The last two weeks have not been the merriest. In fact just two days before Christmas I had to dig real deep to find merry. That meant humming Christmas songs constantly and making inane chit-chat through very tense moments. Though it was pure joy to see my nephew and share some time with sis and family, as we head into the New Year another family crisis has sis’ emotions all over the place, our mother angry and combative, Rocket-man mighty stressed, and I am close to giving up under the weight of it all. Our world again is upside-down and all my silly singing and dancing jigs haven’t buoyed anyone’s spirits. The only one who seems to be happy at this writing is The Poodle who slumbers on his bed surrounded by his Christmas toys.
It’s no secret that things on the mom front have not always been peaches and cream. Like many mother-daughter relationships, ours is complicated. There have been periods of estrangement and periods of togetherness (though, even those were often tension-filled). It has been a roller coaster of a life with a woman who is high-strung, dramatic, manipulative, selfish but enormously intelligent and talented and often hilariously funny. Like most everyone who breathes, there has been baggage to carry around as a result of life with difficult parents. My journey to lighten my baggage has been slow but steadfast. Things that once boiled inside of me have either been snuffed cold or mindfully simmer ever so gently on a back burner. It wasn’t until the end of my third decade that I took mom down from the pedestal that I had set her on (I’m a slow learner) and I started being more true to self. I’ve moved forward in measures great and small but there are still some days when a shadow seems to descend from out of nowhere and it takes a lot of energy to shake all the negativity…self-created and otherwise.
Once again sis and I are dealing with yet another crisis involving our mother. Despite her failing health she decided to get on a plane and fly across the country to visit my sis and her family for Christmas. When sis told me of our mom’s intention many weeks back I was… a) floored and b) skeptical of her true agenda. It truly pains me to admit the latter but our mother has a history of manipulation that complicated lives and created pain.
She arrived on a Saturday and less than 48 hours later she was in the hospital. That was two weeks ago. She is still in the hospital.
“I knew this was going to happen!” I told my sis as we sat in the emergency room. We both considered for a moment the fact that she may have orchestrated this so that she would not have to return to her continuing care community. She had to have known she wasn’t in shape to travel across country! And, part of this assessment on our part was because mom launched into a well-prepared speech for my sister and her husband literally minutes after she arrived saying that I had coerced her over a year ago into her continuing care community and she had no idea what contract she had signed….and that she wanted out. After all I went through last year! I can tell you that upon hearing this my head nearly popped off.
Here we go again; mom is re-writing history to serve her narrative.
My sis and brother-in-law naturally did not buy into my mother’s story. I can assure you folks, that together…as a family…we have had nothing but our mother’s welfare at heart. We went through enormous hoops to maintain HER wishes (to stay in her state and not move cross-country) and get her into a fabulous community. We made the decisions together, not unilaterally. The fact that she is not happy there is astounding on one hand, but totally expected on the other; she wouldn’t be happy anywhere.
So, there sis and I sat…in the emergency room… after an extremely difficult night with mom, who refused to talk for hours, eat, or assist in her movement in any way.
“Believe me…she was fine coming off the plane yesterday…and she ate and moved herself around pretty well,” said my sis in disbelief and frustration. “I think she is angry because we won’t let her smoke or validate her new narrative.” The one that throws yours truly under the bus.
After a battery of tests the ER doc said she had a urinary tract infection. Pretty standard, nothing that antibiotics can’t address. We voiced our concern to the ER doc that we suspected a stroke: well, actually, mom kept insisting she had a stroke. However, a CT scan didn’t show any significant abnormality for a person of her age. She cannot have an MRI, which would definitively show evidence of stroke, since she has a pacemaker/defibrillator implant. A smoker since nineteen or so, mom has chronic heart disease, peripheral artery disease, as well as high blood pressure. We had hoped that some seven years ago when she got the pacemaker she’d finally heed all of our pleadings (and the doctors too) to stop smoking. She did not. And because she continued to refuse real lifestyle changes (which included getting active) she has been going downhill for a good 9 years. It’s been madness and deep sadness to watch it all unfold. Sis and I have pleaded our brains out to get our mom to see that there is a life worth living but you have to want it! It takes desire and commitment, not to mention energy to see things through. Mom has none of these.
The ER docs felt that due to mom’s level of immobility and to optimally treat the infection it would be best for her to be transferred to a local hospital for overnight observation as well as additional tests. I can tell you that sis and I watched the ER technicians load mom into an ambulance with distress in our hearts and tears in our eyes.
Sis and I hadn’t eaten a thing all that day so we stopped at Starbucks to grab a quick coffee and something to eat. As we ate our bagels and sipped coffee we tried to go through every scenario that would unfold with regards to mom as well as the costs (physically, emotionally and financially) that it could all entail. We went through the gamut of emotions….anger, sadness, fear and love for our mom as we also tried to figure out our own respective duties and schedules during the holiday season. Everything is being thrown, once again, into great turmoil we agreed….
and then we got sad….then angry….again.
We are all digging deep for merry.
The day after being admitted to the hospital we get the news that mom needed surgery to address stenosis of the carotid artery. Since she cannot have an MRI due to her pacemaker, it cannot be confirmed that she could have had a small stroke. Most likely she had a TIA (transient ischemic stroke) which, lasting anywhere from one to less than five minutes, does not cause any permanent damage. A TIA does certainly send a clear message that a health crisis is looming on the near horizon… so get it addressed ASAP! The CT scan of the carotid artery revealed a 99% blockage on her left side and 50% blockage on the right side. Not good. Not good at all. The docs advised that she was a good candidate for surgery (despite her mobility issues) and that it would improve her quality of life. Naturally, sis and I felt good about this. We tried our best to impress upon our mom that she is being given another lease on life and that it is going to take work on her part to get strong enough to return home. We also felt we could not let mom get on a plane to return home to have the surgery (which is what she wanted to do). The docs said she could have a full-on stroke at any minute. “Having a stroke on the airplane is not an option mom!”
So mom underwent a carotid endarterectomy, which is akin to a rotor-rooter of the carotid artery and to our relief the procedure went swimmingly well. We were actually amazed that it can be done under a local anesthesia (though mom needed a general) and that most folks can go home the next day. Sis and I spent the entire day at the hospital. We spent time with mom in the morning; we were there for her as they prepared her for surgery; we were there when they brought her back to recovery, and we followed her back to her room after recovery to insure she settled in for the night. And, as we waited for news from the surgeon I received a Face Time call from my daughter. That never happens! She was calling to make an announcement and to show off the jewel on her left ring finger. Sis and I squealed with happiness. My daughter, officially engaged! Later, as we continued to wait in the hospital lobby, I tell sis: “See… life goes on….despite…and in spite of…all the unpleasantness and difficulties going on around us. And, isn’t that a wonderful thing!”
The vascular surgeon that performed the surgery feels confident that mom will have a better quality of life now. “She’ll need a couple of weeks in the rehab center to get stronger so that she can return to her activities,” he said. Sis and I look at each other with knowing eyes. We don’t think that is going to happen.
Honestly, I prayed with all my heart that sis and I would be wrong but it has now been nearly a week after the surgery and our mom has yet to make it to the rehab unit because they are having trouble stabilizing her blood pressure. Part, if not all, of this is due to the fact that mom is always angry. Nearly every interaction with her includes yelling about something. She is angry about the terrible hospital food despite the fact that sis has been bringing her good bread, proscuitto and mortadella and other delights every day! Mom yells that she is “going insane” in the hospital and she hates the nurses who are all “horribly mean” to her (actually, as hospitals go, sis and I are happy with her care). “I know mom,” I say to her during our latest conversation today. Mom called me early in the morning and without any initial pleasantries launched into yelling about her situation.
Trying hard to get a word in, between the rants, I say quietly and gently, “Mom, you MUST, MUST be calm.” Fact: Anger. Raises. Blood Pressure! “Mom, you must be calm and allow the healing process to take place, which involves your total cooperation with the nurses and the doctors. You cannot get back on the plane without some physical therapy. It’s going to take a little work on your part mom, but if you cooperate you’ll get there.” I don’t think a word I said helped. In fact, I’m sure of it.
Sis and I are trying our best to talk our mom into a state of calmness. Any amount at this point will do. However, it is just not in her DNA. It’s almost as if she insists on being in a constant state of agitation and impatience, which quickly ignites into frequent bouts of anger. I get being frustrated, believe me! But at some point I wish mom would stop and listen. Listen to the people that have her best interest at heart. She is being her own worst enemy! Sigh. It’s always been this way. What a terrible way to live.
Mom’s new lease on life is narrowing, in true stenosis fashion, minute by minute. Sis and I are powerless. We watch it unfold with a heaviness in our hearts.
A bucketful of tears best describes the last two weeks.
There is no bliss in that.
2016 has to be better.