Last week, my ninety-two-year-old mother had her first heart attack.
Not content with that, she also presented with a respiratory ailment and another of her famous UTIs when we caved to her request and called an ambulance.
She didn’t know where she was, when she was, or even who she was, much of the time. Hypoxia and a UTI can do that to you. When I arrived from my hometown, five hours away, she asked me what my title was–Nurse or Doctor? Later she called me "Pietje", probably because I resemble one of her sisters, who was actually quite a bit fatter and meaner than I.
Every now and then, Mom would pop back into the here and now, and appreciate either her husband or me, whichever of us sat beside her bed in Emerge. But by the end of the first evening she was firmly in la-la land, with no prospect of going home anytime soon, if ever. My poor stepdad had to endure watching the staff strap her down into the bed as she screamed imprecations in Dunglish at her evil husband who was forcing her to stay against her will. Next morning she was still a crazy person, wanting to divorce the man and convinced he had sold the house out from under her and me in one fell swoop since her admission to the hospital.
Dad knew of my diagnosis, but of course we did not tell my mother. What purpose would that serve unless and until she got better? None.
When she slept, I slipped out to the lab to take the battery of tests my home hospital sent down for me. Sitting in the chair with the tourniquet on my arm, I reflected on how full of ourselves we are, and how blind to reality. Who are you? Oh, I’m a person with a full set of legal rights and four-point-five degrees, a Mensa membership and a pleasant personality.Oh, I’m a never-say-die type of guy. Oh, I’m a free woman. Oh, I’m a child of Christ. Oh, I’m working through my 107th lifetime. We define ourselves by describing our minds, our spirits.
Yeah, sure, until you get a runaway UTI, deprive your bod of oxygen, or let lumpy bits inside you grow too big. Sometimes your doctors slip and you get a slimpse of what you look like from behind their eyes: another bag of smelly flesh and watery gunk, slung on a precarious framework of calcium sticks and animated by electricity–an odd but clever contraption that runs for a while but eventually runs out of parts or fuel. People probably look to doctors much as other animals look to vets.
Maturity begins the moment we acknowledge that mind and spirit operate only by permission of the flesh.