Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Physical Illness Versus Mental Illness (2)

When I awakened yesterday morning, I felt worse rather than better. Falling is like that. You suddenly feel every bone in your body, and they all seem to ache. However, because it was just "physical pain" rather than psychic pain, I was able to take a few aspirin and go on with my day.

After I showered, I took Jack for a long walk, and stretching my muscles helped. I also had an old carpal tunnel bandage I put on my left hand, and it made my wrist feel better. I wore some sturdy walking shoes and laced them tight so that my ankle didn't hurt, and Jack and I explored our neighborhood.

When I returned home, I had a proposal to finish writing for a workshop I'm hoping to lead at a conference in the fall. And then I had to take photos for my digital photography class that met last night. I had my regular therapy session, dinner, and class for almost four hours.

As I'm writing this, it's late Monday night, I'm ready to read and go to bed, and I must say it was a wonderful day. Still, there is an underlying sadness that I've been feeling for two days, which started when I took a long bubble bath after my fall on Sunday. As I lay in the tub I thought about my mother's last few months of life.

When my son, and husband, and I were away for a few days, my mother fell out of her wheel chair, and broke her knee. While she went to the hospital twice, they never found the break (which was so incompetent that it is difficult to fathom). But when I returned from vacation, visited her and saw that her knee was the size of a grapefruit, I felt physically ill.

"Why didn't the nurse at the assisted living facility handle this?" I wanted to scream aloud. "How could my sister let this go when it was so obviously a medical emergency? What would have happened to my mother if I'd been gone for a week or two rather than just a few days? Why does my brother never feel responsible for my mother's welfare?"

The bottom line was that I immediately called an ambulance, and took my mother to a different hospital. Because they were short-staffed and my mother had dementia and needed me to stay with her, the attendant in the x-ray room let me stay with her and help. When we finished he showed me the x-ray, and my mother's knee wasn't just broken; it was sheered. She had to have been in such terrible pain that it was unimaginable.

The rest of the story is equally horrible. Neither my brother nor sister helped me as I had to find a doctor at the hospital who would treat my mother, and stay with her until they found a room for her, and so forth and so on. It's a long awful story that I can't forget.

On Sunday night as I felt my bubble bath lesson the physical pain in my body, I wished it could lessen the pain in my heart. For me, physical pain is nothing compared to the psychic pain of depression. But, to my mother, physical pain was a constant in the last years of her life. And the terrible treatment she received despite my best efforts still sickens me.

Perhaps some day, I will be able to forgive all those people--strangers and relatives--who did so little to help mother and me. But, I doubt it. I may be able to forgive them for treating me so badly, but I will never be able to forgive them for abandoning my mother in her time of need.

P.S. For those of you who are regular readers, you know that my mother died in October of 2007. For those who aren't, I guess I should have mentioned it in my original post.


Emma said...

Dear Susan,
That is such a terribly sad and distressing story. My heart aches for you. There is so much pain, grief and anger. It is unforgivable and unconscionable that your mother's injury should have been so dismissed. How fortunate that you WERE able to help, and that your voice was heard. Your mother not only had a loving daughter, but a strong advocate who was prepared to fight for her comfort and well being. Others may have failed with her care, but you did not. I am sure that you did everything possible those last months, and my feeling is that on some level you darling mother knew, and could sense your love and tender care. Thinking of you. Love Emma

KJ said...

Very moving post. Although I am not keen on physical pain I can definitely handle it more than emotional pain. I have a hard time right now even though I am trying forgiving my inlaws for acting like my kids are not related to them since the divorce and before. It is shocking to me how detached they are to them because they are partially mine, or really mostly mine. It makes me so sad for the kids to see that kind of rejection and me so angry that I just don't quite know where to place it. I know forgiveness is the key, but so tough right now.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Emma,
Thank you for saying it. I, too, always felt I was my mother's best advocate. What I never understood and still don't is why my siblings fought with me when all I wanted was to get our mother the best possible care.

What's so very sad is that my dogs Spike and Murphy got better medical treatment than my mother did, and their vets were far more responsive and concerned about them than my mother's doctors were about her.

It's a terrible commentary about healthcare for an aging population in the United States.

By all accounts, my mother who had money, medicare, and an auxiliary health insurance policy should have gotten the best possible care.

Yet, because of dementia, and a litany of physical problems, I couldn't find one doctor who treated her with the dignity and respect she deserved.

And I can't even fathom what kind of care people get, who have the same medical issues my mother had, but none of the resources.

Two years have passed since her death, and I am still seething inside.

My dear friend, thanks for caring!


Wellness Writer said...

Dear KJ,
I don't understand people like that at all. They should be grateful that you want them to play a role in your childrens' lives. And if Joe is well enough, he should be the one to talk with his parents about their behavior.

What his parents are doing is not only hurtful to the children, but it says a lot about the kind of people they are.

Personally, I would hope that someone at your church could talk to the kids about this, and explain that behavior like this happens, and it feels bad. But, the children are in no way to blame for it--nor are you.

I'm really sorry KJ.

With love,

Paula Joy said...

Hey Susan,

That must have been so very difficult for you to see your Mom suffering needlessly.

In regards to the forgivess thing, I have one piece of advice - forgivess brings freedom. Living with unforgiveness is like walking through life with a bag of garbage on your shoulder and then complaining of the stench. Forgiving the hurt does not mean that you are saying what they did was okay. Instead, it is freeing you from the pain they caused and allowing yourself to heal. Complete healing cannot happen until you choose to forgive.

Praying for you and hoping you can work through this and let go of the guilt.

With much love,

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Paula Joy,
I've read a lot about forgiveness, and thought a lot about it, and I have sought help from my rabbi, and my therapist.

I've forgiven them to the extent that I don't dwell on what they did. But, every once in awhile something comes up--like my fall in which I hurt my knee in addition to everything else--and it brings back a flood of memories.

And I have found that writing about my feelings is very cathartic for me, and then I'm done with it...for now.


catatonickid said...

Susan, that makes my heart ache. It isn't 'just' the physical pain. it's the lack of dignity, too.

What happens at the end of life says some awful (and occasionally truly wonderful) things about us and our society, doesn't it?

Wellness Writer said...

Dear CK,
Yes, "what happens at the end of life says some awful and occasionally truly wonderful thinks about us and our society."

I believe that if we mistreat the oldest and weakest among us, we lose our humanity.

If we don't respond to our parents' medical emergencies because they are inconveniencing us, we should look inward and determine what our values are, and why. And hopefully adjust to regain our humanity.

I somewhat understand the dynamics of children and their aging parents when the parents have been abusive, uncaring, or absent and suddenly expect their adult children to drop everything and "care" for them.

I don't understand the dynamics when a parent has been warm, loving, kind, generous, and involved, and suddenly she is perceived as a burden because she's aging, and has an illness like dementia.