...is that your parents do, too.
The end of January leading up through the end of February was just about the busiest, most worry filled month I believe I've ever had. Well, actually, I guess it all started in December. Or maybe it was years ago.
You see, my mother had been complaining of hip, leg, and lower back pain, pains she had attributed to a fall while walking on crutches during a recovery from a heel spur surgery that occurred so long ago that TJ and I were living in Florida at the time. Over the last couple of years, her primary care physician and chiropractor have bickered back and forth over the cause of the pain, with the PCP's vanity and/or ego preventing him from authorizing an MRI.
Meanwhile, fresh off of our cruise in November, TJ and I turned our attentions to the inevitable R&R that the State Department provides for its FSOs living in Mexico. Faced with the choice of taking another fun vacation or sucking it up and visiting family, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and invite my parents on a cruise. We were surprised when my parents, never ones for adventure, agreed to accompany us on a Western Caribbean voyage on the Carnival Triumph this April.
The only roadblock was my mother's crippling pain, which had reached the point that a trip to the mailbox and back was almost out of the question. My Aunt Sister (Sylvia, although I couldn't pronounce that as a toddler) was quick to inform her dear sister that if she couldn't enjoy a leisurely stroll through the produce aisle, she definitely couldn't board a cruise ship. Whether this was said out of familial concern or vacation jealousy, we'll never know, but it did give mom the courage to finally seek out a second opinion. She saw her new doctor on December 27th. An MRI was scheduled for the 29th.
On December 30th she received a call saying that she needed to come back in for a CT scan on January 2nd. This scan would ultimately confirm that my mom was suffering from a blocked aortic valve. She was told that a lifetime of smoking had finally caught up with her, and that the occlusion was the cause of her years of pain. After several appointments to determine whether or not she would need to have stents installed or undergo a more serious bypass, it was ultimately decided that the stents should suffice.
My parents were encouraged. Both quit smoking on the spot and even bought a treadmill, confident that my mom would be ready to exercise in no time.
I'll spare you the suspense of it all and assure you that the stents worked, neither parent has smoked since, and mom has started using her treadmill.
But I didn't know this at the time. What I did know was that this was the first medical emergency my family had faced since I graduated from Texas A&M in the spring of 2003 and fled the state. I also new that the last time I had seen my parents was November 2010, surpassing the once-a-year average we had attempted to maintain over the years. Sure, I would see them in April. And, sure, mom insisted that I shouldn't waste the money on such an expensive trip home. But would any of us be able to forgive me if something went wrong during the procedure and I wasn't there? Not likely.
I departed Guadalajara shortly after noon on February 7th and returned shortly after 8pm on February 14th, effectively missing TJ's birthday and Valentine's Day. But we had discussed it, and both knew it was the right thing to do. We're young (early 30's) and healthy (if not slightly-to-completely out of shape) and have plenty of birthdays and holidays left in us.
That first night, I watched my mom as she faked courage and optimism for the outcome of the following day's procedure, nervously arranging candy in a bowl as though it were a bouquet of flowers. I listened through paper-thin walls as she cried herself to sleep.
The following morning, the morning of the procedure, I sat in the back seat with my Aunt Sister while dad drove us to Austin and mom resumed her brave face from the evening before. We all went a little slack-jawed as the doctor, previously confident in an 80% chance of success, changed his tune to "I'll sure do my best." I sat in horror for the first hour of the procedure, having realized that after coming all this way, I had actually forgotten to kiss my mom and tell her that I love her right before the big event. Such a jerk.
Three hours in, and I knew she was going to be ok. I could just feel it. One hour later, and this was confirmed by the doctor. Four hours later, we were finally allowed to begin the hour-long drive home.
Throughout the remainder of the week, my mother spent her days recuperating on the couch. I would go on to have an enjoyable lunch with some high school friends and a wonderful day with an old friend from college (we'll get to that next time), but for the most part, I just lounged around the house.
I wasted time on my laptop and fiddled with my NOOK Tablet while my parents wasted time on their own laptops and channel surfed. I got to see American Idol for the first time in 2-3 years. I realized I'm not missing much. I got to see The Voice for the first time ever. I made TJ watch it on-line as soon as I got back to Guadalajara.
I took photos of the old house. I talked to my dad about all the cars he has built and/or raced over the years. I went to the Temple Mall, and left without entering a single store (Damn, I grew up in a small town). I spent one unexpected afternoon watching snow, having no chance of accumulating, drift hopelessly to the ground. I can't recall seeing snowfall in Texas since I was four years old.
I had hoped to bring with me delicious, healthy, low-carb recipes so that my parents could begin a new lifestyle, but all I managed was preparing one delicious meal during the seven days I spent at home.
Oh, who am I kidding? All of the meals were delicious. They just weren't healthy. But I've decided to cut my parents some slack. They've had a rough few months. They have faced their own mortality, they have quit smoking, and they have spent hours (and thousands of dollars) in hospitals.
Let them eat as they like for now. I know they'll do their best.
All told, I'm not sure my presence had much of an impact. But my mom is. She called me her good luck charm, and proudly reports that she is walking a mile each day on her treadmill. And as for that one healthy meal I managed to cook for them? She's recreated that once or twice, too.
I can't say that I walked away unscathed, either. TJ and I are eating healthier. I've lost almost 10lbs, and am running almost 5K every day in the park by our house. Maybe I'll complete that New Year's resolution after all.