The house is quiet and still cool from the night air that gets trapped inside until the day starts to heat up. Outside the window behind the desk, the birds in the backyard flit around singing in the sunshine while the breeze moves through the leaves on the apricot tree. It’s peaceful and green and lovely.
And orderly, which is more than I can say for the office. The desk is overflowing with paperwork for repairs on the house and loan papers to reduce the interest rate on one of my rentals; Writer’s Digest magazines that I’ve yet to read; a paperback LIFE OF PI that Sharon loaned me and that keeps getting buried on the desk; a folder with our travel plans for next month to have Daddy’s remains interred in New Mexico; minutes to transcribe from the last church business meeting, and the Trust document we just had notarized for Mother’s trust. At least those are items that I can see. I’m sure there’s more buried.
Stacked on the floor are boxes and piles of things that I know will sell on ebay if I ever get them listed and since the house is ninety years old and electrical outlets are scarce, there are extension cords connected to surge protectors connected to other surge protectors connected to the power cords of the paper shredder, the laptop, the printer, the back-up storage, the modem, the WiFi router, the voip phone system, the dustbuster and a small fan; and the computer table is just as covered with stuff – mostly notes I’ve written or pages I’ve downloaded and printed, but all important information that I’m sure I’ll put it to good use once I actually dig through it all.
The room is bright in the morning and early afternoon with light from the double windows on two walls as well as from the open doors to both the dining room and the kitchen but it’s the colors of book bindings and dust covers on books on the shelves that cover every space not taken by doors and windows that always makes the room seem alive. The trailing sound of classical music as it weaves around the shelves and bounces off the books and sings along with the birds outside normally soothes and caresses, but not today.
Today’s state of chaos in the room is a good reflection of my thoughts at the moment. I have to decide how far I will go in making decisions about how Mother eats. Where does my responsibility end and hers begin? How do I balance respect for her wishes with doing what I believe is best for her? Do I just let her do what she wants, even if it’s dangerous? I know the potential for danger is there, but just as big a motivation is that the whole thing is disgusting and irritating. But, is that reason to make choices for her?
Sounds at the other end of the house tells me that Mother has gotten out of bed and made her way slowly to the hall bathroom. Then all is quiet once again and will be for an hour or more while she reads her Bible, writes in her diary and generally gets awake enough to get herself together at which point she will emerge from the bathroom, fully dressed, face and teeth washed and hair combed and sprayed.
Now’s the time; I have to decide. If I’m going to do it, I need this hour’s window by myself to execute the next plan in getting Mother to fight GERD. Not that she knows she fighting GERD and not that she wants to fight GERD. In fact, she’d rather just go on like she is, eating whatever strikes her fancy, then coughing, hiccuping struggling to swallow when nothing wants to go down and hacking up saliva that her body makes as it tries to cleanse the esophagus. She has a disgustingly horrible case of acid reflux disease, or GERD.
I move from the window to the kitchen and collect the tea tin where Mother stores the loose leaf tea she uses to brew a pitcher of sweetened tea, the two boxes of decaffeinated Tea Bags, the stainless steel tea pot and get myself settled at the desk in the office, the farthest room from the bathroom so she won’t hear me or happen to open the bathroom door and see me as I get all the decaffeinated Tea Bags opened up and into the tea tin.
We’ve been talking about decaf tea for days or weeks probably. I thought I had bought some last week, but I had my ear bud in and was talking to Julienne, so wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing and it was after I’d left the store that I realized the tea I bought wasn’t decaf.
“Take it back.” Julienne said.
“I can’t. It’s loose leaf tea that you bag up in the bulk section of Sprouts health food store, so they won’t take it back, or at least If I worked there I wouldn’t accept anything back that the customer had bagged themselves. Who knows? I might be one of those crazies that taints the product with something dangerous and then tries to put it back on the store shelf.”
No, I’m just the crazy who is trying to help Mother deal with this serious case of GERD. After all, people do aspirate in their sleep when it gets this bad. And what about the embarrassment of eating out in a nice restaurant and suddenly nothing else she eats will go down and then the saliva starts and before we’re able to leave, most of what she’s eaten has come back up; all discretely into the restaurant’s napkin, of course. In my book, when it’s that bad, something needs to change.
“I’m eighty-five and I’ll eat what I want!” is what she started out saying five months ago when her symptoms like a spotlight finally lit up the problem of GERD.
Even if what she eats is slowly making her life miserable. It should be a no brainer, right? You change your diet if you want to feel better, and sure, it’s a challenge at first to think about how to change what you eat and to find new items that will work, but once you do it, and get in the groove, it goes ok and becomes habit and you start to feel better and it’s all worth it. At least that’s been my experience over the last thirty years of my life as I’ve had to adjust to various health issues.
I remember Mother being on a no sugar diet and a no fat diet years ago. Starvation diet is what she called it. She was about fifty and all of us kids were gone from home when she and Daddy moved to the California desert from the Reno area and had to find a new doctor. The guy they found stopped the hormones she’d been on since her hysterectomy seven years before and didn’t seem the least bit concerned that she might still need them when she spiraled into a deep depression and her behavior became erratic. Eventually her system evened out some, but it was years before another doctor gave her hormones and even then she said she cried every day for probably twenty years. Now see, I don’t get that. When I’m a wreck, I find the doctor who will help and I take the medications and supplements that get me functioning again. Maybe that’s the difference in our generations.
Anyway, at that same time, her blood sugar was also out of whack and that doctor put her on a very strict diet. She lost weight and I guess it helped with some of her other issues, but eventually she went back to eating what she called “normal”, all the butter, milk, salad dressing, ice cream and sugar she wanted and lots and lots of spicy hot foods, so that by the time I moved back into the house five plus years ago, not only was she having trouble getting food down because of the acid reflux, she’d had diarrhea for five years before that and the doctors couldn’t find the cause. It’s a mystery to me why the doctors didn’t talk to her about diet and identify the GERD.
I had intended to replace the decaf tea for the regular loose leaf tea from the tin before she ran out of tea in the pitcher, but I was a day late and she’d already made a whole pitcher full before I discovered that none of the local stores carry bulk tea or loose leaf tea that is decaffeinated. So here I was with two boxes of decaffeinated tea bags. It took the hour, but I made it. The tin had been filled with Decaffeinated Tea, the brewed tea Mother’d made two days ago had been poured out, a fresh pot of decaf tea had been brewed and the pitcher was in the refrigerator to cool.
Mother emerged from the bathroom and made it to the kitchen where she fixed her breakfast of poached egg in butter, blueberry muffins with butter, and a glass of milk and took it all to the dining room. I was still in the office, doing paperwork and searching online and writing a journal entry. Soon she was coughing and hiccuping as she tried to eat and to take her vitamins and supplements I give her. This is a regular occurrence and when I’m also at the dining room table I either comment or I raise my eyebrows at her.
“I don’t want to hear it.” She says through the hiccuping and coughing and hacking.
I’ve said it so many times it should be burned on her eyelids when she closes her eyes. Fats, spices, caffeine, citrus, red meat, tomatoes; they all aggravate the GERD. Cut them out and give the body a chance to heal.
But, she wasn’t willing to make any changes so we tried acid reflux medicine. It didn’t take long and her digestive system was messed up again and the severe diarrhea, which we had finally overcome in the last year, was back with a vengeance.
I thought the cure should be her decision; one that she understood and accepted and embraced because she wanted to actually make it to bathroom without having to clean up herself and the floor; one that meant she could swallow food easily and wouldn’t have that choking feeling and the lump in her chest when the food gets stuck and won’t go any further. One that meant she no longer had oceans of saliva building up in her mouth and throat because her body was trying to cleanse the esophagus.
But it seemed she alternated between not believing me to not caring, the logical reasoning of her elderly brain moving slower and slower each day just as she walked slower and slower with her footed cane.
So, one item at a time, I started changing what I bought, regardless of what she said and she was forced to switch to low fat milk and low fat butter and because I, too, had started having acid reflux by the time we’d figured out what was going on, she quit cooking with spices. She was very gracious to do that for me, I know that, but as for herself, she wasn’t giving up anything else she wanted and she was angry at me with each change I made. I had held out hope that as changes were made and she was still enjoying her food that she would see the benefit and would give up caffeine, but it became apparent that was a choice she was not going to make, so I decided I’d have to make the switch for her.
I can see now that for her, changes are monumental. They’re hard and confusing and in her mind, unnecessary. The funny thing is, when I hid all the butter (she never uses margarine) and gave her a buttery tasting butter substitute at 1/3 the fat, she couldn’t tell the difference and she now says 1% milk tastes good. So, the salad dressing was next; her current favorite is Hidden Valley Ranch Style Creamy Dressing. Yesterday I bought Hidden Valley Fat Free Ranch Style and she used it last night without comment. My guess is, she will drink the decaf iced tea without comment.
I’ll tell her eventually that I’ve made another change and she’ll be mad for a while and then she’ll be ok with it all. It’s a dilemma and I get confused knowing what things she should still be able to do and decide at eighty-five and which things I have to take control of and when I have to be the adult making the decisions. It doesn’t help that it’s a changing target as she ages.
So here’s my hope and my request, God, that all this changing of what she eats and drinks will make a significant difference. She’s had GERD for so long. The doctors didn’t find it and it took me years of seeing it every day until I was so desperate that I pleaded for your help God, which was what led me to the computer with the list of symptoms and there it was: GERD. I’m grateful for that answer, God.
But what I don’t know is, will just changing most of the foods that irritate the esophagus be enough to let it heal? Perhaps that’s the point. We don’t know; we can’t see all the solutions or the causes or the answers. We have to trust. You’re the Creator, so the real healing is up to you, God.
And if I’m honest, maybe I’m really asking if the fight is worth it. Why stress us both out when I could make life easier by just leaving her alone? I could take the easy road and let her do what she wants. But is that true love? Is that respecting my Mother? Watching her suffer and knowing if she aggravates the condition, it could end her life and yet just ignoring it all?
Give me wisdom, God, to know when to take control, when to let go and the stamina to care enough to do the right thing. And for Mother, give her ease and enjoyment of these years that are hard for her. Take this fight between us and make it a battle we fight together.