Check your blood pressure

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer October 10, 2012 02:08 pm
The call came from my uncle Alan on a Monday evening. “Your mom has had a stroke and is in the hospital.”

The next day the family was gathered in the hospital 400 miles away while I was at work and I got another call. They handed the phone to my 79-year-old mom, and she couldn’t talk. I knew something was desperately wrong. Usually, Mom held up 90 percent of the conversation when I called her each Monday, what I call Mom’s Day. 

She’d tell me about senior center lunches, bus trips she and my stepdad, Lou, had gone on and about her plans for a fifth trip to India. 

Now I would have to do her part of the conversation — and mine too.

I called Teri, my wife, and there was no hesitation. We needed to go see Mom. Work could wait. This was a family emergency. A time to set priorities. I asked my publisher if I could go for a few days to see Mom and got the green light. It was a big step for me, Mr. Worker Bee, Mr. Responsibility, The Provider, but all the unknowns about Mom were driving me crazy. I could not focus on work anyway.  

Teri and I set out on Wednesday morning for the 400-mile drive to the hospital where Mom was being treated. When we arrived, I realized it was as bad as I had feared. Worse maybe. Mom could no longer talk or write. Her right side was essentially paralyzed. I wondered if I had made my last Mom’s Day phone call and how I would communicate from 400 miles away in the future. I could not make the drive every weekend, or even every month. Or could I? The future is uncertain.

Uncle Alan and Aunt Joan insisted we stay at their “bed and breakfast.” We gladly said yes. Their hospitality helped make a rough transition smoother. It was peach cobbler,  vanilla ice cream with cherry marbling and chocolate for everyone. And elk steak from their ranch. Their guest bedroom was like a museum, cramped with memorabilia, from a picture of my dad, his two brothers and their parents taken by the Springfield News for a ranch profile story to a picture of John Wayne.

More quality years ahead

Meanwhile, on Friday Mom got transferred to our first choice rehab center, one of the best in the Northwest. The doctors and nurses seemed competent and compassionate. She would undergo all sorts of therapy — physical, occupational, speech, the works — in an attempt to make her as independent as possible. She is only 79. She could have many more quality years ahead.

Her husband, Lou, meantime, returned to the Tacoma area, where their homes are. It was sad to see them split up, temporarily. But Mom needed this time to focus on rehabilitation. Lou needed to get the home fires in order, and his family needed to help him with his own health issues to see what they could do to keep him independent. Mom could no longer watch out for him, as she has for several years now, since their marriage in 2009. It had been happy years for my mom, after 12 years of loneliness since my dad died in 1997 of multiple myeloma, a bone cancer.

Mom’s story has a lesson for all of us. Mom’s issues were brought on by blood pressure being too high for too long. Her blood pressure ranged in the 150 area, and her heart muscle, like any muscle that is overworked, became enlarged. A couple of years ago, knowing she had some blood pressure issues and disliked regular doctoring, I bought her as a present a blood pressure monitor. Simple gadget. Easy to use. Mom used it a couple of times but then set it aside. I encouraged her a few times but did not want to nag.

The bigger lesson is, if you have high blood pressure, get it treated. Too much is at stake. Maybe through therapy Mom will communicate again. I have to be optimistic. But I will take it a day at a time and use Mom’s story as inspiration for me and Teri to do better with nutrition and exercise. And doctoring. I too hate to pay the high price of preventive health care. But it is less than major medical, believe me.

We continue on, a day at a time. The Serenity Prayer flies with us.


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