Friday, September 19, 2014

MY MOM'S BIRTHDAY



Today is the day I celebrate my mother's birthday. There's a green light glowing in her  brass candle holder. It's electrified, and sits on a shelf above my desk. The nurse, who tended Mom, during the last weeks of her life, sent it to me. I keep it lit night and day.

Throughout my life, Mom was always there for me -- it didn't take much conversation -- just "Mom, I've got a problem," or "Mom, I'm not sure what to do," or just "Hi Mom."  (I've blogged about her in "Night Light" -- 4/13, and in " Marching" --  4/17.)

After a head-on collision on the highway near Indianapolis, I was rushed to a hospital -- cut out of my clothes, temporarily repaired -- my small intestine had been severed by the seat belt, my facial injuries were extensive. Because I had a fever, surgeons postponed the major surgery that was needed on my back.

For the next three weeks, I was strapped to a Stryker table. The nurses turned it and me like a flap-jack, every 45 minutes. I couldn't sit up, or raise my head, or move any part of my torso, though I could move  my arms and hands. I lay on my bandaged stomach wounds, facing the floor, then lay face up with my injured back (at the waist), positioned over the padded hole in the center of the table.

My husband, John Cullum, and Mom arrived while I was still unconscious. He was in "1776" on Broadway singing "Molasses to Rum," playing the Senator from South Carolina. While I was being treated with antibiotics for the fever, the producer let him miss performances and fly to Indianapolis twice a week. The shows he missed weren't deducted from his salary. The cast members had a "kitty" -- money they collected to help cover the cost of the airfare.

Mom, who was recovering from a mastectomy she had a few months earlier, was with me every day. She got me large-size knitting needles, white yarn, and cast on thirty stitches, so that upside-down or right-side up, I could knit. With her encouraging me, I managed to make the first four inches of a scarf that JC, even now, occasionally wears.

The Doctors came in routinely, and tested my legs, arms, face as well as my private parts with a feather, asking, "Do you feel that?" Though I didn't feel anything, I always said, "I can march."

It seemed to cheer everyone when I said that. An orderly had told me I was temporarily paralyzed. Someone had murmured "partial paraplegia." I didn't have a dictionary, but if I had one, I wouldn't have looked up paraplegia or fracture. No one said "your back is broken" -- they just said that the lumbar vertebrae at my waist were "fractured."

It took all my energy to concentrate on minutes passing between pills and the hospital routines that had to do with food, toilet, bathing, combing my hair. I didn't ask for a mirror -- I didn't want to see what I looked like. Watching the clock ...  what a torture it was, staring at the second hand, watching the minute hand, waiting for the hour hand to move. Only after three-and-a-half hours had past, could I start asking for the pills that let me disappear for a while.

It was a orderly who noticed a reddish, swollen area on my arm. A sliver of glass, probably from the shattered windshield of the car, was removed and treated. By the next day, the fever was gone.

JC was onstage in New York when the two surgeons examined me head-to-toe with a needle, instead of feather. Frowning, one of them said, "Well, we can operate in the morning. The  other surgeon smiled, and joked -- "I'm the best bone fixer around town -- this is the hospital where we fix the racers from the Indy 500.  My friend here is a neurological specialist -- best in the country, figuring out nerve endings."

I tried to say something about marching. The way they were talking -- one frowning, the other smiling -- frightened me. They said ... maybe a year ... two years ... maybe five ... hope for best ... "Wheelchair" was mentioned twice.

After they left, Mom pulled her chair in. Squeezing my hand, she said, "Recovering from surgery is easier than waiting like you've been waiting. What you need to do is get a good night's sleep, and wake up strong, looking forward to the operation."

"Is that what you did, Mom?" She'd hadn't mentioned her mastectomy. I was thinking ... five years ... wheelchair ...  hope for the best ...  I wanted to say I don't want to live if I'm going to be in a wheelchair.

Mom spoke softly. "Don't think about what you fear. Try to give yourself to the doctors, dear, like you'd give yourself to a lover." She kissed me, and said it again, louder and very clearly. "The doctors need you to trust them, dear.  It will help them, if you give yourself to them like you'd give yourself to a lover."

I had never talked about lovers or my love life with my mother. How did my mother, married to my father -- for so many years the hard-working, faithful, adoring, good wife -- find the knowledge, the words, the wisdom to say what she did? And help me -- give me the command, and then, the power to look forward to tomorrow.

Happy birthday, Mom -- you gave me health, a body, resilience, a healing capacity, a powerful life force that's in my bones, my muscles, my blood, my skin, my pores, and you were always, always, always there when I needed you.''

11 comments:

slicker said...

A very touching story... it brought a tear to my eye. Happy birthday to Em's mom. Glad everything turn out well for you, Em.

Ron Lewis said...

WONDERFUL tribute story...you "done" your mom proud. Tomorrow is my fathers birthday with 10yrs since his passing. The candle in the heart never goes out. -pawpawdude

Carola said...

When I read your books I always wondered if your relationship with your Mom was as supportive and loving as described by the heroines in your books. Now I know that it was.

Linda Phillips said...

That was by far the most beautiful and touching blog post that you have ever written. It made me cry!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. You were lucky, Em, to have such a mother and such a great relationship with her.
May that light shine on.
Louise Sorensen
louise3anne twitter

lisabonowiczphotography said...

What a wonderful woman she must have been.... Thank you for sharing that wonderfully moving story with us Em! You were SO very lucky to have come through such a tragedy and for having had a loving, supporting family to help you through it. Thank God you were able to recover! VERY moving post Em... (((hugs)))

Cara Lopez Lee said...

Wow. Everyone in this story shows amazing strength of character: your mother, your husband, his colleagues, the medical team, and YOU!

Gary Henson said...

It's so wonderful for you to share this, Em.
My mom was also like that. She amazed me with the depth of her understanding sometimes.
Keep the light burning.

Patsy Castillo said...

I've always been envious of such relationships as my mother and I went through life as two selfish warriors. I did get to say goodbye on her last day of life. I never found out what she had wanted to be because she never told me and I never asked. On her last day she said to me that of all her daughters, I was the most rebellious and the only one that became all the things I said I would be even though at every step she thought I would fail do to the way I went about doing them.

Ricky Gibson said...

Wonderful blog , beautiful people .

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. I miss my mother very much also

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