Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Despite Odds, Mom Keeps Trucking On

My mom turns 81 in a few days — a fact that when mentioned to her brought a look of incredulity.

“Damn, I’m getting old,” she said. My mom can be salty — a trait she passed down to her three sons, with considerable assistance from our late father. He was a sailor in his youth so had an excuse, at least to his way of thinking.

This conversation took place as she was holed up in the cardiac unit of Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview on New Year’s day. My mom has a litany of medical problems, including a heart that is wearing out. She lives in a nursing home in Longview that provides good care. Our plan is to move her to Central Texas as soon as we find a suitable place with a vacancy.

Four years ago, I became my parents’ primary caregiver when a medical emergency made it clear that they could no longer live on their own. Many of you middle-aged folks reading this also serve as parents of your parents — or if not yet, you likely will at some point. My parents went into an assisted-living facility near where I lived at the time. Most of their possessions were sold — furniture, car, the house. The bulk of their personal items — my dad’s artwork, dozens of boxes of photographs and knick-knacks — are in storage. Someday, when my mother is gone, the family will have the hard task of figuring out what to do with all that stuff.

My dad passed away two years ago next month. Since then, my mom — who spent nearly two decades caring for him after a botched medical procedure left him largely an invalid — has lived a tranquil if not terribly stimulating existence. Until the latest bout, she had not been hospitalized in nearly two years. We went out for lunch at the Cotton Patch every few weeks, where she invariably ate fried catfish and French fries — largely forbidden food for a diabetic, but what the heck. You gotta live it up occasionally.

We headed for lunch on Christmas Eve. It became clear she wasn’t feeling well. Usually, she can leave without toting her oxygen bottle but not this time. The short jaunt from the car to the front door required stopping a couple times. A few days later someone from the nursing home called to announce my mom was going to the emergency room because she was having trouble breathing.

Within a few days, her condition appeared dire. The cardiologist told my brother he was concerned that she would not recover. When I visited, she was barely able to talk, curled up in the fetal position. I began to mentally prepare myself that her time had come, called my daughters, prayed for either a recovery or a painless passage into eternity. My mom has been adamant about not being placed on life support. All the proper papers are on file.

Since I was back in Central Texas, my fiancé paid a visit later that day and called. “Your mom looks fine to me,” she said. “She’s talking my ear off about how rambunctious a kid you were, telling jokes and watching Court TV. I don’t think she’s going anywhere.”

Three days later I drove back to East Texas again to check on her. We walked in her hospital room to discover a teenage boy in what had been her bed, flanked by a glaring mother wondering who these intruders were. I backed out and headed to the nurse’s station to discover my mom had been discharged the day before. Someone forgot to call me.

We drove to the nursing home to find my mom back in street clothes, propped in her recliner and watching an NFL playoff game. Once again she had bounced back. I’ve watched my mother receive the Last Rites from a priest three times during the past 15 years. It’s become a whistling-past-the-graveyard joke in our family, that the surest way to ensure her recovery is to call in the priest to perform that ceremony. As we all like to say, she is a tough old bird.

I know the outcome will be different someday. But for now, she’s back home watching Court TV and football. And I’m thrilled to be able to wish her a Happy Birthday, against all odds.

Originally published in the Hill Country News (Cedar Park, Texas), January 20, 2011

1 comment:

  1. Happy birthday to the toughest woman I've ever known. We'd all be lucky to have a tenth of her steel in our blood.