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Kaffee Klatsch with Mom

taunya(KAH-feeklach): noun (fr. German Kaffee = coffee + Klatsch = gossip): a casual gathering for coffee and conversation.

“Coffee. C-O-F-F-E.” I waited a moment for my mom to finish with the final “e,” but the conversation took a turn from spelling the beverage to drinking it. “They have the best coffee here,” she said.

We were at our favorite spot for Kaffee, Kuchen and food in general. Red Butte Café is only five minutes from both the U and my mother’s house and makes a great lunch stop—or my favorite—a dessert and coffee pause in the afternoon. Mom and I come here regularly, savoring their brew and every once in a while a slice of their Am azon chocolate tort.

“I’m doing better, don’t you think?” she asked me again. “I can say everything. Cal-if-orn-ia. See, I couldn’t say that before. And tel-e-vi-sion. Boun-ti-ful. Rabbit.”

Mom was diagnosed with a meningioma two years ago. As my two brothers and I stood in the University Hospital emergency room, staring at the CT scan of her brain, I was suspended outside myself, tracing the contour of the left and right hemispheres in confusion. The mass had imposed itself into the left side, squishing it into an uncomfortable C-shape. It was the size of a grapefruit (I always found it amusing the way neurologists refer to tumors by fruit size…grape, orange, papaya.). But a grapefruit is a mighty large object to be carrying around in the left ventricle of your brain, which is the size of a walnut.

I was sure that was the end of the story, that in that CT scan I was staring at my mother’s farewell. Neurology was called in, followed by Neurosurgery, and soon Mom was booked into the 6th floor of the hospital where we would wait three days for the surgeons to study her MRIs and map their way to the tumor.

The good news was that the tumor was benign and slow growing—it had likely been there for fifteen years or more. The other good news was that meningiomas are typically operable. The bad news was that most people discover they have a meningioma far earlier than my mother. Her remarkable stubbornness had kept her in denial and allowed the thing to grow to a size rarely seen in neurosurgery. The good news was that because of this, her case was a rarity and hence the best neurosurgeons at the U would be operating on her. The bad news was that the tumor was embedded in her left ventricle, deeply surrounded by brain tissue responsible for speech and motor function as well as vision and comprehension. It was likely, we were told, that by invading that tissue to remove the tumor, she would lose control of her right side, her vision, and be unable to speak or comprehend again. What a gamble.

We consented to the surgery. We spent the day before pampering her—bringing her her favorite food, coffee, rubbing scented lotion into her feet, and those wonderful nurses even allowed us to bring in our Siberian husky, Ivan, to wish her well.

The day of her surgery was the longest of my life. Three of the U’s best neurosurgeons were to perform the procedure. We were instructed to sit in the waiting room. The nurse would call us every few hours from the operating room to give us updates. Every time they called our name, we lifted the phone with dread. But every time we were told all was well. Finally, after 10 hours in the waiting room, the doctors joined us with good news—they’d removed the entire tumor, bit by bit, and they did so, they believed, with little or no damage to the brain tissue. They expected a full recovery. We were elated.

We entered the NCC—neuro critical care—on the third floor of the hospital. Much darker, quieter and more somber than the sixth floor, there were no dogs to wish the patients well, no flowers or balloons, just the concentrated hum of healing. Each patient had a tragedy to tell. I couldn’t get past what Mom had just gone through.

Half her head was shaved and the incision traced a crescent from her temple to her neck’s nape, stapled in a cliché of Frankenstein. How could this be my mom? Her eyes opened and wildly scanned the ceiling. She was far away. And pinned to the bed to keep her from rolling onto her incision. Her pain was palpable. I could taste it, smell it, delve my fingers into it.

The next week passed in NCC with rigid routine. No visitors during shift change from 7:30-8:30 a.m. or p.m. Only two visitors at a time. Mom begging for her morning coffee. Mom being denied her morning coffee. Mom sitting up. Mom walking around the NCC. Mom walking down the hall and back. And finally, Mom talking.

She spent three weeks in the University Hospital’s rehab and came out better than she’d been in years. We were filled with hope of retrieving a mother whose deterioration had left us baffled and helpless. The surgeons had ordered a full recovery.

While I love optimism, I’ve learned how delicate a thing the brain is. You can’t shove something as big as her tumor into the brain tissue, leave it there for that long, and expect that when you remove it, everything will go back to normal.

The seizures started three months after her surgery and stalk her silently. Cocktails of anti-seizure meds are ordered, remixed, dosages increased, decreased, and we all keep plugging along hoping this month will leave her seizure-free.

“I’m doing better,” she says, her right hand shaking as she brings the coffee mug to her lips. And she is. We’re having our Kaffe Klatsch on stolen time—time our neurosurgeons served us—time I was sure we’d lost when I spied that first CT scan.

So yes, Mom, keep spelling coffee. And sipping it. At least you’re no longer begging for it in the dim light of NCC.

It’s easy to discredit a miracle for its shortcoming in perfection. My mom being alive, sitting with me today at Red Butte, is a miracle. The perfection of a full recovery may never be realized, but every sip of coffee together is perfect.

  • ualumn96

    This is a beautiful post, and brought tears to my eyes. I think you’re brave to share it with us. It must have been what I call easy-hard to write…easy because of the sheer volume of content; hard to find the right words to convey emotions that are clearly beyond the English language.

    It was easy-hard to read too…and those are my favorite things to read. Thank you.

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  • Danielhales

    The good news was that the tumor was benign and slow growing—it had likely been there for fifteen years or more. The other good news was that meningitis are typically operable. The bad news was that most people discover they have a meningitis far earlier than my mother. Her remarkable stubbornness had kept her in denial and allowed the thing to grow to a size rarely seen in neurosurgery. Catering Supplies UK