Mommy Problems #3: Woman, Heal Thyself!
An orthodontist appointment. Work – including mandatory overtime. A PTO meeting. A cousin’s birthday party. Soccer games (rain or shine). Dance team tryouts. A sick dog – and the resulting messy carpet. It’s no wonder today’s mom always seems tired – that’s just the schedule for ONE week in any given month! It’s also no wonder that so many moms go years without visiting a doctor themselves. We’re too busy. Too tired. Not really sick. We’ll be okay.
This. Has. To. Stop.
When I was a child, my mother was never sick. I honestly cannot recall in my mind a time when my mother was unwell, other than the occasional headache. If she had a cold or the flu, she powered through it, and we never knew about it. She was relentless in making sure that my sister and I (asthmatics in a time before asthma was a common diagnosis) received medical care. She got referral after referral and dragged our inhalers to school at lunchtime every day to make sure we took them. Every other Saturday, we drove to the allergist for shots. She regularly strip-cleaned our bedrooms, washing curtains, sheets, rugs, and toys weekly to make sure we weren’t unnecessarily exposed to allergens. She spent sleepless nights on our bedroom floors when we struggled with pneumonia (twice a year, every year), making sure we never stopped breathing.
She was a Mama Bear – protective, fighting for her children’s health and medical rights. But she never cared for her own. And that’s what killed her.
After she and my father divorced, after my sister and were away at college, and she was on her own (but for a faithful but moody gray tabby-cat, Sergeant Pepper), her health declined rapidly. She wound up having a portion of her thyroid removed (it was cancerous; but I don’t remember how the cancer was discovered). She never returned to the doctor for any type of follow-up. She self-medicated a hiatal hernia with Tums and Rolaids, and avoided all social situations, because of the frequent ensuing gastrointestinal problems. She moved out of the state and became the caretaker for an elderly man, but she was frequently sicker than he was. She refused to let me visit because she “never knew when she’d be sick”. Looking back, I can see that there was probably some underlying anxiety issues too, but they went unaddressed because she didn’t go to the doctor.
Her excuse: lack of finances. She said she’d tried to get help from a number of different resources, but was declined by all. A single, sickly woman making minimum wage somehow couldn’t get medical assistance? She said that they needed medical documentation of her illness, which she could not get because she could not afford a doctor – so the cycle of rejection continued. I don’t even know if she ever really applied for assistance. She was vehemently opposed to asking for help – ever – for any reason. I wonder how she might have reacted to the drastic measures those Kentucky doctors took to try to save her life. Sedation. Seven blood transfusions. Cocktails of every blood pressure remedy that was physically available in the building. We – I – eventually had to make the decision to take her off life support. She died, officially, due to complications from a perforated hiatal hernia, leading to sepsis. We could not even donate her organs because not a single one was deemed healthy enough.
The young doctor attending her was kind. Very kind. The nurses who worked on her spoke gently, in hushed and soothing southern accents. “I can’t believe she’s held on this long,” one told me in private. “I was an army nurse, and this is one of the worst cases I’ve even seen. I’m so sorry.” My mother was in a medically-induced coma at the time. She’d stirred and opened her eyes, once, for me when I arrived. Her eyes were still a clear dark brown, almost black, but in them I saw shame and guilt. She didn’t want me to see her that way. That stubborn pride, literally to the end.
I later asked the doctor if my mother’s death had been preventable. He didn’t give a clear answer – possibly to spare my feelings, possibly because he didn’t have her full medical history. “It’s…possible,” he said, quickly adding, “Although, it could have been an inoperable hernia.”
But what if it wasn’t? What if it could have been easily repaired? The question has haunted me these past three years. Maybe my mother could have been alive today, preparing to celebrate her grandson’s second birthday.
That, my friends, is why mommies need to go to the doctor, too.
No more excuses.