Mama has been everywhere on my mind the last few days and I realized that her birthday is coming up this Wednesday – March 2 – or Thursday – March 3 – depending on whether the date on her handwritten birth certificate is correct or the date that Social Security had listed for her is correct.
Growing up, Mama’s birthday was always March 2. A part of me still sees that date as her legitimate birthday. It wasn’t until I started in the role of her medical power of attorney (several years before dementias came to stay) that I became aware that the government had her birthday as March 3 and I memorized that date as part of the litany of information I had to give to medical providers, insurance companies, and pharmacies each time we interacted with them.
Either way, her birthday is coming up this week and I find myself immersed in the memories of our lives together from beginning to end.
Some memories are bitter, especially toward the end of her life, and they are hard for me not to try to reach back into and have the preknowledge to change or stop.
I find myself sometimes thinking about some of the hard falls she took – God was definitely there protecting her each time because she escaped the worst of them with just bumps and bruises – and they haunt me with how I was just an inch too far from her to stop them or help her, or because I just didn’t realize how precarious her balance was when it got really pervasively unstable.
I find myself reaching for her, cringing as I can’t get to her, and then tears running down my face because I couldn’t.
Those are the tough memories for me. I suppose they stay with me because I want to go back and fix them and make them right, and yet they are past events, done and over, that I cannot change.
I try to remember that most of the time, but it is usually around Mama’s birthday and the anniversary of her death that they come to stay and hang around a while despite my best efforts to let them go.
But other memories come too. Good ones. Funny ones. Loving ones. The memories that make up these are sweet. And, largely, they predominate as time passes.
I do very clearly remember Mama’s last birthday in 2012. It was a Friday.
Mama didn’t feel good most of the morning and by the afternoon, she was nauseated, in pain, and in a cold, clammy sweat. I thought she was having a heart attack, but Mama wanted to try to sleep off whatever was going on.
Mama and I made a deal. I agreed to let her sleep and see if she felt better, and Mama agreed that if she still had the same symptoms later that afternoon, we’d go to the hospital.
After sleeping for a couple of hours under my watchful vigilence, Mama woke up and the symptoms were all still there, so we went to the hospital.
We were in the ER for hours before the doctor finally came back and told us that Mama’s gall bladder was infected and they needed to move her to another hospital for treatment.
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, they took Mama by ambulance to the other hospital while I went home to pack a bag for her and me.
We both got to the room at the same time and Mama was able to sleep thanks to the anti-nausea and pain medication the other hospital had given her.
A gastroenterologist came in around 6 am that morning and wanted to remove Mama’s gall bladder. Mama was awake (I had not slept) and we listened to his plan. Mama didn’t say anything, but I said “no” to the surgery.
I knew Mama’s heart was in bad shape and we were already having persistent issues with her blood pressure and with congestive heart failure.
I knew she wouldn’t survive the surgery – it required her to be put completely under – and it made no sense to remove a gall bladder only to kill the patient in the process.
The gastroenterologist never understood how illogical his solution was (I explained it three times, but he was hellbent on surgery) and fought me on it for about 30 minutes while I kept asking him if there were alternate ways to get rid of the infection.
He finally said that one of his associates could install a drain – Mama would have it for about six weeks – that could remove the infection that would require only local anesthesia, but he looked straight at me and said in an very irritated tone of voice, “Your mom will be back in here in a year and then we won’t have choice but to remove her gall bladder.”
I already knew Mama didn’t have a year left, but I politely told him we’d cross that bridge when we got to it. Mama and I talked it over and I explained to her what the option was and how it would work and she agreed to having that done.
We both spent the rest of the day catnapping on and off, with intervals when Mama was awake when I’d lie on the bed beside her and read to her.
Mama had more anti-nausea and pain medication throughout the day and that night which enabled her to sleep comfortably. I spent another night tossing and turning in the lounger chair beside her bed.
Early on Sunday morning a nurse came in for me to sign off on the surgery. The gastroenterologist had written the orders to put Mama completely under and remove her gallbladder.
I refused to sign it, despite the nurse pushing me rather aggressively to, explaining that this was not what we had discussed with nor agreed to with the gastroenterologist the day before.
Finally, I was able to persuade the nurse to get the gastroenterologist back to change the order. I wasn’t nasty about it, but I was firm and insistent.
He came in about an hour later and I could see the irritation on his face.
He asked what the problem. I told him that the orders he wrote were not what we agreed to and I reminded him that we had agreed to the alternative of putting a drain in to remove the infection.
His dismissive response was that he did so many of these that he’d simply forgotten that was what Mama’s procedure would be, but he did rewrite the order right then and I signed it.
The surgery went well and the infection was gone by the time the drain was removed six weeks later, but Mama’s health overall was declining more rapidly by then.
I haven’t forgotten, though, that Mama and I barely even got to acknowledge her birthday that year and I didn’t get to do anything special for her like I usually did.
So I am thankful as her birthday nears this year, almost four years since her death, for the good memories, the sweet memories, the memories that will never die that keep her close in my heart, my love, and my mind.
Happy birthday, Mama. I love you and I miss you.