’s courage in taking this on not once, but twice, led her–with the blessed help of hospice–to enjoy a few good months before she died. During that time she enjoyed numerous visits from family and friends. One of her favorite joys was to take her guests to see the latest progress on Payson Temple construction, something which also brought her a good deal of peace. Followed by fun a visit Rowley’s (if related, it’s a quite distant relation) Red Barn for apples, jam, and hard-scooped ice cream. And, finally, wrapping up with a visit to some family restaurant in Santquin where they serve scones bigger than your head.
Just yesterday I drove past the completed Payson Temple on my way to our niece’s new home in Sanatquin and, on the way back, I noticed the lights at Rowley’s Red Barn. I remember how I worked so hard balancing everything during that time to support my mom, missing all these outings with family because I was saving up vacation and sick time “for the end.” One fine fall day I realized that “the end” might be too late. So I took a half day off of work and accompanied my Mom on her tour. It was a perfect autumn day. The smell and sense of fall harvest was in the air. And I was grateful my mom had seen it through in order to see such a beautiful day and to share it with me.
[Day 23 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]
Post has been edited to include the name of her condition and the procedures. The substance is worse than cornstarch. It is talc powder. Again, something that seems to have no business being inside of anyone’s lung.