Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Summer Months (An Essay I Wrote about my Mother's Experiences with Menopause)

My mother was a very energetic, spirited, 51-year-young woman when she had a massive stroke. Although the stroke did not steal my mother’s life, the stroke robbed my mother of so many other valuable gifts that a healthy life brings. Her ability to understand had been dimmed and had somewhat of a delay. Her memory was brutally assaulted by the stroke and was left permanently injured. Although she was not paralyzed, her strength was depleted. She was extremely weak and rather slow when she would move. Needless to say, all of this frustrated her intensely.

After my mother’s stroke, my repertoire of hats expanded. I would wear the nursing hat when I needed to check her blood pressure several times through out the day, listen to the rhythm of her sometimes irregular breathing, and make sure that all of my mother’s medicine was administered properly. I would throw on my social worker hat when I needed to act as an advocate on her behalf to make sure that she was receiving all of the community based services that was available to her. I through on my speech therapist hat when I would help her use the correct word to identify and object, and when I would help her remember simple things, like what city she lived in, the name of the school that she taught at for 25 years, and the date that she entered this world. One of the hats that I liked to wear the most was the comforting daughter hat. I would tell her that no matter what, life was going to get better. And you know what… It did.

About a year after her stroke, my mother’s blood pressure was better controlled, the amount of pills that she had to take in one day had decreased from around 30 to half of that. She was receiving all of the community-based services that were available to her. She started remembering more. She even stopped getting her words mixed up. When she meant to say curtain, she said curtain. When she meant to say door, she said door. She even started believing that my words of hope, “Everything is going to get better, Mama.” Were true.

Just when I thought we were reaching a place that Mama had adjusted to her new life, an unexpected, violent, hormonal tsunami crashed into my mother. The attacker seemed to swallow her whole. In just a matter of seconds my mother would be dripping in her own perspiration, screaming, “I’m hot! Yall aren’t hot?” She was so confused. I told her, you’re probably going through menopause. She was now 53-years-old. At least 4 to 6 times a day, my mother would have these flashes of extreme heat and extinguishing sweat attacks.

I made an appointment for my mother, who was growing more and more confused about these strange feelings of fire that would singe her from inside and out. The doctor immediately said that the symptoms were classic menopause symptoms. He had the tech to draw some blood. The next day, he called to only tell me what I already knew. My mother was very menopausal. He told me that she would just have to get some over the counter medication and endure it the best she could.

My mother was furious. She wanted the doctor to take away these senseless episodes of extreme heat and perspiration. She asked me in the most innocent and concerned voice, “All women have to go through this?” “Yes, ma’am… All women eventually go through this.” She replied in a childlike manner, “Well, I’m not going to be able to make it. I think these hot flashes are going to take me out.”

I silently chuckled. “Mama, menopause is not going to kill you. Millions of women, including your mother and grandmother, survived it. Plus, you been through worse and survived. Menopause is nothing. It’s temporary.”

This time my comforting daughter hat must have not been fitted properly on my head. She didn’t find solace in my words. I didn’t tell my mother that the doctor also said that my mother could be experiencing these symptoms for years. I knew it would send her heart shattering in little pieces. But I did tell God. I prayed and asked Him to send the menopause along its way.

Days, weeks, and even a few months went by. The flames were still scolding my mother and leaving her dripping in her own sweat. But as more days, weeks, and months came by, the rages of heat that my mother had become so familiar with had walked off center stage and hid in the wings. Every now and then, the heat finds its way back on stage. But it mostly waits in the wings.

My mother, the beautiful woman, with the heart of a child and the endurance of a racehorse, was starting to feel better again. In my opinion the stroke altered her life severely. But it was the menopause that lit a match and waved it at my mother’s certainty that the future was filled with hope and peace. I’m as glad as she is that the hormonal summer has cooled off. Now that the greenhouse effect in my mother’s body has reduced its rein, my mother and I can continue on our voyage to help her find happiness, strength, and new life, after a stroke.

No comments: