I believe in duty and loyalty, but I also believe my mom is crazy. Not clinically, but senselessly. As a child, my mom was wonderful and loving, but something happened to her in the decade between 18 and 28. What happened was that I became the parent, and she became the child.
My mom refused to support me for the first time in my life when I decided to study abroad. I graduated, got married and went to live in the London suburbs with Joel. Just before I walked down the aisle, my mom took me aside and said, “You know, you can still get out of this. I can take you out the back door and we can tell everyone else later.” Needless to say, she really doesn’t like Joel.
During our first year of marriage, my parents were both diagnosed with hepatitis C. My sister and I are both virus free, and my father had reversible liver damage. My mom has cirrhosis, liver disease, and is morbidly obese. Joel and I decided to move back to Indiana. Joel quit his job on the fast-track before getting a visa to work in this country. I quit graduate school before being admitted to another program. Family was paramount. I kept telling myself through all the uncertainty, “You only have one mom and one dad.” We arrived back in Indiana and settled into new lives together.
Four months later, my father called at 1am…”Sis, pick up the phone if you’re there, your mom’s in the hospital, she couldn’t breathe…” It was a call I’ll never forget. My mother was what the EMTs call “a good save”. She stopped breathing for so long there should have been brain damage, but there was none. She was in the hospital for a week. I couldn’t have cared less about the finals I was missing. My mom had undiagnosed congestive heart failure. One year later, she hadn’t lost any weight and I was growing concerned by her lack of concern. I wrote her an impassioned letter about how she could help herself and how I’d be willing to help her too. Nothing changed.
Last month, Joel and I went on my parents’ behalf to a fundraiser for the American Liver Foundation. I introduced myself to my parents’ hepatologist and he immediately said, “As for your father, his liver has fully repaired itself. But you need to convince your mother to have bariatric surgery sooner rather than later, or she WILL die.” I was shocked, although I shouldn’t have been. I foolishly asked if there was some sort of timetable. “One to three years. A patient with her complications and weight has a window of opportunity, and hers is quickly closing.” I was jarred to the core, although I might as well have been reading yesterday’s newspaper. I expect another call from my dad sooner rather than later. I believe in duty and loyalty, but I also believe that one person can only do so much.
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