Thursday, July 19, 2007
Get Well Soon... or Not, Whatever
One of the recent topics of discussion in my house, of late, has been my mother-in-law's health, or lack thereof. This is a woman who has major surgery once a year; it's usually something medically necessary (removal of various optional parts, repair of broken parts, tire rotation and oil change) because she's prone to illness and accidents. I'd love, trust me how I'd love, to label her a hypochondriac, but from what I can tell most of these seem relatively legitimate.

And in between, in those rare years in which she doesn't have an illness or fall off her horse or bend down to tie her shoe and stand up abruptly into her side mirror (oh yes she did - got a concussion that time), she finds elective surgeries to tide her over. She had a breast reduction in 2003. I found this out when I went downstairs to tell her that dinner was ready, and she turned around and flashed me to show off her scars.

I still have blind spots in my vision from that one.

So, you may recall, a few weeks ago I was feeling weirded out by her stooped-over posture of ass-kissing. I didn't know why she was doing it, but in my experience, the woman is not nice to me without some explicit reason. Usually it's because I'm either pregnant or breastfeeding and she knows I won't hand over the child under those immediate circumstances (though if she thought I would, it would be a national news media type of event).

Well, we found out why. Turns out I was right; she wasn't just being nice to me for the sake of balancing out some of the worldwide karma from that whole Middle East deal. She was being nice to be because she had diagnosed herself with stomach cancer, blamed my dead father-in-law for it, and convinced herself that she had one year left to live.

It must be such fun living inside her head, don't you think?

I'm going to provide as near to a chronological narrative as I'm able to piece together; you can rest assured that I did not get the information delivered in an organized package. From what I can tell, about a month ago, she started having stomachaches and explosive flatulence after every meal. (And, yes, you're right. I did, indeed, get a most uncharitable thrill at the concept of my mother-in-law having explosive flatulence.) As a result of this, she stopped eating large amounts at a time, and, in turn, started losing weight.

Meanwhile, she'd forgotten that she'd had the initial unsocial gastrointestinal symptoms and resulting limited food intake, and began to panic at the fact that she was losing weight. Now, for at least the ten years that I've known her, this woman has been on a perpetual diet, constantly complaining about her size and then reaching for another bowl of ice cream. And she wasn't morbidly, or even just grimly, obese; she was a size-16 in a size-16 world. Anyway, now that she was actually losing weight, it freaked her out. Unwanted weight loss? Discomfort eating? Flatulence that could strike a roomful of frat boys after a bratwurst-eating contest into respectful silence? It must be stomach cancer!

Another difficulty with my mother-in-law is that she is a retired nurse, of the recovery room variety. This gives her just enough medical knowledge to be really, really annoying, with the haughty terminology to match, without actually being helpful to herself or others. So she waited a while to see a doctor, so as to really maximize that panic and worry, and have it miraculously coincide with Willem's visit.

She spent the week alternating between two of my very favorite displays: moping and melodrama. Willem and she decided to take the kids bowling; Willem and the kids bowled while she sat at a table, stared off into space, and sniffled every time she felt lonely. (Read: she may not have exhaled once the whole time, being so busy sniffling.) After a good mope, she would garner the energy to launch into a melodramatic rant, typically along the lines of, "The only way people ever get stomach cancer is by exposure to cigarette smoke. So if I do have it [dramatic pause], then I'll know that it was all H's fault, because he smoked like a chimney every day I knew him, and he made me breathe that poison every single day, and if I die from this then I will hunt him down wherever he is and kill him again."

Yes. Way to buck up stoically under pressure.

So, the week was a wash, and Willem and the kids came home cranky and high-maintenance, none of them having been expected to eat a single molecule of nutrition or clean up after themselves, and only two of them having been expected to regulate their bodily functions. It's been a period of adjustment for us all; them to recover from a week living in the wild and me to not kill them all and bury them in the backyard.

Then, last Friday, we got a phone call. Well, Willem got a phone call, and I had the audacity to answer it. Right away, I knew that we were back to normal again: "Oh. Kate. Yeah, hi. Is my son home?"

I had the surpreme pleasure of telling her, yes, but he's busy at the moment. So she had to be contented with relaying the news to me: she does not have stomach cancer. I don't know what manner of indelicate medical tests she had done, because I've become quite adept at selective deafness (the woman will discuss a surgical procedure and its resulting dead white corpuscles in excruciating detail at the dinner table, complete with comparisons to the food being served). But they proved that, no, it's not stomach cancer. It's a hiatal hernia, which she has opted not to have surgically corrected because apparently she is the only person with such a condition who is not a good candidate for laproscopic abdominal surgery. (I did not ask her if that has anything to do with her head being shoved up in the way down there.) In essence, she has been on the receiving end of an all-natural stomach-stapling procedure; there is a certain karma to this following her endless obsession about weight.

She also "found out" that she has lactose intolerance. That deserves the dreaded visual quotes because I've known for years that she was lactose intolerant, because she told me. Whenever she visits, I cook without cheese, I supply non-dairy creamer, I listen to the preemptive woe-is-me before we have ice cream. But no, apparently I am mistaken, because this is brand-new hot-off-the-presses information to her. Okay.

I didn't post about it back when she was bemoaning her stomach cancer and imminent death because I just couldn't find the right words. Somewhere over the course of the past year - I think perhaps when she told Willem that I was not her family - I've stopped thinking of her as a family member, someone I would drop anything to help even if I can't stand their fundamental personality. It was very weird for me to hear of someone's illness and just not care; I couldn't even fake concern over it. When she dies, which we all understand won't be for another 30 years, I won't rejoice; she loves my children, in her way, and they love her. But the only times she is genuine with me is when she hates me.