It began with a phone call between 12:30 and 1PM Sunday afternoon. It was my mother. Her voice had that familiar tension in it when she’s feeling anxious. “Gayle, something’s happening to me. When I woke up this morning, I felt very groggy, like I was drugged and I lost my balance when standing up and I fell onto my bed. Now my left arm feels “floppy” like I have no control over it.” She said she had been this way since waking up at around 9AM!
Immediately alarmed, with adrenalin pumping, I thought to myself, she’s having a stroke or heart attack! I told her to call 911 and then take some aspirin. She argued with me about taking the aspirin because she thought it had contributed to recent nosebleeds that she had been having. She said, “I’ll think about it.” “Fine”, I said, “but call for an ambulance immediately!” Why I didn’t think to call for her, I don’t know. She always called me first, almost as if to get permission to call for help.
Several minutes passed and I thought I’d better call and check on her. After several rings of the phone, she answered and I asked if she had called for the ambulance yet, “no”, she answered, “they always come so quickly and I wanted to fix my hair and makeup before they get here.” What?! I didn’t argue. I told her if she was having a stroke or heart attack that time was of the essence and the sooner she was treated the better the likelihood of a full recovery. She promised she would call right away.
I then called one of my sisters. I had to talk to someone to help release this all too familiar panic that was rising up in me.
It had been almost exactly one year ago that she had had major abdominal surgery, having to spend over a month away from home while recuperating, first in the hospital, then a rehab center and then back to the hospital again to treat complications. One of my brothers and my youngest sister came to stay with her for several weeks as she recuperated and slowly gained back her strength. And prior to this, she had had numerous trips to the ER and subsequent admissions to the hospital over the past year, while they tried to figure out what was causing her severe intestinal pain. With each phone call I received, panic would arise and the distressing matter of sitting with her in the ER, while the hospital doctors would order test after test trying to decipher what was wrong with her.
My father had passed away several years previous. He had suffered from congestive heart failure with multiple heart attacks and had had a bypass surgery. I had gone through this same routine with him for years. Although, he never called 911, he always had my mother drive him to the emergency room. One time when she had gone to church, he realized he was having a “problem”. Instead of calling for immediate help, he took a shower, got himself all fresh and dressed and then when Mom came through the door he announced that he needed to go to the hospital. So Mom always took him but I would subsequently receive a phone call saying that Wade was in the hospital again with another heart “issue”.
I was always expected to go to the hospital and sit with Mom for the endless tests and waiting that ensues when you are the loved one of a patient in the hospital.
For years I was able to go into the emergency room and hospital–although it did stress me out–and be the dutiful daughter and sit vigil with my mother during Dad’s numerous stays and then with Mom when she started having her health problems. But the last couple of times that my mother had to go into the hospital and the ER in particular, I would start to have severe panic attacks. I could not go. The panic became overwhelming and I needed to take medication to help control it. But I could no longer bring myself to go into the emergency room. Something had snapped in me. I was in overload mode.
The guilt was awful, but I candidly explained to my mother about my debilitating fear and that I simply couldn’t come. She always said not to worry and that she was fine. My sister who lives nearby would go instead if she was available. But once Mom was in a room of her own, I could more easily manage being there. Apparently, the emergency room energy became a trigger of extreme stress for me.
So when this most recent call came, I started feeling the same familiar feeling of fear sweep over me. So I gave a call to that sister and told her what was happening with Mom and spent a few minutes on the phone discussing my feelings of panic. I made up my mind, after speaking with her, that I was going to go (our other local sister was out of town) and try my best. So I started getting myself ready.
In the meantime, sister number one had called sister number two (there are four of us girls and two older brothers) and told her what was happening with our mother and that I was again struggling with my panic. Sister number two calls me up and starts berating me to “get over it” and “to hell with your panic attacks”; you’d better get to the hospital right now! Mom could die. How will you feel if Mom dies alone in there? Well, this did not sit very well with my already escalating feelings of dread. I yelled back at her and told her I had said those very same things to myself that she was now saying to me, and wouldn’t it be great if I could just snap my fingers and “get over it”! I also told her I had made up my mind to go anyway and see what happened. “Good”, she barked, before hanging up, “get over there”!
I was able to go and sit with Mom in the emergency room (with some help of my trusty medication). Doctors discovered that she was having a bad reaction to a new medication that she had recently been put on for her back pain. Also, quite upon accident, they had found that she was suffering from a virulent staph infection in her urinary tract of which she had no knowledge. They said if she had not come in when she did, that it could have had deadly results! She spent several days there being treated with a heavy-duty antibiotic for that infection. Interesting how that played out.
My “barking” sister called me several times over the next few days to say how sorry she was for judging me so harshly. She realized that I have been there for Mom and Dad both through all the years of their declining health and that I deserved everyone’s support. I told her that I knew it was her own fear of losing our mother and feelings of helplessness that had gotten the best of her. I told her those were her feelings to contend with and they don’t have anything to do with what I do or don’t do with our mother.
I have my own thoughts and feelings to deal with.
THIS HAPPENED A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO. SO FAR SO GOOD.