Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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Happy Birthday, Mommy

Today would be my mom’s 88th birthday. She was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the youngest daughter of Marion Cooke and William Flanders, and grew up with her sister Jane Anne in Newark, New Jersey in the home where their father grew up. I don’t look like my mom but I inherited her organized mind and gift for languages and music.

Mommy was one smart cookie. She went to Montclair College High School, a demonstration school for the state teachers’ college, commuting by train for six years. At age 17 she took the train again, this time south to Duke University, a place she’d never seen and knowing no one in the state. She met my dad on a double date with other people and they never dated anyone else again. She left Duke after two years with a diamond ring on her finger and went to Katherine Gibbs School for a year for practical secretarial training.

Mom was very disciplined and organized; in Myers-Briggs terms, my guess is that she was ISTJ. She was a stay-at-home mom until we were in Kentucky and my dad’s job changed, but she was busy with Brownies and Girl Scouts, as a den mother for my brother, involved in church Circles, working with and eventually running the PTA. She cleaned house and did chores on a weekly schedule (Tuesdays were bathroom days) and she started taking piano lessons at age 31 because she always wanted to play better.

And Mom was always thin. It drove me crazy because I definitely was NOT thin, ever. She never made a recipe without making changes to lower fat and calorie content, and almost never offerered dessert unless we had company or it was a birthday. I hate zucchini because we ate so much of it, and will never eat cottage cheese because it was a diet food so I had to eat it all the time.

So our relationship was rocky, and Dad stayed out of the whole “you need to lose weight” thing because that was between mothers and daughters. I’ve seen pictures of myself back in those days, and really, I was pretty. But I never believed it of myself and I internalized some pretty negative things that I know now were not meant to harm but did so anyway. It’s hard to separate myself from those emotions and be objective.

I lived over 1500 miles away from my parents for almost my whole professional life, focusing on my career and my own world. Trips home involved scheduling time off which wasn’t always easy, and making plane reservations – and therefore NOT using that time for vacation. For years we combined that by me seeing them in Park City, Utah, where my parents went for the month of August.

Mom and I took a trip to Austria and Switzerland together in 2001, leaving 10 days after 9/11. The whole idea of the two of us without a buffer for two weeks was a bit of a challenge but it was a chance to mend and see each other differently. It was a wonderful trip and I’m tremendously grateful now that we had that time, because Mom’s health went downhill not long afterwards.

She had COPD and her world shrank as her breathing became harder. She was hospitalized in 2007 with infection after an appendectomy (she self-diagnosed appendicitis by Googling symptoms), and her world was different after that. She was softer, quieter, more kind. Mommy knew her time was limited and drew on her strong faith. She died in 2014, three weeks after my niece’s wedding, when she had a chance to see all her family together and happy.

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Death, three years later

P1010382Three years ago yesterday, my mom died from complications of COPD. She had been fading away for the few years prior to that, and since my brother and I had researched the disease, her death was more of, “Oh, it’s now” rather than, “OMG, NOOOOO.” My father, on the other hand, was devastated. He still is.

The last time I saw her was at my niece’s wedding three weeks before Mom died. She had saved all her energy for the weekend and it took everything out of her. Her body was frail, almost bird-tiny, and she had almost no reserves of energy. My sis-in-law arranged for transport wheelchairs for both of our moms for the wedding activities, and that allowed Mom to be present for rehearsal dinner, family visiting, the wedding ceremony, and reception, with the whole family (except bridal couple) gathered at the same table. We were all happy, looked wonderful, shared the joy of the day and the enjoyment of each other’s company. And we all said goodbye when she and Dad left to go home. We had our goodbye, even though we didn’t know it was the final one.

I lived half way across the country and didn’t see her often. We talked every day at 6pm my time, 5pm her time, for seven years, since she was hospitalized for a serious infection following an emergency appendectomy when she was 76. Note that she diagnosed herself with appendicitis reading Google search results. I am her daughter in more ways than one.

Three years after her death, I’m living in her house, cooking in her kitchen, caring for her husband of 62 years. And I listen to Dad tell stories about her every day, which sometimes makes me crazy because I hear the same ones, word for word, many times. Yesterday we went to a memorial service for a friend and it allowed us to heal a little more.

 


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Quick Checkin from Texas

I had an easy flight down to Texas on Thursday after an extremely short night and trip through the dark up to the airport armed only with a giant bottle of Diet Coke and loud 90’s rock on the iPod.  When I got there I discovered that none of the little check in places in the airport open until 4:30 so next time I can stay home a wee bit longer.

I bought two tickets for this trip, not just one, because I didn’t want the stress of being squished into a seat and looking at the loathing on the faces of the people near me.  In fact, as I was getting to my seat on the first flight, I overheard two people in the row ahead of me talking about how bad it was to be squished next to an obese person for a 6-hour flight.  I couldn’t stand it and spoke up to say that, you know, the obese person was probably more uncomfortable than you were, and sometimes – right now, in fact – many of us do buy extra space so we don’t make anyone, including ourselves, feel that uncomfortable.  They had the grace to look chagrined and I didn’t cry, though at that early hour, it was close.

Got to east Texas without a hitch and have spent the last few days just hanging out with my mom and dad, taking little slow walks with Mom, carrying her 5-lb vacuum pump and letting her hang on to my arm, or helping out with meal cleanup.  The neighbors have been wonderful and are continuing to bring dinner, plus the freezer has enough soup to last them until April, so I haven’t needed to cook much.  Tomorrow after church I’ll do some laundry and scope out where my help is needed most.

Mom looks good and is getting better slowly.  I had a chance to see the wound when the home health nurse came yesterday to change the dressing – and it’s ugly, a wide slash of skin and a deep hole.  But Dad says that it looks much better than it did almost 2 weeks ago when they first hooked her up to the vacuum pump and it’s a nice pink color.  Mom moves with some considerable discomfort, especially after the dressing is changed, and it’s awkward to remember where the tubes are so you don’t sit on them or get them twisted up.  But her spirits are good and she’s determined to get rid of her little box because she wants to go shopping and get back to normal. It’s going to take a while but we know that she will get there.

Tomorrow is church in the morning, though Mom will stay home with her box that sounds as though it’s either burping or farting loudly, which would be disruptive in a quiet service.  She’ll do TV church instead and talk back to the preachers, which is always fun.  We’re setting up their new digital picture frame and I have some computer cleanup things to do as well to make myself useful.  Monday is our trip to the surgeon for the post-op followup visit, which will tell us a lot about her progress and how long the recovery will be.  And Tuesday I head home.  Keep your fingers crossed for good weather.


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Be It Resolved?

It’s All About Me

I know, I know – another post about resolutions? Well, yes and no. I don’t sit down and write out a list of things I resolve for the new year because I’ve done it so many times before and failed miserably at accomplishing any of them. And then, having failed, I managed to work myself into self-loathing and resentment that I needed to accomplish those resolutions in the first place.

Losing weight and working out more are naturally two of those failed resolutions. Been there, done that, more times than I care to count. So instead of resolving things this time, I’m looking at what I want my winning outcomes to be. Yeah, I know, WW talk. But for me, it works.

There are really two big things on my mind and heart as I go into 2008. To be healthier and to live with grace.

To be healthier is the stuff I already know about but am, for whatever reason, not doing. Living with grace includes not beating myself up for who I am and the choice I make, and also making better choices because they are the right ones. It means accepting failure without whining and success without gloating. Living with balance.

And yes, it means doing the things I know I should be doing to be healthy. To eat less and move more, without complaining or trying to find ways to cheat and be lazy.

I read on someone else’s blog today about looking back over the year, finding herself 60 lbs lighter than when the year started, and I was hit by a wave of sadness that I wasn’t the one to say that. Not jealousy, just sadness, because I haven’t done anything to deserve being 60 lbs lighter. I do have the power to do something and my fresh start begins tomorrow.

My mom came home from the hospital late today and starts the new year in her own house, much to everyone’s relief. She will have her little vacuum bag and pump with her 24/7 for the next 6-8 weeks but can get out and do things as she has energy to do them. Just being home is big medicine and I’ll see her for myself next week. Good for all of us.

I have my food planned out for tomorrow and activities lined up to keep me out of trouble. Though if I wake up to snow … ah, well. It’s winter and some things just come with the territory.

May your new year get off to a happy, healthy start.


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Mom’s Coming Home

Angel in the snowThe plan was for Mom’s incision to be stapled yesterday before they released her from the hospital. After waiting all day for the doctor and the procedure, when he finally arrived my parents learned that her skin tissue was too thin for them to be able to staple after all. Somehow I don’t think my skin would have that problem but she is 77 years old and that probably was a factor.

Instead they’re doing a different thing this morning: a vacuum closure procedure that we’re all a little iffy about. If any of you know about it, please add a comment and I’ll share with my parents. Here’s what I know:

During the V.A.C. procedure, surgeons place a sponge into the wound and cover it with an occlusive dressing. A suction device is applied and removes fluid from the wound. This procedure reduces bacteria in the wound, draws out stagnant toxins and stimulates new blood flow, decreasing the wound healing time dramatically.
Source: Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

The dressing has to be changed every three days for up to 2 months in her case, which brought home to us how long her recovery will actually be. The good news, though, is that she’s coming home today!

On Christmas Day her dinner was mashed potatoes, soup and jello. Yesterday it was chicken-fried steak (which I’ve never known Mom to eat but she was hungry), mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. I was reassured that her tummy was able to handle regular food, which will make it easier when she gets home. Of course, there is no fresh food in the house because Dad’s been eating out, mostly at the hospital. So I urged him to do a grocery run before he went to the hospital today.

My brother and sister in law are heading up again today and will stay until Monday. He has work that has to be finished by Monday but with a laptop and Internet connections, can work anywhere. They’ll help take down and store Christmas things, probably do some cooking and shopping, and mostly just visit and help with the transition. I’m very grateful that they’re able to do it, especially since we didn’t know for sure until yesterday that today was the day she was coming home.

I’m researching flights and trying to figure out when I can get there for a long weekend visit. Flying in winter is always a bit iffy but I think I’ve found some options. My next assignment is to find, interview and hire a cat sitter for Tessie. It costs the same to pay someone to come here and feed and play with her as it would to board her at the vet’s, where she would be in a cage. Staying at home is infinitely better. I’ve never had to worry about child care before and admit I’m fretting about leaving her — but being with my mom is worth it.

Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and prayers. They mean the world and I know made a difference.


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God Bless Us, Every One

Me at Christmas 1962It’s Christmas morning and I’m watching Patrick Stewart as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol while Tessie plays with her new catnip mice amidst the wreckage of wrappings and ribbons. She made out like a bandit with cat toys to keep her busy for days and treats just because.

My family made a pact to cut back on Christmas this year, to spend less on presents, but that doesn’t mean being miserly and there were plenty of presents under the tree for me, too. They were smaller things that spoke of really knowing me and not just presents to have a present. Yanno the difference? It’s being remembered that matters not how much is spent on a present or how many of them we get. After all, I’m not 5 years anymore.

The big present this year didn’t come from a store, it’s having my mom alive and recovering in a Texas hospital. She was moved yesterday from the ICU back to her original floor with the same nurses, and I got to talk with her last night for the first time since her second surgery. Mom knows that she was really sick and that she almost didn’t make it and is grateful for every moment; even when she hurts, she knows she’s alive.

Opening my presents this morning and seeing her handwriting on the package labels almost made me cry. I’m so lucky to have my parents, my family, even when I live far away. But I’m also really lucky with the family of friends that is woven around me, too. Christmas cards and emails and blog comments mean as much as gifts because they connect me to people who matter – all of you.

Enjoy your day, your presents, your family, your activities – and your food, too. If you eat it, enjoy it and savor the flavors.

Merry Christmas!


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Worried in Connecticut

AngelMy dad called this morning at 7:30am with a report on my mom. The wonderful news is that she didn’t die. The rest of it is that she had a second abdominal surgery last night to find and remove the source of life-threatening infection. She now has an 11-inch incision and will be in ICU at least through Christmas.

Dad left the hospital about 9pm to go home, only to have a call from the surgeon about 9:30. He had been in surgery with another patient but while he was in the OR – and while Dad was still there – they took more blood for additional tests. No one told my parents why but this is a hospital and they take blood and do tests all the time so they didn’t question it.

The original low white blood count that the doctor had wanted to talk to them about apparently signaled the possible presence of some kind of infection that sometimes appears after surgery and the additional blood work was to try and pinpoint more precisely. The doctor told my dad last night that when the results are what they turned out to be, they have no choice but to operate within hours or risk the patient not making it until the next day; the infection is that fast-moving and deadly. I think maybe it’s MRSA but Dad didn’t remember the name, just that it was bad.

I don’t have a lot of details right now but know they did not find what they expected to find when they took her in the second time. The deadly infection wasn’t there but other pockets of problems were and they scraped and cleaned up what they found. Her appendix had been “falling apart” when they removed it and possibly something had leaked out even if it hadn’t burst. But what do we know, our medical degrees are from Wikipedia and WebMD.com.

Mom is in ICU now and can have visitors four times a day for 15 minutes at a time. My brother is driving up from Houston to see her at the 12:00 slot and the nurses told my dad they’d be flexible and let them stay for 30 min if Mom could tolerate it. He will bring Christmas presents up and back; they’re the least important thing right now but we know Mom was fretting about ruining Christmas and will not be in any shape to have the family come up to visit after the holiday, so this will ease her mind when she’s awake enough to know about it.

My dad broke down on the phone with me and my heart hurts for him as well as my mom. He’s so worried that he will lose her – and we still may. My brother just called and is on his way. He promised to call me as soon as he knows something, and to ask lots of questions that I’m not there to ask myself.

Please keep my mom in your prayers. She needs them.