My mom had back surgery last week. It was a hard week – a week when I realized that my parents are getting older (and so am I) and how differently they deal with it and how I’m the person that will need to be there. (And just as a side note, I’m okay with that, I absolutely am.)
My mother gets very focused in the face of a medicine. She’s in charge and boastful about what a good patient she is. Things like needles or temporary pain of any sort, they don’t bother her. To the contrary, she’ll endure whatever is necessary to get rid of the synovial cyst that, now drained, is sure to fill up again without surgical intervention—and awaken the excruciating pain that, now dormant, had her bent over for the better part of six weeks.
My father, on the other hand, can’t stand any of this hospital/medical business. While he knows he needs to be there for my mother, he nevertheless can’t resist suggesting we “go get some coffee” on the way downtown to the hospital. “Hey,” he says to me, while parking the car, “I’ll show you where I take classes (at Temple University, for seniors in Center City). Gosh, they have an absolutely terrific Macy’s not too far from the hospital…”
“Owen!!,” my mother says, “I’ve not even been admitted yet!” He winks at me, as if to say, “We’ll go when she’s on the table.”
She looks at me as if to say, “Please don’t leave.”
We haven’t even gotten to the hospital entrance yet. Help me.
And so, we get out of the car and walk over to hospital and within the hour, we’re taken to the hospital room where they’ll prep my mother for surgery. In his discomfort, my dad jokes with the nursing staff and asks them how they like the Phils, whether he can have a warm blanket too, and if they’re planning to wheel her down in this particular bed (which of course they are, says Nurse Ned, “that’s why it’s on wheels!”).
To which Mom keeps saying: “It’s my day, Owen.” And she whispers how his jokes and random conversation will soon become irritating.
To which he says, “I know.”
To which the nursing staff asks my dad not to sit on the other bed since they need it for somebody else, who will be coming at some point, soon.
To which I wish I had a pizza and a little privacy. And wonder, how, even though my mom’s the one going under the knife, I’m going to survive the day.
Once they take her down for surgery, my dad and I go to the hospital cafeteria where he has a yummy bagel and cream cheese and diet soda from the fountain and I eat some of the pre-made diet food (carrot and celery sticks and some radishes) I brought with me in my large purse because I’m a true masochist.
It’s not until five or so hours later, when they tell us the procedure is over and went well and she’s in recovery that I’m comfortable finally giving in and walking with my father over to the Starbucks a few blocks away. I leave my cell phone number with the nice lady in an interesting yellow dress who’s manning the family waiting area, so she can call when Mom is out of recovery and back in her room.
And sure enough, my dad has just enough time to tour me through some museum and park when the phone rings and we have to head back. We walk fast since I don’t want Mom to think we’re not there. After all, if ever there’s a time to be there for somebody, it’s when they’re being wheeled back up from surgery. Don’t you think?
I know Dad feels that way too, since he’s walking just a tiny bit faster than me.
Mom was okay. And once we knew it, and that she wanted to sleep, we went to Macy’s – a mere 14 blocks away (28 round trip). I knew that morning as I got dressed, that the three-inch platform heels I chose for the day might not serve me well. But I soldiered on anyway. We got Mom a new Fossil purse (and one for me as well), had dinner at Cosi’s, and then went back to check on her. She was awake but longing for sleep (who wouldn’t, after having the middle of their back carved like a Thanksgiving turkey?). Unfortunately, her 80-plus-year-old roommate’s VERY LOUD daughter was confused and thought my mother’s hospital room was really a garden party.
As I went over to ask them as politely as possible to shut the f*$% up, my mother just had surgery, I couldn’t help but notice my father on the return. He was gingerly placing a straw in Mom’s chicken broth, holding it ever so gently up to her lips and encouraging her to sip. He rubbed her head and got in real close to her eyes, red and moist from the operation. “Just take a little sip,” he encouraged her, “would you?”
And so she did.
I wanted to cry. I really did. People can be funny—especially when they’ve been married for 54 years. And they’re in a hospital.
But I didn’t cry. Not then. Later. I did later, admittedly. I’m a very sensitive and emotional person. So how could I not.
You would have too, if you were me.
All in all, it was a mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting day. And listen, I know my parents are pretty good. They’re not as bad as some of the stories I hear from my friends—about their parents. I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Mom’s operation was fairly common and routine, thank goodness. But still. I don’t like seeing my mother under a sea of white blankets in a hospital bed. And it’s no fun watching my father’s discomfort. And I wonder how it is that I will survive anything worse – because, in the scheme of all living things, I suspect that too is eventually coming someday…
But let us not think about it. Not today.
Which leads me to this: I don’t want my parents to get any older. And I don’t want to get any older either. But how can we make it stop? (Anybody?)
If you know, please tell me. And if you don’t, well, okay.
Instead, tell me how are you parents? Your mother, your father, your brothers, sisters, in-laws, out-laws, friends, and neighbors. Your wounded soldiers. Your, well, you know…
Until next time!