Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Things We Do For Love

At lunchtime yesterday, my wonderful hip hubby brought a rare treat: a banana in perfection condition, at the perfect moment of ripeness when it's yellow without a single brown spot, and without a single bruise or other imperfection. As so many things have this month (and do all the time), the banana brought up memories of my mom.

When I was growing up, I couldn't even touch a banana once that first brown spot appeared, so my Mom ended up batting cleanup and ate all of the bananas that didn't get consumed before they started their downhill slide. I always thought she liked them like that, just as I was under the impression that she liked the marshmallows that caught on fire while being roasted. It wasn't until I was in my mid-30s that she finally revealed the truth -- that she really was disgusted by those two things but ate them anyway because that's just one of those things people do for each other out of love. That got me reminiscing.

Eating browning bananas and black marshmallows were minor compared to the loving acts my mom performed for my benefit during years and years of medical bs we went through. Most of them were obvious so I knew the lengths she went to on my behalf-- driving me 40 miles round trip five days a week for six weeks, sometimes in blizzard conditions, so I didn't miss any appointments for radiation therapy; walking two miles to her bookstore job every day so I could use our one car to drive 12 miles get to my for-credit co-op job doing the daily bookkeeping for a shoe store at a mall; and taking dictation so I could complete accounting and math homework even though I didn't have any use of my hands during a period of post-surgical home schooling. But there was one thing that she did after that same second astrocytoma surgery in which my mom went to extremes to bring me comforts that I never knew of until decades later.

I was in the neurosurgery ICU for nine days after that surgery. During that time, I was completely paralyzed in both legs and my right arm, and my left arm was so hypersensitive from the inflamed spinal nerves that even a small puff of air felt like a knife being plunged into me. Despite the myriad of problems that still plagued me, I was feeling good enough to be sick enough of the bland, soggy, and usually cold hospital food to be craving pizza from my favorite pizza parlor near home. My dad, who had gone home to get cleaned up and change clothes after spending the night in the ICU waiting room, happily agreed to pick one up on his way back to the hospital that evening. The scent of the pepperoni pizza arrived accompanied with the unmistakable sound of my dad's whistling, something he's done for as long as I can remember. After days of mass-prepared, utterly tasteless institutional meals, and even though my mom had to feed my food of choice a forkful at a time while I was flat on my back while the spine stabilized after the back part of the five vertebra in my neck were removed, the spicy, greasy pizza felt like heaven going in. Unfortunately, it was hell going out.

Even though my taste buds were more than ready for this culinary upgrade, my stomach was not. In a matter of minutes, the intestinal dissatisfaction with what it was offered was made clear as I started to vomit, a dangerous thing to happen to someone who can't turn her head is also forced to remain horizontal. To prevent me from aspirating any of my rejected meal, the doctors informed me they needed to pump my stomach, which is done by inserting a narrow, flexible plastic tube up through a nostril and then down the esophagus into the stomach via the passages through which the sinuses drain. I was terrified of having this done while I was awake and already in severe pain and distress, and begged my mom to hold my right hand while the doctors worked. This meant she would have to remain very close to me, and grip my hand hard enough that I could feel deep pressure, the only sensation left in my paralyzed hand and arm. And true to her word, I could feel my mom's hand and hear her voice from the time they sprayed antistetic on the back of my throat to help calm the gag reflex, through the agony of the tubing making the U-turn in the sinus cavity, and during the minute of frantic, painful swallowing necessary to ease the tubing past the constricted throat muscles.

It was years later that mom confessed to me that the sight of the tubing entering my right nostril had made her terribly ill. But instead of leaving my side to avoid getting sick or passing out, my mom dropped to the floor and, so she wouldn't trip up the doctor and nurse who were also to my right, crawled completely under my hospital bed. Only after she heard the doctor tear off a length of fabric first aid tape to secure the tube in place did she emerge, still clinging tightly to my numb, unmoving hand.

Our family has laughed about this for years, and all of us know that was just a minor display of how much my mom loved me and to what lengths she would go to keep me as happy and comfortable as I could possibly be, regardless of the pain or distress she endured to do so.

I love you, mom, and will always be grateful that the heavens saw fit to entrust me to the care of this amazingly strong and loving woman.

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