Oh God, here again.
I sit in the ICU next to my mother. I look at her thin skin and her pale lips and I can’t believe we’re here again. The hospital smells stale and dry and hot. Can’t they open a window? The air has a bad, sick taste. I hear strained breathing from the other beds. I look up and see a man connected to tubes, gasping for air…boy, that can’t be good…and his bell is beeping and no one is coming and I can’t stop staring at him…oh well, look, I’m sorry, pal, but I can’t worry about you, I’ve got enough on my plate…a few hours ago my mom went in for abdominal aortic surgery. The same procedure she had done, unsuccessfully, one year ago. She wasn’t sure she would do it again, wasn’t sure she could get through it. But her aneurism is a time bomb and my mom’s not a gambler, so here we are. It’s over now and in her sleeping face, I look for some sign that she will be all right and that it will be OK… but that man’s damn bell is still dinging and why won’t someone help him for God’s sake? and no one comes and I feel on the edge and I can’t seem to find what I am looking for.
Lovely, please sit down
My mom is an incredible woman…for many reasons, but lately because she seems to resemble Rasputin…she has withstood terrible things in the last few years, she has shattered her hip, she has scalped herself, she has broken her arm, and she has had this surgery twice, so here we are again. I am an only child and my father is dead. It all falls on me. I have been dreading her passing for over 25 years, since the day my father died, I have thought about what it will be like when she is gone, how that would tear me apart. It’s strange when you’ve had a thought for so long, it almost becomes an annoying neighbor…Oh yeah, you again, now what do you want? Oh, I see you’re staying for lunch. Lovely, please sit down, let me get you some water. That thought no longer terrifies me or makes me sick or makes me scream as it used to. It saddens me and makes me tired. I want it to be OK, I don’t want that thought to move in for good…My mom’s hand quivers and I wonder if she’s dreaming.
This morning I was with her in Pre-Op as the parade of nurses and doctors entered with her charts and IVs and blood pressure monitors. The senior doctor, a very confident Brazilian man, is on the cutting edge of this kind of procedure. He makes it seem that it really isn’t an operation at all, it’s more like a picnic or small vacation interrupted by his cutting of my mom’s aorta and inserting a 6 inch device. The younger doctor, who tells us all the grisly details like it was playstation 360 game. I don’t want to hear all this… I don’t want to think about all this…I feel my knees growing weaker. Where is that other doctor, the one with the picnic? Then the anesthesiologist, in his 70’s maybe, with big glasses, pants oddly rolled up, top siders who strolls in singing “Come Josephine, in my flying machine” and addresses me as “toots”…My mom’s life relies on these men. I feel sick. They wheel her away… I wave… I feel that lump in my throat… the same lump I had when I waved goodbye in kindergarten. Aren’t I still a little child looking to my mother for strength? Aren’t I still the helpless one? The vulnerable one?
The unknowing, the beeping, this moment.
Suddenly back in ICU, I am taken aback by life’s reversal – I am the caregiver, yet still the child…How can both live in the same space? The younger and the older… how did we get here? I look at my mom and she takes my hand, her eyes still closed. I just want it to be-
… then a very round nurse rushes past me and attends to that man and the beeping stops and she pulls the curtain closed and I know he is better. Within an instant the room seems to change. I get the sweet whiff of the nurse’s orange blossom perfume. The lighting seems softer. I am suddenly grateful for it all… the unknowing, the beeping, this moment. I look down and my mom’s eyes are open. She looks at me the way she has looked at me for over five decades – with love and knowledge and a little bit of surprise at how big I’ve gotten. I ask how she is and she replies, “OK…but this sure as hell ain’t ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, huh?” and we laugh and I know for now it’s OK… that it has always been OK.
Alison Martin -- wife, mom, Emmy-award winning actress, writer, chocoholic. Bronx Italian, daughter of Pultizer Prize winning reporters, who also identifies as L.A. Irish. Shout outs: Dan, Emilia, Brady, pooches - LuLu & Ted, friends, Mother Earth, serendipity, peace, VIPHS, Boldfaced Secret, living life like your socks feel real good.
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