and the “Bizarre Doctor Award” goes to….

image:silverdoctors

image:silverdoctors

Have you seen the British show “Doc Martin”?  It airs on public television and Mother and I watch it without fail, even though we’ve seen all five seasons several times.  We keep hoping that just maybe this Thursday night will be the night they’ll tell us when we can expect to see season six.  It’s set in rural England and is about a surgeon who because of his new aversion to blood becomes a general practitioner.  He’s uptight, tactless, socially challenged and doesn’t necessarily set out to torture his patients but he never fails to offend several people per episode.  While miraculously solving several health problems, of course.

It’s fun to watch the mayhem that occurs in the small town as the big city surgeon tries to fit his superior skills to the need of the local common folk.  And it’s harmless because we are the viewers are not affected by Doc Martin’s behavior.

What’s not as much fun are doctors in real life who are tactless or less than efficient or caring; or just plain bizarre.  I bet you’ve met one or two.  Am I right?

There was the ophthalmologist who tried to talk me out of contact lenses when I was twenty-seven and was fed up with glasses.  He was sure I was too old to make the change.  In the thirty-five years since, my contacts and I have been best friends.

How about the gynecologist who wanted to know if I was a nervous person?

“Only when I have to come here and put my feet up in stirrups.”  I answered.

Then there was the allergist who needed to draw some of my blood and the only way I could bare my arm was to pull my dress over my head because the sleeves were too tight to pull up my arm.  He went beet red in the face.  What was the big deal?  He was a doctor after all.  I wondered when I heard later than he committed suicide by jumping off a building what had really been going on inside his head.

image:bps-research-digest

image:bps-research-digest

And of course, the one that takes the cake (or at least is in the running for first prize) occurred on my first visit to a new gynecologist.  In the year or so prior to my visit I’d had a small patch of very painful shingles on the back of my upper thigh.  I got treatment and was told the scar would take a long time, if ever, to fade.  So there I was in the new doctor’s exam room, up on the table, and he has me lie back and put my feet in the stirrups.  I get in position and he and the nurse move to the end of the exam table and he says, LOUDLY, with shock in his voice,

“What is that?”

As I was younger in those days and had a brain that worked lightning fast, I immediately ran through all the possibilities of what he could possibly be seeing, as well as the idiocy of a medical professional asking a rude question at such a delicate time and decided to not panic or be rude back.

“You mean my shingles scar?”  I said.

Those are all harmless incidences that make good party stories but the ones that are not so funny are the ones that border on the incompetent.  Two of my favorite doctors who were taking good care of me decided to rearrange their practices and so I had to find a new endocrinologist to manage the challenges that I have with the triangle of health that is the endocrine system: thyroid, hormones and adrenals.  In balance with each other, they function wonderfully and I enjoy health.  Let one get out of balance and the whole triangle falls apart and misery ensues.

image:paulsjourneytolife

image:paulsjourneytolife

My new endocrinologist took one look at my medications (that had been working just fine for me) and kept saying,

“A normal person does not need all this medication.”

So, of course, he would only write prescriptions as he saw fit and did not take into account how the changes would affect that delicate balance that allowed me to enjoy life.  When my system crashed and I was distraught, his advice was that I seek out a counselor to help me with my mental and emotional issues.  I found help, all right.  From another medical professional who understood how to treat all my physical issues, not just one.

But the strangest doctor I’ve come across just might be the Urologist who treated Daddy for his prostate cancer.  The man never came closer than three feet to Daddy in the exam room.  He knew his stuff and gave responsible advice and care, but he asked me to help Daddy get on the table and to loosen his clothes.  He sent his nurse in to check Daddy’s catheter and on another visit, to remove the catheter.  The doctor never touched Daddy.  Never shook his hand.  Never came close to either of us physically.  Come to think of it, he fits the Doc Martin mold pretty well.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the Bizarre Doctor Award goes to….?   Which one would you choose?  Or, perhaps you have a better candidate?

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Vacation! Pack the headstone and burial plots

image:practicalmoneymastery

image:practicalmoney mastery

We’re planning a vacation!  Exciting, even if it does involves headstones and burial plots.  And, arrangements to make for travel to New Mexico to the cemetery.

It all takes me back to that night three years and eleven months ago.

Did I hear Daddy’s last breath?  I’d walked into the living room to close the front door against the evening air that had cooled down the stuffiness of the day’s warmth inside the house and realized that for the first time in nearly three days, Daddy’s loud, raspy breathing had calmed.

Was he breathing?  I concentrated to tune out the sounds of Mother clattering dishes in the kitchen as well as the sound of the TV in the dining room and tried to focus on the sounds right where I stood.

The lamps on the sofa end table and on the old sewing machine cabinet next to Daddy’s recliner usually cast a soft, warm glow across the red carpeting and made the brown of the room’s wood trim, the brown of the recliner and the gold, beige and brown of the sofa look comfortable and cozy.  Tonight the room they lit was changed as Daddy’s hospital bed, squeezed into the space between the recliner and the sofa, sucked all normality from the room.  He lay there just as he had for the last four days.  He looked unchanged, his withered, translucent skin pulled tight against shrunken bones, covered by a sheet, he was mostly unmoving, either sleeping or out of it due to the morphine and Ativan that hospice provided for comfort in his last days.  The nose plugs of the oxygen tubing were still in place, his mouth open slightly, his eyes closed, his skin color still the slightly yellow pallor it had been for weeks.  One thin, stick of an arm was outside the sheet, propped up on one of the pillows that had been placed along his side to keep him from wounding himself on the bed rails.  His skin was so fragile, it didn’t take much pressure to cause bruising and bleeding.

It had been four days since he’d wanted any water or food.  The last time he tried, it just wouldn’t go down.  The only thing that had been easy about his care since then was using the medicine dropper to put the drugs in his mouth to keep him comfortable.

In the few weeks that he was failing and able to do less and less for himself, we’d talked about the future and how he’d always planned to be there for Mother to the very end and how he would have to leave her now, when he didn’t want to leave her alone.  We talked about the things I would need to do to keep the house running and Mother able to stay in her home.  We talked about when he needed medication, what I could do to help him get from the bed to the wheelchair to the recliner to the wheelchair to the table.  He was responsive and mostly clear headed.  One of the effects of liver cancer is its effect on the brain and every now and then he would seem confused but for the most part he was lucid and knew who he was and who we were and what the daily issues were.

He was six weeks away from his eighty-ninth birthday and I would be surprised if there was a time in all those years that he was unmotivated.  Even as he got weaker, he got up every morning with a purpose.  That habit was hard to break.  It had just been five days earlier that he woke and sat up in the hospital bed in the morning and tried to get up.  I helped him dress and then said,

“Daddy, this is all further you have to get up.  Why don’t you just lie back down?”

“Oh.”  He said.  “All right.”

That was the last morning he spoke clearly and the last time he tried to follow his normal morning routine.  There was no fear on his part that he was leaving, no anxious grasping on to life.  There was never any regret on his part for the life he’d lived, because he lived it honestly and fully, every day.  He had nothing to confess, nothing to make right.  He’d done that along the way.  He’d invested himself fully in serving the God that he knew loved him and there was no doubt that God was waiting for him, as soon as his last breath in this life was expended.

image: google images

image: google images

Was this his last breath?  His chest seemed to contract and there was a slight hissing sound from him mouth, then he was still.  I moved closer to the bed and laid my hand on his skin.  Warm.  His chest did not move again.  There was no sound of air moving.

In the couple of hours that followed, Mother and I sat down to eat the dinner she’d been preparing.  We knew we had to have food to get us through.  Then I called all the family and Hospice.  Hospice sent a nurse who verified he had died and she called Loma Linda University where he had donated his body to science.

It was a hard night and the next day was torture.  Mother and I were exhausted and emotionally spent, yet the phone didn’t stop ringing, one niece came over and people from the church came.  Mother and I have said since, that if we could have, we would have taken that day away from everyone and everything.  The next day, we were back to normal and able to go on with plans.

image:digginitinc

image:digginitinc

Plans were fairly simple because it would be about two years before Daddy’s cremated remains would be released from the teaching hospital.  It was Daddy’s idea to donate their bodies to science, both because it was such an inexpensive way to take care of remains and because he liked the idea that even after his soul was bounding across heaven in a new heavenly body, his old body here just might do someone, somewhere, some good.

His remains were released last year and they wait patiently on a shelf at the funeral home.  We know he is not there.  He has begun eternity with Jesus in heaven and is unbothered that a few ashes are yet to be buried.  Mother has not felt physically able to make the eight hundred mile trip, but now she says it’s time, so we will choose headstones and go to see his remains interred in the plot in the small country cemetery where so many other Deans and Jones remains lay.

Daddy’s children, my brothers and my sister, will come from Texas and Tennessee and northern California to join us there and we’ll reminisce and laugh and play together and have a vacation away from our daily lives and Mother will bask in the attention of being surrounded by her children.  And I’ll have a vacation from being her sole caregiver.

image: the3dstudio

image:the3dstudio

We’ll need each other as we stand by that cemetery plot and see the headstone set and are reminded again of our loss and finality of what life comes to in this world.  Ashes.  Buried in a plot of ground.  And we’ll joy at the thought that one day we will all be together again, our souls unfettered by any loss or pain.  We’ll go on from there to continue life, living out the legacy our loving, faithful, funny, intelligent, caring Daddy gave us:  love God, love each other and live life fully.

Stretching Roots

I sit at the computer desk with its gauzy view out of the windows through the white sheers that hang there.  The world looks softer and maybe the sheers will hide all the tasks that need doing.  I can block them out and just think, and try to write.image:fiskars.org

Not that I can really forget them, because Mother keeps a list and she never forgets.  She forgets, at 85 that I did buy sugar and filled the large canister at the back of the counter.  In fact, when I got home from the writing workshop last night, she looked at me with that piercing look and said,

“I thought you were going to buy sugar?”

“I did.”  I said, “Remember, you stood right there when I filled the large canister?”

“Oh.”  That look of puzzled defiance she gets when she’s sure of something and I’m sure of just the opposite, “Well,” she said, “I used the sugar in the small Sugar canister.  I had to ration how much I put in the apples I cooked to put up in the freezer.”

The apples arrived on the front porch yesterday morning in a plastic grocery bag.  From one of the neighbors across the street?  Probably.  We take them some of our excess and they share their’s with us.

The cooked apples were still in the pan.  Sitting on top of the stove.  I taste them and say, “They’re perfect.  The ones you made last time were too sweet for me.”

image: justhungry.orgThat gets Mother out of her padded chair in the dining room, in front of the TV, and she heads for the kitchen.  Her footed cane is where she left in the kitchen.  She probably had something in both hands when she left the kitchen for the dining room.

I meet her halfway with the cane and she comes to taste the apples, too.  We agree they are delicious and I tell her that it’s nice living with someone who cooks these tasty things.

So, now she’s happy.  I’m back home and appreciating her hard labor.  And it is hard labor for her.  It’s hard for her to stand with her scoliosis and she tires easily.

But does she forget the things she wants done?  Of course not.  And that list just doesn’t ever seem to get any smaller.

Wash the windows.  Prune the grape vines.  Soak the vegetable garden.  Weed the vegetable garden.  Water the newly planted apple tree.  And why is that round spot in the back yard looking dead when everything else looks green?  Did you find some chives seeds?  Did you water that new flower that you planted?

And on, and on, and on.

She loved working in the gardens.  So did Daddy.  He did all the big tasks and even collected up the weeds she picked out of the gardens.  They took pride in their yard and loved growing fruits and vegetables and flowers.  With her curved back she really can’t do that anymore.  Oh, she tries and then is in pain and we head off to the chiropractor.

I never thought I’d be Farmer Dean.  Dirt on my hands?  No way.  But, I came back because they were both sick and when Daddy was dying, I told him I’d be here for Mother.  He always said he would live forever and bury all of us so it was hard on him to let go when Mother was still here.  But, I think he took comfort knowing I would be here.  I could see him relax at the end when I said I’d stay.

Of course, at that point I had no idea I’d take his place in doing the outside work, but Mother and her lists!  The only way to keep her somewhat mollified is to work on the items on the list.  And which is more important?  All the inside tasks or the outside tasks?  It’s the stress of juggling of all the things that have to fit into each day’s schedule that threatens to take me to the brink of losing it.

There’s a lot to do outside.  Grapefruit, peaches, nectarines, apricots, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, grapes.  All I can say, is, thank you, God, that the apricot tree is huge and getting old and the crop is far less than it was in the last thirty years that Mother and Daddy picked and froze and canned and gave away and ate until they thought they might pop.  image: google images

A small crop from any of the trees or grapevines or the vegetable garden is just fine with me, because I get to do all the heavy lifting; which actually isn’t nearly as hard as listening to Mother worry about what she will do with all the fruit and how disappointed she is that the crop is so small and why did we only get a few squash on the vine, and on, and on, and on.

This year she wanted herbs, so of to the nursery we went and I had to find time to get all the plants and seeds in the gardens.  Now, each evening before dinner, we’re picking lettuce, arugula, chives, dill, cilantro and nasturtiums for the table.

And the flowers.  The California Poppies, the Evening Primrose and the Bougainvillea, I love those.  The huge camellia outside my bedroom window covered with perfect pink blooms.  And the geraniums and the Gerbera daisies and the chocolate mint that I just found at the nursery and planted.  Yum!

I guess the joke’s on me, because after three plus years of working in the gardens, watering, convincing Mother she really could afford and should get, a sprinkler system, I find myself enjoying the digging and the work and the fruits of the labor.

So, yes, the joke is on me, God.  I thought I was just here to ease Mother’s last years and I’m the one whose roots are getting stretched and planted in new soil.  Thank you that I’m here, God, and that you can give me ears to listen to the lists and not go mad.  I feel you smiling, God.

Hair Wars

“I need a haircut.”  I announced to no one in particular.  “My hair is looking scraggly around the edges, plus it’s lying too flat, which means I need to trim it up.  Tonight, maybe, before I get in the shower.”source:7beautytips

Mother looked up and rolled her eyes at me.  She and I rarely agree over my hair.  But, that’s nothing new, in fact, that disagreement goes back five decades.

Back to when I was thirteen and got my first glasses.  As I walked home from the Doctor’s office wearing my new glasses, I was so excited that I could actually see.  The individual leaves on the trees; the colors and shapes of flowers across the street and the street signs.  Had our house always been that bright a pink?  That day, I ran inside and headed directly for the bathroom and the mirror.

“Let me see your glasses.”  Mother called from the kitchen.  I closed the bathroom door.  Finally.  I would be able to really see myself.   What I saw horrified me.  I was thirteen, not ten years old, and I didn’t sing and dance, so why did I have Shirley Temple curls?

I had no idea that Mother had bobby pinned curls into place along the top of my head.  There were long curls that hung down to frame my face and more curls that went all around the back of my head.

How could she have done this to me?  There was a pimple on my chin.  Why hadn’t she told me or done something about it?  How could she treat me like a little girl?

I had been betrayed by the one person who was supposed to be on my side; the one who was supposed to prepare me for life out in the world.  I stood there in shock.  Never again would I trust her with my hair.

I found her in the kitchen fixing dinner.  The smell of pinto beans that had been simmering all day mingled with the heat of hot cornbread and made my stomach growl.

“Set the table.”  She said.  “Dinner’s nearly ready.”

I moved around her to get to the silverware drawer.  Her brown hair was combed into brushed out curls that framed her head and ended just below her ears.  She was thirty-six and slim and trim in a sleeveless shirt and petal pushers.  Her skin was tanned from spending afternoons in the vegetable garden out back.  She had the record player on and “The Girl From Ipanema” fit the moment perfectly.

“Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking.”

Why hadn’t she seen how ridiculous I looked?  Wasn’t it part of her job to get me ready to be the girl from Ipanema?  Instead I felt ugly and hopeless.

I had to take charge of my looks.  And, I had to tread softly because her feelings were fragile.  Plus, Daddy was her biggest supporter, so this had to be handled carefully.

“I’m going to do my own hair tonight.”  I said.  She turned to look at me, her face flushed from the heat that poured off the brewed tea she was pouring into the pitcher to make sweetened tea.

“Really?”  She looked at me and at my hair critically.  “You brushed out your curls.”

“Mother.  I’m thirteen.  Don’t you think I should start doing my own hair?”

She looked a little taken back by that but frazzled enough with getting dinner on the table that she didn’t argue.  The back door slammed and the light green kitchen and dining room with their cream and brown colored vinyl floors were filled with my Dad, my sister and my two brothers.

“Got your glasses, didn’t you, Sugar?”  Daddy smiled at me through his glasses, the look of total love and support in his eyes.  I was still his little girl, but somehow that was different.  I smiled back at him and moved on to the table and laid out the silverware.  It was noisy with all the bustling around, hands were washed, food was put on the table and finally, everyone took a seat.  The subject of hair didn’t come up.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

Four years after the Shirley Temple curls, Mother had been asking me the same question for months, “Why don’t we put a perm in your hair?”  My straight, fine hair took a lot of coaxing, teasing and spraying every day to get it to look like the First Lady, Jackie’s, hair.  Mother was sure a home perm was the answer.  I must have forgotten my pledge to never trust her with my hair, because I finally agreed.

“Oh, honey.  I’m sorry.”  She said as she unwound the rollers.  My stomach was in knots as I made my way to bathroom mirror.  She had done it to me again.  Ruined me for public life.  “Serves you right,” I whispered to myself in the mirror, “you shouldn’t have listened to her.”  The last of my Afro (ten years before that style was popular) was trimmed off a full year later.

Then during summer vacation in my college years, I came home and the first thing Mother said to me was, “We need to do something with your hair, honey.”  She fussed and worried about my hair all that summer.  Had she forgotten the perm?  I hadn’t.  Nor had I forgotten those Shirley Temple curls.

“No, thank you.  I’m fine, Mother.  I’ll take care of my own hair.”  Through the years, she was always ready with a solution.  I stayed on the offensive.  She never touched my hair again.  I wasn’t happy that I couldn’t trust her.  It made me tired to always be on the offensive.  I didn’t want to be the adult to my own Mother.  It would be so nice for someone to take care of me, to let me give up the burden of doing it all myself.  I didn’t see that I had any choice, though, so I stayed strong in my resolve to take care of my own hair and little by little I learned to like who I was, even with my fine, limp hair.

Now, I leave the bathroom, fresh from a shower, my hair trimmed up.  In the dining room Mother sits dozing in her spot at the dining room table.  At 85 years old, she’s wrapped in a sweater and a lap blanket to help keep her warm, even in the heat of summer.

She looks up at me, groggy, and says, “You cut your hair again?  It was just starting to look nice.”

There was a time when I argued with her or tried to make her understand my choices, but I like me and I’ve finally learned we won’t ever agree on this subject.  I smile and don’t even feel irritated.

“Yes, Mother, I just cut it and I like it.”

Chocolate Gravy and Legacies

Mother is sleeping in her padded chair in the dining room while on the TV in front of her, a cooking show goes on and on about how to whip potatoes.  Funny, all those years I thought we were having mashed potatoes they were really whipped potatoes because Mother always did them just like the TV show says to do them if you want them whipped.  The test cook chef is amazed at this new recipe she has found and how good they are.  They should have been at Mother’s house for the last seven decades and they could have already had them.image source:cookscountry

I suppose that means we never really had mashed potatoes.  One thing we had that I bet most people didn’t, was chocolate gravy.  Over fresh, hot biscuits.  Wow.  I wanted to get my face down close to the plate and just shovel it in while savoring every bite and lick of the spoon.  It’s the consistency of gravy, but it’s chocolate.  Milk chocolate.  Not a glace, not a mousse, it’s gravy; chocolate gravy that runs down the side of the hot Bisquick biscuits straight out of the oven.  Man, it’s good.  Melts in your mouth.  Hits that chocolate itch perfectly.

I’ve only met two other people outside the family who knew what chocolate gravy was.  And they were clients I had in Nashville, a young woman who moved to town from a little country town in Oklahoma or Arkansas.  Her mother was in town to help her find a condo to buy and we had a good time visiting as we rode around looking at condos.  Turns out the mom made chocolate gravy!  I couldn’t believe someone else knew what that was.  And, of, course, they put it over hot biscuits.  Although, I think she made her biscuits from scratch.  Mother could too, but usually was too busy.

Mother always made yeast rolls for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.  They were made from scratch and were fabulous.  Yum.  One of those things that brings back memories the moment you smell that yeast in the oven.  Mother hasn’t made them in years because it’s a big job but my sister used the same recipe to make them all the years her girls were growing up.  Now my sister’s girls and grandchildren always ask for them at the holidays so she’s built the same memories in her family that we had growing up.

Lemon meringue and chocolate cream pies.  Mother made those from scratch too.  And in the summer, Daddy would buy a lug of peaches and Mother would make peach ice cream or sometimes, banana or fresh strawberry.  Once in a while, chocolate, but usually a fresh fruit ice cream.  Daddy would sit out on the back stoop, cranking the ice maker, filling the sides of the ice cream maker with rock salt and ice and talking to whoever would sit out there with him.

Someone was usually playing the piano, one of us kids running in and out the back door.  Or sitting on the couch, noses buried in a book.  My sister used to say that if I was reading she could never get my attention.  But what I remember are all the sounds of the house swirling around like background music to whatever I was reading.

About the time I moved to Nashville to sell houses, I gave my sister a big bag of books that I wasn’t taking with me and her husband said,image source:shereads.org

“We’ve lost her now.  She’d be buried in books for weeks.”

It runs in the family, this immersion in books.

When Daddy died, we donated over 1100 of his books to his favorite university.  I can now go online and search their library catalog and see his name there.  Such a nice feeling.  He left a quite a legacy.

Speaking of legacies, I remember being concerned when I was a girl that since I only had two brothers, the Dean name might not carry on.  I’ve since learned that there are millions of Deans, but most of them are in the Eastern United States or in Great Britain and European countries.  In my life, I have only personally met two, maybe three other families named Dean.

Turns out, I needn’t have worried.  My oldest brother has three sons to carry on the name and two grandsons, so far.  My other brother has four sons carrying on the name and they are all at marrying age and beginning their families.

Legacies are interesting.  It started with two, Mom and Dad.  Sixty four years later there are forty-six of us now, plus three deceased and another seven that left the family through divorce.  We stretch from the youngest who is about five months to Mother, the oldest at 85 with every age in between.

One year, there were four or five great-grand kids graduating high school the same year.  In the last year, four of the great-grand kids brought spouses or significant others into the family and started having babies.  Two more got engaged this year.

image source:mcmnetworkIt’s good being here so that Mother can stay in her home but it feels different from what I thought these years of my life would feel.  I miss being free to travel to my sister’s or my brothers’ houses.  Laughing with the kids and their kids.  I always thought I’d be there to support my nieces and nephews and their children.  I didn’t imagine that I would not be able to travel to their graduations or weddings.  But here I am, so that Mother can stay in her house.  That’s a good thing.  I’m happy to be here for her.  I just didn’t expect the limitations it would mean for me.

But then, I’m not sure you can really understand what your legacy will be.  A warm, safe home, with lights shining out the windows in the twilight and the smell of Mother’s cooking are what I remember.  That and Daddy’s peace and calm.  I guess I have to just trust that I built some legacy with my nieces and nephews and their children and that this part, this being stuck in one place, that’s part of the legacy as well.

Disclosure: this may gross you out

image source:medicinenet

image source:medicinenet

Dear God, I don’t know what else to do to help her?  I’ve cut back Mother’s heart medicine and it seems to help but only until the half-life of the meds wears off and then the sluggish valves in her legs are again overwhelmed and huge with edema.  I researched herbs for heart function and sluggish circulation.  We’ve bought herbs and even got Dr. Costello’s approval.  They help but we can’t get her totally off the Rx drugs that reduce her blood pressure so that the sluggish valves in her legs work easier.

So she suffers from side effects of those meds.  On the day of the worst I’d seen in a long time, I no longer knew what to do. She’d only been on minimal doses of her meds.  But she couldn’t swallow much, was coughing, had chest pain, what felt like a knot in the middle of her chest, spitting up saliva, sore throat, croaky voice, hiccups when she tried to eat.  After an hour of back patting, she was finally able to get some hot tea down, her system seemed to calm and she was able to eat her dinner.

There has to be a cause of this and a solution, God.  What am I missing?  All I knew to do was go back to the computer for more research.  I decided to search a list of her symptoms to see what might come up.  There it was: Gastroesophageal Disease (GERD).

Mother has GERD?  No wonder the look of doubt on Dr. Costello’s face when we would describe some of her symptoms and I’d say they were a side effect of her meds.  They weren’t.  Oh, sure, there are some stomach distress and diarrhea side effects to those meds but that doesn’t explain all the other things going on.  GERD does. image source:haverfordlibrary.org

It occurs as stomach acid backs up into the esophagus.  It can be life threatening if the sufferer aspirates in their sleep.  Causes?  Spicy foods, high fat foods, caffeine, raw onions, tomatoes, citrus juices, French fries, ice cream.  Mother loves all of these things.  And eats them with regularity.

Well, hit me upside the head with an “a-ha” moment.  I know what caused that worst flare-up.  Jessica and Juan, the young couple renting Sarita’s house next door, brought us a thank you gift of Christmas jelly because I went over and to give their old bull-dog, Sugar, water and food and let her in and out in the evenings while they visited family for Christmas.

One of the gifted jars of jelly was Jalapeno jelly.  Mother had never had it before and I was excited because I enjoyed it in the South with cheese and crackers.  We opened it immediately and was it good!  Hot!  Best on cheese, but I’d been off dairy for nearly a year, so eating it with gluten-free crackers seem the next best thing.  So good you can’t just have just one, so believe me we didn’t stop there.  Three days we had some for breakfast, both Mother and I.  And then that night, she tried to eat dinner and the episode was the worst I had seen.

Thank you, God!  At last I knew what’s going on and that there was something we could do about it; not only for Mother’s sake but for mine as well.  Truth be told, I too had started having that chest pain and times when things won’t go down easily.

And all the times we’ve had to leave a restaurant or Mother has had to retreat to the bathroom because she’s spitting up her food.  And then the rest of her meal sits untouched on her plate.  Or, the times when she couldn’t make it to the restroom and there’s a napkin across her plate covering up spit-up food and saliva.  Lots of saliva.  She was embarrassed.  I was grossed out.image source:google images

I printed out all the GERD info and took it to Mother in the dining room to explain what I’d found.  I started talking and she muted the TV so that she could hear.  She was not happy with this information.

“I’m 85 years old and I will eat what I want!”  She declared forcefully.

“Fine.”  I’d anticipated a fight over this and was prepared.  “Do whatever you want.  Just go in the other room and do your spitting and coughing and hiccuping away from me.”

“Humph!”

“In the last year I’ve had that same pain and there are times when I can’t swallow.”  I try to reason with her, but rational thought is not her strong point these days.  “I’m only 62 and I don’t want to have this the rest of my life and get as bad as you are.”

She turns the TV sound back up.

“We at least need to cut the spices WAY back and not make every dish we eat spicy hot.”

“Humph.”  Her attention is purposely glued to the TV.

Over the next few days I casually repeated the list of foods to avoid and I try to be on hand when she’s adding spices to the pot of beans (which turned out very spicy) and with the cheese soup, we used gluten-free four and Almond Milk and I followed the recipe instead of tripling the chili pepper as Mother usually does.  I thought the soup was good.  She didn’t.  She still says she will eat what she wants but I see her softening when it comes to my health.  She’s not hard-hearted, just stubborn.  Good thing I’m affected as well or she’d never moderate what she does!

My research indicated taking Licorice tablets, Ginger and Silymarin to help the sphincter that has been damaged by all the reflux acid so I added those to her daily pills.  My hope was that she would moderate her diet and with the extra herbs, she would eventually heal.

In the last month since I made the GERD discovery, Mother has (somewhat) graciously moderated how she cooks and I’m doing better.  For herself, however, she is determined to eat the way she likes to eat.  Milk, spices, butter on everything, tomato sauces, citrus – whatever is on the list to avoid – she goes all out to eat.

“I’m eighty-five and I’ll eat the way I want to eat!”  She repeats every so often.

I had bought the over the counter acid reducers with the hope that she wouldn’t rely on them, however, it appears she isn’t changing her diet – although she did admit she had continued for another week to eat the Jalapeño Jelly but was stopping as she was having more trouble getting food down.  I’m concerned she could aspirate at night, so she started taking the acid reducer.  Of course, she thinks that means she can eat whatever she wants without consequence, but even that isn’t a magic cure.

“I don’t want to hear about it anymore!”  She said last night when she was hiccuping too much to get anything down.  But I know at last she is hearing me.  And that is the biggest part of the battle.  Nothing changes for her until she lets go of her believe it’s all just sinus drainage and admits that she has a problem with what she is eating.  It’s like any addiction or habit that any of us has, WE have to be the one who wants to change.  No one can change for us.

However, I’m relying on one of her most basic instincts, she’s a mother.  When she sees her daughter suffer, she wants to do something different.  Oh, she fusses that she doesn’t know how to cook without gluten and dairy and high fat foods, but I see her make the effort for me and I’m grateful and hopeful that one day she’ll make that same effort for herself.