A short story about parental love and changing roles.
The ground shifted beneath her feet. It was subtle, most likely not a tangible shift because no one else in the room reacted. Everyone else was going about their business without missing a beat: replacing an IV bag, checking vitals, scribbling family information on a dry erase board across from the bed. Only she felt her footing give. She reached out to touch the wall. Her fingertips grazed the smooth surface. She took a breath. The nurse said something to her. She nodded without fully understanding what he said. She should pay more attention. It could be important. Yet all she could do was breathe and let that breath pull her through to the next moment.
Someone scooted a chair toward her with the instructions to sit down and take a break. A hot mug of coffee was placed in her hand. She accepted the drink and the seat. Felt the hardness hit her bottom as her knees bent to guide her to the stability the chair offered. The activity in the room ceased. The nurses left to take care of other patients and now she was alone in this room, although not really. The tiny woman’s body appeared to float on top on the bed, making no indentations in the firm mattress even as she fidgeted from the fluid on her brain that made her wither and jerk.
“That’s normal,” the nurse told her before he left the room. “Neuro patients twitch. When the fluid begins to come off the brain, your mom should calm down more.”
Again, she nodded because she wasn’t quite sure what else she was supposed to say. She had no experience in this. She had to trust other people to guide her to the next step, whatever that may be. It was hard, though. She was a person used to being in control, controlling every situation, or at least walking away from it when it didn’t suit her. She couldn’t do that here. Here she was stuck, watching the woman who bore her and raised her lingering between life and death because, even though the doctors told her she would pull through, there were no certainties.
Across the hallway she heard her father talking loudly at the ICU nurses’ station, rambling on and on about something or the other. What it was she could only guess, but certain that he was tiring out the nurses who had other things to do than listen to stories of the past. She knew she should go to him and bring him to the room. Give the nurses a break, she reasoned. Again, though, she didn’t move. She’d have plenty of time to deal with her father because she knew this was going to be a long journey. There would be sleepless nights, countless hours awake and worrying. She didn’t have a map or guidebook that would tell the exact route her mother’s recovery would take. She just knew. She knew that even if the tube in her mother’s head could pull all the fluid off her brain that things would be different.
Her phone vibrated in her purse. She glanced at the message. It was the tenth message from another family member asking how things were going. Without responding, she turned the phone off and buried it deep in her purse. She knew there would come a time when she needed her family and friends nearby. That time was not now. In this moment, she needed the stability of the chair, the rhythmic sound of the machines telling her that life still existed, and the woman in that bed.
Truthfully, she didn’t always appreciate her mother. Even as an adult well into her thirties she took advantage of her mother’s generosity and kind-heartedness. She got frustrated too easily with her mom’s long-winded stories. Her constant need to call several times a day just to talk about the weather.
“I’m busy now,” she often answered when her mother called. Rarely did she just say hello. Instead she answered most calls with an aggravated tone that suggested she had better things to do than give the woman who birthed her five minutes. How would she feel if her daughters treated her this way? She always felt bad about how she peppered her words with aggravation and vowed to choose a kinder approach in the future. Yet she never did. Even when her youngest daughter pointed out how rude she could be, she continued to – bluntly put – be a complete ass.
It was supposed to be a straightforward procedure. Not simple. There were risks, the team of doctors warned the them. “Any sort of procedure with the brain is risky,” the strong-jawed doctor with a Middle Eastern accent told the family. “We’re confident though that we’ll be able to coil the vessel that the blood is seeping from and your mom will be good as new. Do you have any questions?”
She and her father shook their heads. Months earlier her mother had the same procedure on the other side. It took less than three hours. She spent two days in the hospital and was back to her life in a week. Who would have predicted this time would be different? Who would have guessed that complications and risk would play a role in this surgery.
Her father’s voice was no longer audible from across the hall. She glanced at the nurses’ station and didn’t see him. She should go find him. He wasn’t in great health either. Sometimes his mind wandered and sent him in the wrong direction. Still she couldn’t move. The weight of responsibility bore down on her like a thousand bricks. She wasn’t ready for any of this. She was still a kid. Wasn’t she? She may have had a few lines around her eyes, gray hair that she colored devoutly since she was twenty-seven, and two kids bookending the teen years, but she was not an adult who was capable of taking care of her parents. No. She was not ready for this. Someone else could have this job, she thought. But who? No one. It fell at her feet. She could choose to run from it or she could welcome the change into her life. She never liked not knowing what was around the corner. She was a planner. Her life a planned adventure that rarely took her off course. Now she found herself standing in the middle of a road not knowing how she got there or where it was going to take her.
Taking a long, deep breath, she stood and approached the bed. She placed the mug of untouched coffee on the rolling sidetable. She took the woman’s hand in her own and leaned her forehead to her mother’s bandaged head. “We can do this,” she said. “We can do this together.”
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