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.
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.
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.”
“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.