Martian Mom

“The leads are all wrong, they have to be redone.”

“What? OMG! What the hell does that mean?”   My over-the-top reaction flies at my sister through the speaker phone. Nice! How did Instant Panic become my first response again? I’ve worked hard to maintain a refined demeanor in these situations – patient, contemplative, steadfast. Think Kathryn Hepburn in “The African Queen” as she calmly pours Mr. Allnut’s whiskey into the river. I attempt a few deep breaths…

My sister is speaking again, “The leads. You know, the wires for Mom’s Neurostimulator … they’re all in the wrong place. They could have slipped when she lost weight or just over time or maybe the first doctor screwed up. This new doctor says he NEVER would have put them in her head like this and wants to start all over. It’s surgical.”

“Okay, let me rinse off and call you right back.” My son, who’s been holding the speaker phone up to the shower curtain, asks if he should hang up now. For the last nine months, we’ve been in a near weekly crisis with my mom – even with her recent move to an assisted living facility – so he has standing instructions to bring the phone to me whenever my sister calls. He does his duty well.

“Sure, Sweetie, thanks. You can leave the phone here.” I’m slightly calmer, but only just.

“Okay doke,” he chirps, “no trouble at all.” He snickers a bit as he leaves the bathroom. He’ll ask me later about the Neurostim-thingy, about Grandma and how he can help. But right now I know he’s chuckling at my use of profanity because a middle-school mind knows cussing is wrong and, therefore, cool – right up there with nonchalant eyebrow-raising.

The idea of failing yet again at my role-model duties adds to my angst, but louder thoughts swarm my head, such as, ‘What the hell do we do now?’ I recall a recent conversation with Mom – the one that prompted this doctor visit:

Me:  Hi, Mom, how are you doing?

Mom:  Well, I’m okay except for the wire.

Me:  What wire? (thinking TV or lamp)

Mom:  Oh… there’s a wire sticking out of my head.

Me:  What? You’re kidding. Where?

Mom:  All the nurses here came to take a look. They can’t get over it. It’s the nuttiest thing.

Me, slightly strained voice:  Where is the wire, mom?

Mom:  It’s strange. Every time I turn my head to the right, a wire pops out the back of my head on the left (Uncle Martin from “My Favorite Martian” edges into mind and I smile even though I know this can’t be good).

Me: Okay, Mom. Let me make some calls. We’ll get this handled.

In an attempt to stop her severe head pain due to past brain surgeries, Mom recently underwent a very new procedure placing wires under her skin in the area of pain. A connecting wire runs down her back to a control panel thingy and then to a small battery pack just above her hip. Most visibly, one can see a U-loop of wire on her forehead – rather like a perky vein; the small battery pack is only visible because she is so thin right now. Simply stated, this device emits electrical impulses to circumvent nerve pain – rather astounding, actually. But while many people find benefit from it, Mom has never found this comfortable – not the idea, not the wires, and especially not the battery pack she feels when sitting or reclining… which is almost always.

What exacerbates the situation is her waffling, dementia-like cognitive state due (in part or in whole) to the fact she’s still detoxing off some highly addictive pain medications. When asked, Mom’s short answer is she wants the “contraption” out. Period. But how much does she understand what that means? There is still potential that it will curb her pain without medication. Plus, this is her only shot with it due to costs, insurance, etc.

Quite a delicate line we walk here – mom’s comfort, mom’s body, mom’s semi-mind vs a whole new century of therapies. How much do we push? When do we let go? Where is the dang manual? Disappointment looms in the many conversations between my sister, brother, and I. We can’t force her into some therapy just to appease our own desires. Ultimately, we must do our best to see the thread of her decision no matter how thin.

After another trip to the doctor and about 37 conversations with her – each – we believe Mom is cognitive enough to know what’s what. It’s clear she is done experimenting. Frankly, at 75 years old, who wants wires potentially popping out of their body at the turn of a head or the lift of an arm anyway? Kinda creepy even if you were a ‘Martian’ fan. We respect that. So, the contraption will be removed and we’ll locate those new and improved, non-addicting, pain-control drugs. I’ll even throw in some free meditation options with a touch of visualization… but only if Mom’s up for it – promise!

One day at a time is the standing motto.

One day at a time.

© 2012 Beverly Belling, Rarely Balanced, All Rights Reserved
All photographs & drawings are original and © Beverly Belling,
Rarely Balanced, unless otherwise noted.

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