Friday, April 13, 2012


She sat in the wheelchair in her dining room. The glare from the late afternoon sun robbed her of virtually all of whatever limited vision remained. The conversation of my aunt, my sister and myself swirled around her, as she seemed to hear in only small sporadic bursts. 24 hours before my mom had been lying in an emergency room, in great pain. It appeared that her back had finally fully betrayed her.

Over 20 years earlier, doctors had declared her back an official mess. Yet, in the intervening years she had been able to avoid any major setbacks. Last weekend, as our family gathered for the holiday, there were signs of impending disaster. At dinner she listed terribly, as if in the perpetual process of falling over. My sister and I sat on either side of her. We suggested that this was nothing more than my mom following the tradition of our culture (which called for one to recline at the table that night) and my sister feigned insult that my mom was favoring me by leaning in my direction. I thought possibly her brain was  unable to instruct her on the art of sitting upright. But in retrospect, I believe it was her way of compensating for the ever increasing discomfort she was experiencing.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was directed to the room where my mom was laying down. Her ever present and ever more incredible caretaker was hovering over her like a mother hen, gently stroking her hair. My sister was, as always, in charge, giving the doctors book and page of my mom's travails.

Next to my sister, my mom lay quiet, but then, even with the smallest of moves, found herself in momentary agony. I could envision her, much like me in my worst days, unable to move without the possibility of excruciating discomfort. This, I feared, would be what the future held for her. Surgery at her age and in her condition seemed a very remote possibility. I could almost literally feel her pain. For me, empathy was too timid a word.

We were once again informed that her back was in shambles. She was given painkillers and muscle relaxants and told, at least for the moment, to go home. If the pain was unrelenting, there was always the possibility of a return trip to the hospital.

They let my mom use the emergency room like her own private space for several hours, while she slept on and off. I left for the office. I was later told that when advised that the room was needed for other emergencies, my mom became combative. It took the combined strength of 3 people to get her out of that room. And so I think we all anticipated the worst.

As she sat in the wheelchair, my mom appeared to be free of discomfort. The events of the last 24 hours had long since receded from her memory. I told her how impressed I was with her ability to recover, that she had not been feeling very well the day before, but now seemed perfect. She looked at me, or at least in my direction, without acknowledging what I might have been referring to.

As I readied to go, I thought to myself that my mom must, in some ways, be bionic. While almost everything about her is in grave decline, she has (knock on wood) been able to withstand the physical traumas without any permanent damage. All the falls, all the physical deterioration, and she was still here and talking about 'going home' tomorrow. She still wants to be in motion, and who am I to say that I won't soon receive a call saying she is looking to go out to lunch.

Two months after re-injuring my back, I struggle and complain about residual discomfort. One day after her experience in the hospital, my mom was, at least within the confines of her own universe, fit as a fiddle. With all that has gone wrong over the last several years, at least there is something for which I am most grateful. And astonished.

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