My mother is amazing.
I know many of you may feel the same way about your mothers. And you are likely right. But let me say this again: my mother? Is awe-inspiring, knock-it-out-of-the-park AMAZING.
She’s always been a teacher. From one-room schoolhouses in remote mining towns to schools in the toughest, inner city neighbourhoods, she’s taught the most challenging of the challenging students, trying to break through whatever barriers life has given them. But it’s what she’s taught us all everyday for the past 27 years that sets her apart.
Mother’s Day 1985: I woke up to the most horrifying scream I think I will ever hear. Mum. After reaching for a book, she felt pain shooting up her back. And then couldn’t feel her feet…then her legs…then her torso. Paramedics were called and she was rushed to the ER. Where a doctor…a female doctor (which to me makes this all the worse)…told her she was experiencing hysterical paralysis and would be just fine when got over the fight she had with her husband. (let me make a side note here to say that of my two parents, my father, with his bright yellow sick pants, is way more likely to have an “hysterical” illness of any kind. Sorry Dad. Blame Grandma’s hypochondria.) She was left lying on a guerney in a hallway with no other care for the rest of the night.
Thank all that’s holy for the intern who noticed her blown pupil the next morning. Her “hysterical paralysis” was an AVM, or arteriovenous malformation
, a condition that has killed in every other case we were aware of at that time.
She should have died then. But she was 3 years younger than I am now and had two kids within strangling age of each other (she prided herself on having the good sense to plan the births of her children so that she would only have 1 year of 2 teenagers in the house) She needed to live and fought like hell, through a year in a rehab hospitaI to regain as much ability as possible. She’s considered a quadriplegic because all four limbs are affected with some degree of paralysis, but for many years she was able to use a walker in the house. And cook 78 course meals (as her sous-chef, it really felt like more than that) And travel. And sew. And weave. And embroider. And with only one functioning hand, she taught herself a new way to knit.
Through this time, my dark, slightly twisted sense of humour was fully developed. We found the best and healthiest way to deal with difficult medical issues and associated madness was to laugh. And we did. Through her broken foot incident (really mum? You’re a quad, with arthritis in your back and a bad knee, but it’s the broken foot that slows you down?) To a running gag about her faking it. (she kept changing her mind about which hand has feeling) Even when the streetcar driver, who had to slam on the brakes after my father not-so-neatly dumped my mother out of her wheelchair onto the middle of King St., didn’t find this quite as funny as we did. So, now you know who to really blame for my love of textiles and assorted insanities.
A year ago, Mum got pneumonia, was put in critical care isolation and on life support. The decision to wait for a few days to see if she regained consciousness was definitely not the wrong one. She did. And over the course of the past year has gradually gotten better and better, moving to a rehab hospital and undergoing vigorous therapies to teach her how to breathe, and then breathe on her own and then finally to start to eat again…all to help her get home again. Her one true goal. All the while amazing the doctors. They said 15 minutes of breathing on her own, she said 2 hours. They learned, as we did long ago, that arguing with her was simply not an option.
A few days before the Knitter’s Frolic, a fever and unexplained infection sent her to the ER again. Surgery to fix the issue went well and we were told that had the surgery waited one more day, it would have killed her. At this point we’ve lost track of the number of lives she’s gone through.
But it didn’t kill her and she was once again on the mend. Bright and smiling and energetic. Right up until a mucus plug blocked her windpipe. Here are words you don’t want to hear on the phone while sitting on a park bench in Bracebridge:
I packed funeral clothes, but forgot pants, pajamas and my hair dryer. (I’m known for bringing the hair dryer on trips. I think it’s this omission that shocked my friends most)
Unresponsive became eyes wide open and aware and recognizing us within 24 hours. 12 hours later she was fully awake, wondering what had happened. Shocking us all and moving back up to the ward within a few days. (on rounds I heard the little intern in the back yell “wow, she’s doing awesome!”…I kind of love the little interns in the back)
We’re back at the hospital after her second code blue in 8 days. Twenty-eight years to the day since that first hospital emergency. After being told she’s unresponsive and likely just too tired to keep fighting, I’m watching her eyes flutter open at the sound of my father’s voice. I touch her hand and feel hers push back ever so slightly.
We don’t know how this will end. But today? She’s tough as hell and fighting through with every fibre of her being.