January 24, 2020
There are piles and piles of papers surrounding me. Cardiologist this . . . neurologist that . . . endocrinologist here . . . orthopedist there . . .
How did my mom manage all of this? It’s a full-time job.
I thread through the stacks, sorting and arranging. Slipping documents and diagnoses into plastic page protectors. I pause when I get to my mom and dad’s divorce decree.
Sadness and curiosity mingling into a ball of frenzied emotion I’m not ready to face. I table it. It gets its own pocket, and I move on.
After two hours, I am finished. Most of my mom’s life summed up by two 1 ½ inch binders and a couple of hanging file folders. We are ready. I think I’m ready to explain it all to my primary care at our double appointment, killing two birds with one stone. Time is the biggest commodity lately.
It’s a Korean practice that I’ve loved for several years now. My nerves are shot as I wonder if mom will be happy with it. The little girl in me hoping for approval to the questions: “Did I do good mom? Do you like it?”
She chats me up on the drive. Mom wants to order Chinese from the money a friend brought her. She wants to treat me and Keith. She says things are too hard for me. She says she worries. She says she’s sorry. She says she loves me, more than once.
“Things too hard for you. You do a lot for me. I feel bad.”
Her English is not rich and elegant. It is simple and heartfelt. One of her endearing qualities. Honest like a child. I love that about her.
“Mom, it’s what we do. We take care of family.”
“I make too much work for you. Poor Keith do so much for me.”
“Mom, I am learning to love you so much more. I am learning more patience and think about all the time we are spending together!” I say with a smile.
“And the kids are learning so much about family because of this. Keith watched his mom take care of her parents. It’s what we do.”
“I ‘preciate all you and Keith do for me.” She still says it guiltily. At the office, an older man with one of those black, lightweight golf jackets holds the door. I’m juggling her binders in my arms while crashing her wheelchair into the scuffed metal floor grate.
“Do you need any help?” His graying eyebrows raise in concern.
“Ummm . . . yes. Can you hold these for me?” He nods with a smile.
He’s that 50ish-aged former football player whose youthful muscular outline is now settling into softness. In a final effort, I barrel through the entrance.
The day lingers on . . . words upon words upon words. Words that I needed to hear and didn’t want to.
Mindy is a heavyset, sharp Korean nurse practitioner with bronzed red hair and a full round face that lights up with love and concern. She’s young and experienced yet still hungry for knowledge. Today, I find out that mom’s asthma probably isn’t asthma at all.
“No, that asthma diagnosis is wrong. It has to be COPD. Let’s order a CT scan.”
“There’s fluid on her lungs.”
“Why doesn’t she have more home health care? Only four hours! She needs way more than that. I’m ordering it right now!”
“When was her last bone density test?”
“Has she had a recent mammogram?”
With every question, Mindy’s voice reaches a higher and higher octave.
She tsks and sighs, reviewing mom’s charts, her meds.
She finally explains what no doctor has been able to explain about mom’s heart.
“I can tell from the meds here and her cardiologist’s diagnosis that she has Chronic Heart Failure.”
“What is that? I keep asking but the medical terms don’t make sense to me.”
This is difficult for me to admit. I despise not knowing.
“Well, her left ventricle doesn’t work right, so the heart gets backed up like bad plumbing in a sink. And all that blood enlarges her heart. The liver and the kidneys are having trouble because it takes more work to process stale blood, and then, that increases fluid in the lungs, acid re-flux, messes with COPD.”
I’m astounded. This woman is amazing. She understands how to help me understand. I think I have a doctor crush!
So, we are in the exam room, and then, we are out in the lab. Blood-work. Failed attempt at a urine sample with people knocking constantly at the door while I try to rush myself while telling mom to go slow, so we can get her from her wheelchair to the toilet and back again without falling.
I try to push my mom out, but no one will hold the bathroom door. It’s heavy and self-closing.
Three women sit on square office stools in front of the door, holding urine sample cups and impatiently waiting – all Korean, all slender frames, all same-length black hair with porcelain skin, and all staring at us in unison as I struggle with the wheelchair and the door before one of the odd triplets gets up and says in perfect, unaccented English, “I’ll get that for you.”
When we finally get home, I’m awash.
My butt is sore from the steroid shot. My throat is dry. I’ve skipped lunch. I just want to take my meds and go to bed. And I can’t, and that’s okay . . . because, if anything, I’ve learned that being here for my mom is a new kind of love.
Saying it is hard is an understatement. It is emotionally back-breaking.
It is nightmares that wake me up to the fear that she’s gone. It is full of heartache and anxiety and questions. It is the feeling of never being enough and always wanting to be more.
BUT . . .
It is also the tenderness of the I love you’s.
The kisses on the forehead when she’s exhausted. The holding her when she needs a hand to hold.
The quiet moments of watching her smile because she feels so loved and protected.
When my father died, I was young and selfish and in my college-age twenties. I took our relationship for granted until I had to sit at his bedside every weekend for five months, watching him wither away without being able to say goodbye.
With my mom, I am present. Being with her is teaching me not to take the moments for granted. Love is funny like that. It isn’t in the giddy, happy moments we learn the depths of love. It’s in the trenches. It’s in the being there when it’s just so hard to stay.
Thanks, mom, for teaching me. I love you.