Nathan Stacy, M2, Class of 2022
My momma was recently diagnosed with cancer of her jaw. She underwent something called a “Flap Surgery”, which removed part of her jaw and replaced it with her leg bone. These are some of my reflections about the experience my family went through during this trying time. I wrote some during this time period, and some afterwards, so the past-tense/present-tense jumps around a little bit.
When my Momma first woke up from surgery, we had a whiteboard for her to write on. What’s the first thing she wrote?
She wanted to know how her granddaughter had done in daycare, since it was Sawyer’s first day not having Grandma watch her.
The second thing she wrote?
“Toe on head?”
We had joked that since the surgeon was moving so many body parts around during the surgery (taking part of her jaw bone out, replacing it with her leg bone, skin graft from thigh to leg), that he would probably take her toe off and put in on top of her head.
I do have a fantastic Mother. A very strong, beautiful (in body and soul) Mother, who cares deeply for her family. And, she’s got a great sense of humor to boot.
Room of the Machine Hiss
It’s 10 pm, and I’m still in the hospital. I will be ‘on duty’ until my Father subs me out, right around 2 am. The only light comes from the window; even at midnight, downtown KC stays lit up. The odd hissing sound never stops. It’s not quite the sound of a serpent, nor exactly like the constant refrain of an elementary school hallway monitor (shhhh), but somewhere in the middle. It’s the worst type of white noise. 64 hours in, 100 hours to go.
My Momma once told me this, many moons ago:
“Nathan, sometimes, life’s a bitch.”
Words that ring ever the truer in the Room of the Machine Hiss.
The Bad Day
The next day is the hardest. For my Momma, and for the rest of us. We’re worn down – 4 days of visiting the Healthcare Prison, with that damn hissing sounds in the background, will do that to you. My Father has slept all of 10 hours in the past 4 days. My Momma, probably less.
The pain is bad today. The hope is low. The light at the end of the tunnel is close to extinguished by exhaustion and trachea-sucking.
I hold my Mom’s hand during the trachea-sucking. It’s all I can do for her. Hold her hand, be there with her, let her know she’s not alone.
We made it through the bad day. Things are looking up. My Momma can walk up and down the hallway with the help of a walker. A couple of the tubes are discarded. The pain is under control.
There probably are rules about how much food you can bring in to a hospital floor. I’m 100% sure we broke any and all of those rules. It was time to have a feast.
We had tacos. But it wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill tacos setup – it was the mother of all taco setups. Soft tacos, hard tacos, chips, taco meat, 3 kinds of cheese, tomato salsa, corn salsa, guacamole, lettuce… it goes on and on. We pulled together a few tables in the waiting room, and sat down to feast. It was me, my fiancé, both of my sisters, a brother in law, a boyfriend, my Dad, and my Momma. It felt like Thanksgiving, in a Hospital, in August. There was talking, laughter – raucous laughter – and true joy in the air. The hope was back. We were going to get through this. John-Michael (the boyfriend) made my Momma laugh a little too hard a few times – she still had the trach in – but it was a worthy price to pay to experience what life is all about.
What’s Cookin Good Lookin
Day 5. My Dad walks into the room in the morning. My Momma looks up at him, and says “What’s Cookin Good Lookin??” My dad was surprised, excited, emotional. Everyone else was laughing. These were the first words my Momma had said to my Dad since the surgery – five days where the only communication was with a whiteboard. Once you get your voice back, you don’t ever want to give it up again.
Freedom tastes very sweet. One week and one major switch-a-roo of body parts, and my Momma was walking out of the Hospital, cancer free.
There have been a few bumps and bruises since then, a couple of infection scares, but just last Friday, my Momma watched Sawyer by herself for the first time in months. She made it through this. We made it through this.