My mother has great genes. Many birthdays have come and gone, but they’ve never left a mark on her. All of her adult life, she’s smoked, drunk, gambled, and partied, but physically, she’s never seemed to pay a toll. Not that she’s some wild lush or anything, but she’s definitely got some sort of Picture of Dorian Gray thing going on. My daughter and I have always marveled at this. She’s in her late sixties, and life has never slowed her down. She’s cute, feisty, intelligent, flirty, sociable, and way more fun than I could ever hope to be. She’s worked hard all of her life, and built up a gratifying career. The people she’s worked with adore her. She’s also raised four children that she’s inordinately proud of.
A few months ago, we almost lost her. She was having stomach problems, and had some testing done. My brother and I went with her to the hospital for a colonoscopy. When she woke up, she said, “Something went wrong.” She couldn’t remember exactly what had happened, except that she had awakened, screaming, during the procedure. A few days later, at home, she suddenly began experiencing so much pain that it stopped her in her tracks. She went white, and couldn’t move. I called for an ambulance, and they rushed her to the emergency room, where it was discovered that during the colonoscopy, her spleen had been torn. They admitted her to the hospital and put her under the care of a surgeon who, in his Godlike wisdom, decided to do absolutely nothing. He let her lie in bed for a week, and told her that her spleen would heal itself. I’ve never seen her in so much pain. We tried to get information from the doctor, who was cold and hostile, and told us almost nothing about her condition. He was evasive, and for some reason it seemed that he was trying to cover his ass. Let me point out that my family is very nice. We were at our wits end trying to understand why the surgeon was behaving this way, and why no one was doing anything to help our mother. After a week, he released her. She was still running a fever and throwing up anything she tried to eat. The nurse said, “He’ll never release you while you’re vomiting.” But release her he did. “Hospital food makes me throw up too,” he told her.*
Long story a little shorter, she went home. I stayed with her and watched her continue to writhe in pain. Again, I called an ambulance, and they took her to a different hospital– the one where her regular doctor makes his rounds. The surgeon there took one look at her CAT scan, and scheduled an emergency splenectomy. She was bleeding internally, and had the largest hematoma that he’d ever seen. She almost died several times during all of this. Her pancreas was punctured during the splenectomy, and it took a long time for her to recover. The entire time she was in the hospital, the doctors and staff treated her with kindness and respect, for which we’re all eternally grateful.
I stayed with her during her convalescence, making sure her pillows were adjusted, helping her change her bandages, and trying to get her to eat. We took little walks, and when she was feeling better, I drove her to one of my favorite places– the Frog Pond. This pond is one of the most peaceful areas I know, a small body of water that’s nestled behind some trees in a public park. I showed Mom how it’s sort of like “Where’s Waldo.” At first, you see nothing, but if you look very carefully, you’ll begin to notice frogs everywhere– tiny ones resting on lily pads, huge ones peeking their heads up out of the mud. It’s full of life, this little habitat. Turtles sun themselves on logs, carp make orange streaks beneath the water. Dragonflies and nematodes buzz over water bugs that ski on the surface, and hundreds of bubbles hint at the life teeming beneath. It makes you quiet inside, this place. Your heart slows down and your mind becomes quiet. The frogs sing their croaky songs as they stare at you from the glistening water. Mom and I have gone there several times since. It’s magical.
Our mother’s Brush With Death changed everything. She’s got big scars now, and she’s been showing me her new wrinkles. She’s started selling Avon, mostly I think to get discounts on the skin care line, which she’s now using like crazy. She tried to go back to work, but she tires easily now, and ended up taking early retirement. She’s giving up her townhouse in Columbus, and is moving to Tennessee to live with my sister and her husband. She’s scared and excited, and trying to figure out how to make the most of this new hand that’s she’s been dealt.
I recently moved to Dayton to live with Tom, but I drove to Columbus to see her this weekend. I accompanied her to a retirement party that some people from work gave her, and witnessed how much love and respect they have for her. I also saw how good she is at playing Quarters. She has this way about her, a fun spirit and a contagious love of life. She teaches people so much, just by being around them.
My brother and his wife came into town from Michigan, and we spent a couple of days wading through moving boxes while Mom distributed some of her things to us. It was a bittersweet weekend, and we all had the sense that this was the end of an era. Mom’s always been a gypsy, moving on to new cities, different adventures and opportunities, but she says that this will be her last move. She talks about where she’ll be buried, and how she’ll spend the rest of her life. We all sat on the patio and reminisced, and I kept tearing up, thinking about how much I’ll miss her. We’ve all been through so much together.
When I was a little girl, my father’s mother gave me these little charms she’d been collecting for me. A spinning wheel, an artist’s palette, a surfer, a loving cup, a car. For decades, my mother’s been hanging on to them for me in a little white box. During the weekend, she took this box out and handed me the contents. She’d had every charm put on a silver bracelet. In the middle of the bracelet was another, special charm that she’d had the jeweler make. I burst into tears when I saw it.
It’s a tiny gold and silver frog.
*If you live in the Columbus, Ohio area and would like the name of this hospital or doctor, drop me an e-mail. It could save your life.