Kate, who writes Views and Mews by Coffee Kat, had a wonderful post yesterday, about her mother. More specifically, it was a story about one time she (Kate) had to take her mother to the hospital; and how, when they were on their way, her mom made her stop at a restaurant for lunch.
It immediately made me think of my own mother. And a trip (one of several) we made to the hospital.
When my mother was in her sixties she was diagnosed with diabetes. She was put on medication and was watched, like a hawk, by an endocrinologist. Despite her fondness for chocolate her numbers were always excellent, until the day she died. They always hovered just slightly above normal.
What will always mystify me, though, is why her body was literally ravaged by the disease, even though her diabetes was so well controlled. She had every known complication you could think of. Diabetic retinopathy, diabetic neuropathy and eventually her kidneys failed and she had to go on dialysis.
Not that you would ever have known by looking at her. She looked like she was the picture of health. And none of it ever got her down or stopped her from living life to the fullest. Nobody ever believed she was as sick as she really was. Including me. And probably her.
I don’t know if you’re lucky enough to still have a parent alive. But what I observed, as my mother got older and her health got worse, was that she always seemed to get sick on weekends and in the middle of the night. Same as young children. After doctors’ office hours, essentially. Often leaving me with no choice but to take her to emergency. Only when I thought the situation warranted it. There were times I suggested we could wait for her doctor; and we did.
Before I go any further, I must tell you my mother was not a hypochondriac. Ever. Neither was she someone who craved or needed attention. You know what I mean. Someone who would manufacture a symptom so I’d visit her. She was a strong, independent, pragmatic, intelligent, rational woman. When she said she didn’t feel well, she was really not feeling well.
Like many elderly people, she didn’t eat enough fibre or drink enough water. This resulted in certain bowel-related problems from time to time. On this one, particular occasion she called me mid morning on a Saturday. She complained of ‘excruciating’ pains in her stomach. I could hear the pain in her voice. I asked if she had a fever, or had vomited. She said “no”. I asked how long she’d had the pains. She told me they had been coming and going for more than an hour; and it was severe. As in, on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the worst, her pain was at a seven or eight.
To me it seemed like we should go to Emergency. I’m no doctor, but I was unwilling to take a chance that it was a bowel obstruction. So I picked her up and off we went. At the hospital they assured me I had done the right thing. And they did a whole series of tests on her, including stomach x-rays. And then we did what everyone does in Emergency. We waited. And waited. And waited for the results. We were there quite a while. Suddenly she asked me where the bathroom was.
Needless to say she immediately felt better. She wanted to leave, but I insisted we wait for the doctor. It took about another half hour. A doctor and nurse came in and gave us the good news. There was no obstruction or any other serious problem. They told her they could, and should, relieve her discomfort before the situation got even worse. With a smile she said it was no longer an issue. She told them she felt fine, and why. The doctor left. But not before reminding her of what she already knew. Fibre, fibre, fibre. And lots more water.
The nurse stayed behind to complete the paperwork on my mother’s chart. While we were waiting my mother turned to me and said: “Fransi, you wouldn’t believe what I could go for. I’m dying for a hot dog.” Toronto has hot dog carts all over downtown.
All I could do was gape at her in disbelief. “Are you kidding” I asked. “That’s all you need! We’ll go directly from the hot dog vendor to dialysis”. She hadn’t started dialysis yet. In fact, it would be a year or a year and a half before she did.
In a nano second the nurse turned around in her chair. She beckoned me over to the desk. She pointed at my mother’s chart. It was the size of a telephone directory. A huge one. She lifted it up. Then she said: “Your mother is almost 83 years old. Look at this chart. Look at everything that’s wrong with her. Do you really think a hot dog is going to kill her? If your mother wants a hot dog, let her have a hot dog.” And then she turned and winked at my mother.
At first I was completely taken aback. Then I realized she was absolutely right. I wanted to hug her. Because she wasn’t only a great nurse, she was human. And practical. And forthright. She had empathy and compassion and understanding. Not just a knowledge of science. She wasn’t a pre-programmed robot. She was a realist. She knew that at the stage of life, and state of health, my mother was in quality was far more important than quantity. She taught me an important life lesson that day.
No, my mother didn’t have a hot dog for lunch. By the time we left the hospital the craving was gone. Never to return, strangely enough.
Unlike her craving for sweets.