I'm at home, and while home does not quite look like a bomb went off, it's still chaos. My mother, who had her flu shot last October, has caught this latest strain, and is now taking bed rest, Guaifenex, hot tea, and Hall's cough drops. What was just the flu last Saturday is now a full-blown assault on her body, complete with chest congestion, vomiting spells, fever, and a complete lack of appetite.
I've just given her some hot chicken soup, dry toast, and tea. I've set up the humidifier in her room, changed the blankets and sheets, and rubbed her chest down with Mentholatum. She has a heating pad for her back; her lungs ache. She's now sleeping off the meal and medication.
Meanwhile, I've got a ton to do. I have projects from work to finish. I haven't even made my own meal, and I've eaten soup all week; I'm sick of soup, and it's my favorite--chicken noodle. I have to run a couple of loads of laundry, wash out my nylons, pay my bills, and try to finagle the budget to cover the $300 shortfall I'll have this month.
Damn, I'm tired. I'm so tired of running around to cover all the bases, but there's nothing I can do. I'm the one in charge. My mother is 79, healthy enough to be independent, but still prone to occasional illnesses. When she gets sick, she goes down. I remember how she took care of me on the occasions when I got sick, and I don't mind taking care of her at all. But when she gets sick, I can't help but think that, some day, we're going to replay this scene in a hospital room, surrounded by respirators and monitoring machines, and instead of tending to her in the hopes of her recover, I'll be preparing for her death.
As I look over my budget, I know that this is just a temporary setback. I've had some big bills to pay, and once I get over this hump, I'll be on my way to clearing up my debts. But right now, that hump looks like a mountain, and I don't know how I'll get past this. I have some friends I could contact; I hope they'll considering helping me out. Unfortunately, my sibs aren't able to help. My younger sib is having financial difficulties on the personal and business front; the older one is just at the starting gate of what promises to be a bitter and expensive divorce.
But once again, I wonder: how did I end up the one in this position? Is it just that I'm the youngest, a woman, and single? A good friend called this the "leave it to the girls" phenomenon, after what she witnessed in her own family. At any family gathering, no matter how large the meal, how widespread the mess, the men would go watch TV in the living room or head out to the yard to chat, and the women got to clean it all up. She said her husband, astonished at how her brothers and cousins acted, joined her and her sisters in the kitchen one Thanksgiving. Her own father cornered her and said, "C'mon back in here and watch the game. Leave this to the girls." And it does feel that way at times: I'm the "girl," so I get to clean up the mess. The boys got multiple marriages and kids, and didn't want to have Mom hanging around; I had nobody, so I got her, and all the attendant medical difficulties that come with her advancing age.
That means trying, and failing, to budget for a Medicare supplement plan to take care of the expenses Medicare won't cover. That means paying for a lot of what she needs out of my own pocket, because my own insurance doesn't consider an elderly parent a dependent. (The cutoff age is 65. 65?! Are they fucking shitting me?! What the hell do they think, your parents should shrivel up and blow away before daring to reach the incredibly decrepit age of 66?) It means watching her carefully for any signs of dementia (thank God, none), failing faculties (her hearing is going, and she had cataract surgery in October), lack of mobility (arthritis), and weakening immune system. Which brings us to this current bout of flu.
And yet I wouldn't give up my mother for the world. She's been my idol since I was old enough to be aware. She's worked in machine shops, as a welder, as a circuit board solderer, a plating line supervisor, a cook, and a housecleaner. She made me skirts to wear in school when the money didn't stretch far enough to cover new clothes, but would buy a bolt of cloth. When depression led me to overeat and take far too much Vicodin for my own good, she would talk to me, either for long spells on the phone, or in person, over coffee, over tea, and always over my issues. She has always encouraged me to go for the things I want, and never listen to the voice in my head that's often said I'm not smart enough, good enough, or popular enough to succeed.
I can't change a baby's diaper without throwing up; yet Mom's occasional bouts of stomach flu (complete with runaway diarrhea) haven't turned a hair on me. I don't know why--although I heartily recommend Vicks-coated silicon earplugs to keep the smell away while cleaning. Her blindness was much less messy, but infinitely more disturbing; there's something heartbreaking about reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the woman who used to read me The Five Chinese Brothers three times before bedtime. Her hearing isn't so good either; my oldest sib made a barbed remark about how annoying it was to have to repeat himself, because Mom didn't have a hearing aid. (Medicare also will not cover hearing aids.) It's clear that the pattern of our lives together are going to involve more episodes like now, more sickness than health, more worse than better.
What is the alternative?
There's only one, as far as I'm concerned: the hospital room, with its monitoring machines. Or else the morgue.
So I guess I'm going to get up now, take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer, put the soup away and warm up some old pasta, and call a couple of friends to see if they can possibly loan me $300 until April. And as I do it, I'll check in periodically on Mom, to make sure she's sleeping peacefully. You know, once she starts throwing up, she usually shakes off the flu in one to two days. So it's a good sign. Maybe around 9:00, I'll try to feed her a little more toast.
And before she goes back to sleep, I'll tell her I love her, and maybe read a little bit of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows before I tuck her in.