Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stress has the power to destroy you or strengthen you. Which will it be? (Part 2 of 3)

Perhaps a couple hours after I called for the family to come to the hospital to see their dying loved one, the grandchildren arrived with their parents. Because the hospital staff pretty much thought that Mama would soon be dead, they allowed the kids, who were all beneath the age requirement, to visit with their granny in the ICU.

By this time, the breathing device that they had Mama on was really helping her breathe better. And the result of better breathing was more oxygen in her blood. Likewise, the result of more oxygen was greater coherence. Mama was awake! I was so afraid that she would not be able to know that the kids were by her bedside.

All three of the kids stood around her bed with concerned looks on their innocent faces. My mother peered at the kids over the massive oxygen mask that covered her nose and mouth. I hoped that seeing them would remind her why living was important. She held their hands as they spoke to her in their fearful, yet faith-filled voices.

Then shortly after the kids visited with Mama, her personal physician arrived to speak with her. He came as her doctor, as well as her friend. He advised her to give the dialysis a try and to go ahead and have the transfusion. Knowing her history, Dr. Simms defied the recommendation of death from the other doctors. He felt that despite Mama’s tiring soul, she could overcome this major health challenge. I stood at her bedside while he was talking to her, nodding my head, showing her that I fully supported Dr. Simms’ advice.

Finally, after seeing the kids and after talking with her loving doctor, my mother decided to sign the consent to have the transfusion and the dialysis. My heart was glad! However, my heart was also conflicted. I honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted Mama to live for me, or to die for herself.

I had so much to consider. If Mama was to die, I would have to plan a funeral. I wasn’t in the mood for that. But is anyone when that time comes?

If Mama was to die, I would have to figure out what I was going to do about a monthly income. I had given up my professional income twice in the last seven years to take care of Mama. If she was to die, I would then be left even more broke, simply because her annuity would die with her.

I thought about the house that at the time of purchase was such a blessing to us. If Mama was to die, I would have enough insurance money to pay the mortgage for 2 years. After that, I would either have to pay it myself or put the house up for sale.

As a woman with a significant disability, I shuttered at the thought that getting ajob to take care of myself would likely not come as fast as I would need it to. And I would be left with only one parent to make sure that my needs were met in the meantime. Then suddenly, fear gripped me even tighter.

I wondered if I was thinking about myself over Mama's right to choose to live or die. However, there was nothing in my body and mind that could allow me to passively stand by as my mother chose to give up. Yes, she was tired! Yes, she wanted to die! But we can't cash in our ticket, just because we're ready to go. That's not how it works. And you know who taught me that? My Mama!!!

Livinglife with a chronic illness and/or disability often comes with feelings of weariness and thoughts of a final resting place. So, I was no stranger to this feeling. But I happen to think that disability is not the end of the road. So, one of the reasons why I rejected the doctors' advice was because I, a woman with a disability, understand the struggles of living with illness and disability. And I believe that each of us have the power to overcome these feelings of weariness if we lean on God and loved ones. So, that's what I was doing. I was standing by as a loved one, who didn't want my mother to give up on living, just because she was disabled and sick.

So much to think about! So many things to consider!

I shook myself and reminded myself that Mama’s life or death was in the hands of the One we call God. I reminded myself that my life was also in His hands. There was no need to be afraid, anxious, or depressed. There was no need to feel like Mama was giving up. Because if it was indeed her time to leave us and go meet with God, the decision rested with the One who sculptures both life and death.

I went to bed with one prayer. May God’s will be done in Mama’s life. I didn’t pray for her healing. I didn’t pray for her suffering to end. I simply prayed that God’s will be made perfect in her life. And if that meant that she was going to live or die, I would have peace in knowing that God was in control.

**This is the second of three posts on this subject. Stay tuned for the third installment. I should have it written in a couple days.**

Angie Braden

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stress has the power to destroy you or strengthen you. Which will it be? (Part 1 of 3)

As unfortunate as it may seem, I’m quite familiar with stressful situations. Every since I was a small child, I’ve been confronted with relationships and circumstances that produce stress and anxiety. Honestly, I’ve learned to manage the stress; and perhaps I’ve learned to live, work, and have fun with stress being the constant backdrop. However, in the recent weeks, my stressometer has been turned up. And boy, oh boy… The stress had started to take a toll on me!

I can feel the stress in my body. My back has been hurting lately. And when I do sleep, it's not a peaceful sleep. I just sleep because I can't go any further.

My diet is wacked out. I'm dehydrated. I'm not working out. And I'm picking up weight at a speed that is depressing in itself.

What's got me so stressed out? Well, the usual. But there has been a little extra in the recent months that has left me exhausted.

For instance, my mother has been in the hospital for 29 days. Thankfully, she's doing much better than she was doing when she went into the hospital. Mama was so sick that I actually braced myself for her departure. That's truly how sick she was! The walls of death were closing in on Mama as she was being overcome by internal bleeding from an unknown spot, congested heart failure, pulmonary edema, kidney failure, hypertension, diabetes, irregular heart rate, and seizure disorder. She was so ill that many of the doctors started conversing with me about perhaps giving my mother medicine to help her have a peaceful exit. I was even faced with making a decision on whether to resuscitate or not, in case she went into respiratory or cardiac arrest.

When it looked like she was going to die, a storm of emotions washed over me. I was sad that my mother, a woman of so much strength and resilience, had suffered so intensely over the last few years. I hated that this painful opera seemed to be approaching its tragic finale. I cried because I hated to see Mama's life, a life that has been filled with countless acts of kindness and selflessness, end with such pain and sorrow. I cried because I had no power to stop the further decline of her already poor health. I wept because what was happening to her seemed so unjust and so cruel.

I sat in the waiting area, closed my eyes, and considered that perhaps was now the time to say goodbye. However, my spirit just couldn't wrap my mind around that idea. I begin to struggle with myself, as I considered that perhaps I didn't want Mama to die because I'm truly scared of living without my parents. I prayed and asked God to prepare me for what was to come. I asked God to wrap His arms around me so that I would know that no matter what, I am never alone.

That night when I got home, I bathed my weary body and crept into the safety of my bed. But peace was not waiting for me under those covers. My head hit the pillow, and I immediately was whisked away into a tragic time machine. I began contemplating the last seven years. I was being drug through my past like James Byrd was violently drug through the streets of Jasper, Texas.

I thought about how one second, one blood clot, and one cerebral brain attack had changed my mother’s one chance at living a happy, peaceful life. I thought about how Mama’s personality was drastically altered, how her physical strength was diminished, how her ability to understand complex information was damaged, and how her ability to employ speech to communicate ideas, thoughts, and requests effectively was forever stolen. My mother, who was then an accomplished elementary school teacher, is now an extremely ill, significantly disabled woman, and it’s all because of a stroke. All of that makes my heart so sad.

Earlier that afternoon when I was at the hospital with Mama, doctors surrounded me, trying to convince me that it was perhaps time to let my mother go. They told me how Mama had conveyed to them earlier in the day how she was tired of living, and how she did not want the recommended treatment that could delay her eventual demise. By the time I got to the hospital, Mama was being poisoned by carbon dioxide, which was slowly entering her blood stream due to her inability to breathe. I tried and tried to wake her up to talk her out of this death wish she apparently made clear to the hospital staff. However, our conversation was quickly being interrupted by lethargic reactions to her rising respiratory failure. I couldn’t keep Mama up for more than 60 seconds!

I got right in her face and started telling her that if she refused the blood transfusion and the dialysis she would be dead in a matter of days. She nodded and went back to sleep. I nudged her and told her that she should want to live for the grandchildren. But mama looked at me and said that she didn’t care.

Even my darling friend, Chad, was trying to convince Mama to hold on, and to consider the medical treatment that could save her life. She woke up long enough to tell him to make sure that he sat with the family at the funeral! Mama even told my friend, Chris, to be ready to have words at the funeral service. And no matter how persistent my friend, Heather, was Mama still continued to express how death was the only good thing for someone in her condition.

Tears violated me, making my private anguish public. Tension squeezed my brain, and all the nerve endings on my body came to life as I considered a life with a lifeless mother. I stopped berating my obviously tired, clearly incoherent mother with my desires, and reluctantly backed off to let her rest in peace.

I asked my friend Chris to pray for my mother before she loss full consciousness, and then I called my sisters to inform them of what was going on. I instructed them to bring the grandchildren, with the consideration that it may be their last time seeing their grandmother alive.

**Tomorrow, I’ll post the second part of this narrative. Stay tuned! The second and third parts are not as intense. I promise!**

Angela L. Braden