The final question

Hospital

Saturday 7th June

Saturday morning. My older half-sister, hearing the news from the night before, traveled across the country to be with us, and after only 4 hours sleep, we all bundled into the car and set off back to the hospital.

Asleep, my mum looked so fragile; it was hard to believe that less than 24 hours ago, her arms were holding me as I cried. Even when she stirred, she showed little grasp of where she was or what was going on. I wondered if her body came through this, if her mind would be left behind. Had I lost my mummy forever?

When we arrived we were told that my mum had had a CT scan on her brain, a report had been written and the doctor would see us soon. It was mid afternoon before we met the doctor, who informed us that there has been a mistake, a CT Scan had been booked for 9:30am but my mum didn’t go for it. Fire burned in my belly. I growled at the doctor who apologised, but stared me down. I was taken aback by my anger. Where did this come from?

After my mum’s CT scan, the doctor pulled us into his office to share the results. He called for the ward sister, a bubbly girl in her 20’s, to join us in the small but cozy room. She followed us in and chose the seat closest to my younger sister. I sat beside my Dad, ready to be his rock. As the doctor gave us the results of my mum’s scan, I became distracted by his name tag, bobbing from the lanyard around his neck. I wondered how my mum would feel if she woke up now, alone in her hospital bed; if she would think we had abandoned her. He was quick and to the point: my mum had at least 5 tumours in her brain, which were growing. He prescribed her steroids to slow down the growth but he could not stop them multiplying. He explained that if they were in her brain, they were in her blood stream which created a strong possibility that it had spread to other areas of her body. As he spoke the news got worse; I willed him to stop but he continued to inform us of how frail my mum had become and how that meant that at any point she may suffer cardiac arrest, and if she did, he would not resuscitate her. My Dad broke. Unable to hold us both together, I swapped seats with my older sister, who held him as he cried. I looked over to my younger sister, who had not stopped crying since she’d come in. She was engulfed by the ward sister’s arms, which held my sister together as she fell apart. I was jealous. I wanted to swap places, but I couldn’t. I had to be the strong one. I quickly text Donna, asking if I could visit her that evening, and then sat cool and collected, asking questions and gathering information. The doctor stared at me curiously, answering all my questions but seemingly, silently asking me why I was not upset. If only I could have told him. We talked about the next steps. He told us that it was not safe to tell my mum about the brain tumours, that information like that may kill her.

Then my Dad asked his final question: “In your professional opinion doc, how long does she have left?” The doctor paused before answering, “I don’t like that question, but I understand your need for an answer. I would say days or weeks. Possibly months, definitely not years. But you need to understand, it might also be minutes. Yesterday, a couple came in with a similar situation and I gave them a similar answer, and 10 minutes after they left, their family member died.”

The doctor promised to wait for us. We walked outside heavy with the news of my mum’s prognosis. My Dad made a decision on behalf of us all: we were to tell no-one. I tried to argue but my Dad turned on me, pleaded with me and told me that I was selfish. My Mum must not know and to ensure that, only he may tell close family and no-one else.

I wrestled with that. If I was going to be strong for my Dad, then I needed to be vulnerable with my friends. But that went against my Dad’s wishes and I didn’t want to cause a family argument, not then. I couldn’t be strong all the time, not on my own. I text my friend Lola, and asked her to keep my secret. I told her about the prognosis, and that I’d been sworn to secrecy. She told me to contend it, I needed to look after myself before my Dad. But I couldn’t, not here, not then.

The doctor came with us to tell my mum. He told her that she had had scan but the results were not normal so the hospital were sending them away for further analysis. My mum was barely awake and took none of it in. After the doctor had left, the nurse told us that he had finished his shift at 1pm, but had stayed on all afternoon to help us.

We drove home, my Dad’s final question still echoing in our minds.

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