Go Back, Move Forward

There are so many things I’m angry about. Sometimes it’s hard to see past it all to remember why I chose this path in the first place. To go forward I must go back.

Mom had a stroke at 54. She had been… off for a few days prior. Confused. Lethargic. She was seeing things—specifically elves. It was Thanksgiving and she had gone Black Friday shopping with my sister. She was so insistent she was seeing elves everywhere that she made my sister angry. Mom has always had a quirky sense of humor but this, Val said, wasn’t funny. She came home and finished out her Thanksgiving break from her job with the school district.

I got a phone call early the Monday after. She was very upset. She’d had a blowout on the way to work and a friend was coming to fix her tire. I didn’t understand until much later why she was crying the way she was. At the time I figured it was because it was an expense she couldn’t afford.

Later that evening my husband and I went to check on her truck. Adrian and I have been together since we were kids and when he decided to become a mechanic my mom made it very clear—he could divorce me at any time but he would always be obligated to take care of her vehicles. He took a look at the tire thrown in the back and then underneath the car.

“What did she say happen, “ he asked. “Because she definitely hit something. I’m going to have to take it in and put it on the lift.”

Mom admitted hitting the curb pretty hard but she didn’t remember exactly what happened. She was very disoriented. I asked her if she was sure she was OK or if she hurt herself during the wreck. She said she was just tired and hungry. She was going to go around the corner to pick up dinner and then go to bed. Adrian would pick up her vehicle in the morning and drive her to work. We left but something didn’t feel right.

A few minutes later, before we’d even had the chance to make it home I got another call. She’d had a wreck about a block from her house and again she didn’t know what happened. When we got there we saw she had hit an older Chevy parked along the curb. The joint that holds the tire to axel had snapped and she lost control. Because it was a mechanical failure she didn’t get a citation but her car was pretty bad off. So was she.

I put her in the car while Adrian talked to the cop and gave the owner of the vehicle her insurance information. She was sobbing in the back seat.

“What happened?”

Over and over again she said she didn’t know. I told her she would have to come home with me so we could get her to work in the morning and figure out her insurance.

The next day everyone left for school and work. I convinced her to take a sick day and called in myself. We started the claim to fix her car and then met Adrian for lunch.

Three times within five minutes she asked me where her purse was. Each time the answer was the same – right next to her. She got up to go to the bathroom and he said out loud what I had been thinking since the day before—there was something very, very wrong.

He went back to work and I took her home to get clothes.

We fought the whole way because I wanted her to go to the emergency room. I had never cursed at my mother before that day. She was standing in front of her bed and I was in the doorway. We were going to the hospital.

“Stop treating me like a five year old,” she yelled.

“Then stop acting like a child and get in the fucking car!!!”

Two hours later we were in a back room at Doctor’s Regional. I explained to everyone who would listen that my mother had a long family history of stroke and heart disease. It’s what took both of her parents. Doctors ran a whole series of tests and came back with some pretty shocking news. Mom’s blood sugar was well over 800. Normal for an adult without diabetes is under 140. Numbers that high were enough to make her hallucinate or go into a coma. Scary stuff.

Medical personnel on duty regulated her blood sugar and sent us home. We’d have to take her to our family physician the next day to get a prescription for insulin. I told she was going to stay with me until we got things settled. She was not happy. After two days things seemed as though they were getting better. Her levels were good and she was learning more about how to control her sugar intake. She had dinner and then decided to go to bed because she had a headache.

A few minutes later my daughter, who was 14 at the time, started screaming, She said that mom had fell. I found her seizing on Kayla’s bedroom floor. Adrian ran in after me.

“Call an ambulance,” I yelled. “She is having a stroke.”

The days that followed were miserable. We spent several days in ICU and doctors were insistent that she have surgery to remove the 90 percent blockage that was clogging the main artery on her left side. They were asking me all kinds of questions I didn’t know the answers to. I knew she had been doing treatments on her eyes but beyond that I had no idea what medications she may have been on so I went back to her house to find out.

That’s when I found the Metformin—a drug commonly prescribed to control diabetes. It was more than two years old. I found the medical records that detailed her eye treatments. In them the doctor noted that her issues with her sight were due to years of untreated diabetes. She knew. For years she knew what was happening to her but was doing nothing about it. When I asked her the bottle of pills that were still full she said the doctor had told her they were ‘optional.’

Optional??? Optional like the extra large soda and bag of peanut M&Ms that went with her everywhere? Optional like the tacos she ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

Fast forward to after her surgery. Once she recovered she decided that it was best to go live 200 miles away from me with my brother. The official reason was because she was going to help him care for his school age children. The underlying cause was that I watched everything that went in her mouth like a hawk. I insisted she take her meds and keep doctors appointments. I became, as she describes, the warden. In truth I felt like one but I was just so afraid to lose her.

For three years she stayed with my brother and as I’ve said before he did his best. It didn’t take long for her eyesight to deteriorate. When she could still move around on her own she used the time to walk a mile— to the closest fast food restaurant for a burger, fries and a soda. She would bribe my nieces and nephews to bring her cokes and candy from the corner store. She refused to take her daily injections because she didn’t like giving herself the shot.

I was on vacation with my family in New York when my brother called. She had been in the hospital since I left six days earlier. My siblings had decided not to call me because they didn’t want me to rush home when there was not anything I could do. Two days later I found myself standing across from a specialist who let me know just how serious a situation we were facing. She was in end stage kidney failure and needed an operation to prep her body for dialysis. She refused the surgery or any treatment until I arrived. I signed the paperwork to move forward and a few hours later she went in.

I was napping in the hospital room when my brother called. I had gone downstairs to grab food in the cafeteria and went back to wait it out. He was frantic.

“Mom is in ICU,” he said. “They didn’t tell me what’s going on. They are looking for you but they only had my number.”

I grabbed her things and rushed to intensive care. The surgeon walked me back out of the room before I could see her. They were still working on her, he said.

Mom, defiant as ever, woke up after surgery and wasn’t breathing on her own. She said all along she didn’t want to do the surgery and she certainly didn’t want to do dialysis. She was coherent and awake but still on machines. The doctor said her lungs were too weak from all the fluid she had been retaining and it may be a while before they could pull her off the ventilator. I tried not to panic.

It took us about two weeks but we were finally released from the hospital. This time she had no choice. She was coming home with me to stay this time.

When I pushed passed the nervousness and the fear there was still that other piece of me boiling under the surface that was so mad at her. Mad that she didn’t take her medicine. Mad that even after her stroke she still didn’t take her health seriously. Mad that she thought I was a joke when I said she was blessed with her mother for more than 50 years and we as her children deserved no less.

But more than all that I was mad at myself. I was so busy living my own life that I didn’t show up on Sundays for dinner any more. I wasn’t around to make conversation or to ask questions. I had no idea there may be a problem because I wasn’t there. Maybe it would have made a difference. Maybe it would have turned out the same. I’ll never know.

I’m learning how to cut her some slack. I’m learning how to forgive myself a little too. We can’t take any of it back. It’s time to move forward.

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