I wrote this piece in its entirety in the ten hours of my mother’s surgery, and spent the next two years revising it. (Thanks to Jennifer Bowen Hicks, Jericho Parms, Catherine Buni, and Kristopher Jansma for your words and time in this.)
In what I can only file under Extremely Unfortunate Ironies, the week after editor Ben Woodard let me know they would publish the essay I learned while visiting my mother in Kansas that two of the titanium rods the surgeon had implanted in her spinal column had broken.
I’d known something was horribly wrong the minute we arrived in Kansas for a visit, as she now walks bent over at a 45-70 degree angle from the waist, she couldn’t sleep in anything but one particular easy chair, and I quickly discovered she was again taking the narcotic pain medicine she’d become addicted to after the last surgery and finally kicked just last October.
I’ve had intimations of her condition for the past few months, and knew that her primary care physician, a family practice guy, had thrown up his hands and said he didn’t know what was wrong and couldn’t help her. With help from my stepmom, a nurse, I found an internist group that my mom had made her primary care group at the start of the summer. They did x-rays on her back the day I arrived in Kansas, and gave my mom the news about the broken rods on the last day. This was the least sunny part of my summer.
My mother has her corrective surgery this week, which will be as invasive as the first surgery. I’m feeling sad, angry, and hopeless as I leave for Kansas to assist in whatever small ways I can. And I’m sorry that I can’t offer a happy ending - or an ending of any kind – to the story that began with “Meditating Underwater.”
Out with my wife last night, I told her (as I’m getting better at doing) about this black hole I feel growing inside me every time I think about my mother. I’m generally not a person who cries, but I just sobbed silently in my seat on the Metro North for most of my trip to my first day of classes this morning.
Have a great day!