My mother called me once again in the middle of my shift to talk about her symptoms. I told her they were psychosomatic. After a few moments of confused silence, I realised I would have to explain what the word meant.
“Your hands feel cold because you are thinking too much, that’s why. Remember what they said last time they examined you? Cold hands are not a life-threatening condition. If you had anything serious, it would affect other parts of your body, too.”
She insists that I should go home and examine her. Once again, I had to remind her that I cannot be both her son and her doctor. There are protocols for those things. Besides, it’s not like I don’t have anything to do at the hospital. I was there with her for Christmas. I promised this time I wouldn’t miss her birthday. But did she really expect me to drop everything and take a three-hour train trip to her house just because her hands felt cold?
Today it was my sister’s turn to call me. “I really think you should come. Her hands have never felt that cold.” I told her to stop fueling mum’s paranoia. That kind of encouragement will only make the old woman feel worse.
I referred my mum to Dr Jordan, a colleague from her town, just to get my sister to shut up. He was as unimpressed as I am. “Cold hands? Is that all?” Over the phone, I sensed a trace of suppressed laughter in his voice. I would laugh, too, but this joke was getting old.
“You should take the next train and come.” No diagnosis, no prognosis, no suggestions for treatment: just another intimation to make that dreaded train journey. For a moment I wondered if Dr Jordan was colluding with my mother and sister. Out of respect for him, I bought a train ticket for tomorrow. Cold hands. How could Dr Jordan fall for that?
Everybody looks smaller and weaker in a hospital bed: I’ve seen that enough times not to be impressed at the sight of my mother in intensive care. Dr Jordan cannot explain the reasons for her speedy deterioration. There are no symptoms other than the low temperature of her extremities, but her vital signs dwindled down to a near coma. At Dr Jordan’s request, I touched her hands to examine them. They were, indeed, unnaturally cold.
I cancelled my appointments for tomorrow and changed the date of my train ticket. My sister and I had to make arrangements for the funeral. It would be easier if she stopped crying for a second. Dr Jordan asked if we wanted a full autopsy, but my sister dismissed it. “I know why she died.” While we waited for the hospital paperwork, I grabbed a thermometer to measure my hand temperature but put it away before checking the result. I was not going to get wrapped up in that nonsense.
While the casket was still open, I held her hands one last time. They were warmer than the night before.