Sunday, October 18, 2009


Today, I had the honor of providing dinner to both Mom and her sister, who arrived safely from Texas. Dinner for them was budae-jjigae, a stew I've made many times before. My aunt-- I'll call her "Emo" from here on in, per the Korean designation for an aunt who is the mother's older sister-- raved about it, which I took as high praise, since she's a talented cook. As happened with Mom, Emo wasn't familiar with budae-jjigae, a dish that gained popularity long after she and my mother had left Korea in the 1960s. Unlike some of the old-school Koreans in America, however, Emo was open-minded from the start, not blinking once when I told her what the stew was made of. Even Mom made a face the first time she heard it was a fusion of a traditional Korean stew and American junk meats: fatty hamburger, Spam, and hot dogs. The concept sounds disgusting, but the taste is surprisingly good.

Dad's dinner was leftover spaghetti from yesterday, plus leftover "caprese niçoise," my brother Sean's designation for the salad I'd made. Dad can't eat spicy, and I'd made the stew especially spicy by adding four jalapeños and four Korean gochus (seeds and all, of course).

Emo sat with Mom all afternoon and evening, often holding her hand and talking to her about this or that. It was the sort of care Mom needed, and which I'm currently unable to provide: my bronchitis is still rattling my lungs, so I'm still wearing a mask and washing my hands at an insane frequency. I hug Mom when I can, but avoid holding her hand and kissing her.

Mom's feet were swollen most of the day-- probably because of her Decadron, which looks, more and more, like the root of all evil. Decadron's main virtue is that it's a corticosteroid: it keeps the swelling down in Mom's brain. We had tried reducing her dosage a while back, but Mom's symptoms only seemed to flare up as a result. She's been back on the full dose ever since. Aside from its anti-inflammatory benefits, I see nothing good about Decadron: it's causing swollen feet and is deteriorating Mom's muscles. Her calves are now frighteningly thin. Emo and her family had lamented how gaunt Mom looked when she traveled to Texas. Now that Mom has regained some weight thanks to the sustained protein blast we've been giving her, Emo seems encouraged. It's a Catch-22 for us: if we lower the Decadron dosage to diminish the side effects, we risk brain swelling; if we keep the Decadron at its current level, we have to live with the side effects.

As a confirmed Texan, my aunt can take any amount of heat, but for her, 70 degrees is freezing. So we warmed the house up for her by a few degrees, and Emo bundled Mom's feet, which she (Emo) said also felt cold. I draped a shawl over Mom's shoulders to warm her up. Mom took our caring gestures in stride, as she usually does.

Sunday afternoon or evening, we'll be trying a new approach to walking: a trip over to the capacious Pentagon City, a mall with plenty of floor space for walking. Since the mall has a food court, we might just take a meal there. These sorts of outings tend to tire Mom out, though, so I don't think we'll be treating this like a typical people-watching adventure. We'll arrive, help Mom walk, hit the food court, and mosey on home. Or something like that.

The two sisters are happy to be reunited for a while. Emo's here until Tuesday; her stay is the same length as ours was when we went to Texas at the beginning of September. Symmetry.


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