Oh Mother

The Last two years haven’t been very kind to my ma, although to be fair she hasn’t been too kind to herself either. I’ll give you a bit of background. See, many moons ago, my ma was diagnosed with osteo-arthritis in both her knees and her ankles. Over the years it has moved onto one of her hips, her hands and a few other places. The thing is, when she was diagnosed with it she was a fairly fit and active woman, her diet was terrible but she was active enough to keep her weight down. She took her arthritic condition as an excuse to become incredibly lazy, so much so she wouldn’t even walk to the shop 30 seconds away from our house, and blame it all on her knees being too sore. Eventually she went from being a woman who was a wee bit over weight to being, according to BMI, very obese. At 5 foot 1 inch, she was heavier than me at an overweight 6 foot 2.

Last year the day before my da’s 60th birthday, she go an odd feeling and a pain in her arm when she was out with my sister, so she went home and went to bed. The next morning she went to our GP, who immediately sent her to A and E where she was told she had a number of small heart attacks the night before. I wouldn’t say my family and I were shocked but it was a terrible feeling. There was a kind of inevitability to it happening but you obviously dread it happening and convince yourself it wouldn’t. She was told there and then it was time to sort her weight out with her diet and that she needed to stop smoking. We were looking at this as a shot across the bow and she had a second chance.

About a month or so later, she got a letter telling her to attend a clinic. Upon arriving they told her that, upon further examination of her chest x-ray from the heart attack, they found something they weren’t happy with and they needed to investigate further. Our fears were confirmed when she was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. She was booked in fairly quickly to have surgery to remove the tumour, it was fairly early and they were confident but the biggest issue was the surgery and recovery due to her weight and the fact she smoked so much. To be honest, I thought she only smoked a few a day but my sister read her chart when she was in hospital where it said she smoked 40 a day. After this things got bad for her. During the surgery she had a third of her right lung removed and her pain management was so difficult because of her weight and the smoking. People like my mum are an anaesthetist’s nightmare. We were allowed in to see her when she was in recovery that night (my sister is a nurse in theatres of our local hospital and she pulled a few strings). I don’t think I realised how over weight she was until that night. Seeing her in the bed in her gown, she looked huge. They couldn’t operate on her lathroscopically so she was opened up from her shoulder blade down around her rib cage.

The next few days she seemed to be recovering ok, although she couldn’t lie down so she spent all her day sitting in a seat in her side ward. She was in tremendous amounts of pain but the surgery had been a success and the surgeons were happy. Then my sister phoned one day telling me and my da to come to the hospital. It was the most frightening day of my life, the day my mum almost died. There were complications and she kept losing consciousness and she stopped breathing for a while too. Luckily, she got through that day and got to the other side and eventually we were able to get her home.

After the surgery, my mum was meant to have Chemotherapy but she was too weak and her body was in such a bad state after the trauma of the surgery teamed with her body weight that they couldn’t give her it, it would probably have killed her. Then she got the all clear from the cancer but was told that major changes were needed for her to get healthy and stay there.

We’re months down the line now and things haven’t changed much. My sisters and I all caught my mum smoking and we found out she was putting so much pressure on my da and he started letting her have one a day. She was smoking in the car and when she was out, but telling us that it was other people. Thankfully my sister and I aren’t that gullible. Her diet was worse than ever and although she had lost weight over the term of her surgery, she put it all and more back on. She knows herself that she is doing wrong but she can’t change the habits of a life time. It’s one of the major issues I encounter with my counselling because I am watching my mum systematically kill herself. The problem is, she is an adult who makes her own choices and all the fighting, anger and hatred in the world won’t change anything. Things have been horrible at home because there is so much tension and frustration but it is getting better now because she’s been confronted and things are the same so we’re trying to accept her decision.

On top of all this, she dropped very casually into a conversation with my two sisters that she had COPD. She was incredibly out of breath and my sister questioned her on it. In a very Belfast Woman way she just said “oh, that’s that aul COPD”. None of us, including my Da, even knew she had it. Apparently she was diagnosed with this chronic, incurable lung condition just prior to her surgery but didn’t tell us. It’s manageable but if it isn’t managed it’s fatal. Needless to say the smoking and endless eating weren’t managing it. 

I keep being told that I need to accept her decisions no matter how difficult they are. She is an adult who makes her own decisions and I have to come to terms with that. That’s easy to say, but watching your mum systematically kill herself on a day to day basis is agony. She’s been told that this is how my sister’s and I feel but she can’t change. She’s not had an easy life and as I said, it’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime. Every night when she goes to bed, I brace myself with the idea that she may not wake up. Statistically, people her weight with her health issues tend not to see 65. She is 61. My sister has spoke to consultant surgeons in her work who have told her our mum is lucky to be alive. Eventually luck runs out though and unless she changes soon (which she won’t and I’m coming to terms with that) she’s in trouble. But she’s an adult, and I have to respect her decisions, however heart breaking they are.

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