“Punkie, something’s not right between my legs,” Mom said out of the blue a few days after Christmas in 2007. I was still home with her from Dubai for the holidays; I was due to return there shortly.
“What do you mean Mom?” I asked.
“There’s a lump,” she said. “Between my legs. Sometimes it hurts.”
“What do you want me to do Mom?”
“Can you take a look Punk? Maybe you can see what it is,” she said.
I felt a little uncomfortable. I’m not a nurse, or a midwife, I’d never been up close and personal with my mother’s private parts before, but she was clearly distressed and wanted me to help her. Then this thought: her most intimate space is my birthplace. Her belly was my first home on this earth. Suddenly it was okay.
We went upstairs to her bedroom. She took off her pants and lay down on the bed. A smooth and kind of pointy bump protruded from her vagina. My heart thumped in my chest, then skipped a couple of beats. A tumour? Whatever it was, I could see how it would be extremely uncomfortable.
“I think we should go to the hospital Mom,” I said, keeping my voice calm and natural, though I felt anything but. She put her pants back on, and we drove to the emergency room in town, about ten miles away. It turned out to be a prolapsed uterus, which, after subsequent visits to the gynecologist over a period of months, was tucked up and held in place with a rubber-doughnut-like device called a vaginal pessary.
Now it’s Christmas Day 2013. I’ve brought Mom to the safe haven of my home for a quiet day together. “Owwwww,” she winces when she sits in her favourite chair. She squirms in an effort to get comfortable, her face a grimace of pain.
“What is it Mom?” I ask.
“It hurts,” she says. “It hurts.” Mom has complained of pain for about a week. “Something’s wrong with my insides,” she says. Or, “My tummy hurts.” When I ask her to show me where, she puts her hands between her legs.
“Mom says she has pain in her groin,” I say to whomever the charge nurse is each day, even though I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I am NOT to ask questions or make observations about Mom’s care. But she is in such obvious discomfort, I have to say something; I can’t stay silent while she suffers.
“Oh?” whichever nurse is on duty invariably answered. “She hasn’t mentioned anything. She seems fine.”
When I arrive at the facility on Christmas Eve, I find Mom at the table in the kitchenette that serves as a dining room for the “lockdown” residents. Unusually, the charge nurse, DeeDee, is feeding another resident, Camille, across the table from Mom. That task is normally reserved for the caregivers. Probably short staffed. I sit down at my mother’s side. “How are you Mom?” My standard greeting.
“Not so good, Punk,” she says.
“Do you have any pain Mom?” Also standard.
“Yes, right here,” she replies putting her hand in her lap. I look over at the nurse. “Did you hear that, DeeDee?” I ask to confirm what I had shared with her the day before, and others in the days before that.
Nurse DeeDee lifts a puree-filled spoon to Camille’s lips and says: “I’ll make a note of it in the book.” I sigh, and turn my attention back to Mom. Later, I’ll make my own handwritten note in my own notebook as my lawyer has suggested I do.
That was yesterday. Now, today, Christmas Day, Mom is still visibly in pain.
“Something’s wrong. It hurts,” Mom repeats. She squiggles around in the armchair, winces again, clutches the armrests and pushes, lifts her bottom up from the seat, sucks in her breath, holds it. She isn’t fine at all. I hadn’t been able to do anything about her complaints while we were at the facility, other than to talk to the walls, but this is my home, it’s just Mom and me, and I’m free to do as I wish.
“Do you want me too look Mom? Maybe I can see what’s the matter.” I offer while Celine Dion sings These Are the Special Times in the background.
“We need to do something,” she says. “Because I can’t go on like this.”
We shuffle into my bedroom where I’ve placed a low single bed at the foot of my much higher king so Mom doesn’t have to sleep in a chair when she’s tired during a visit. I fetch a pair of medical gloves, which I have on hand for changing her incontinence briefs, and put a pink towel on top of the white duvet on the bed. She takes her pants off; I help her with the brief, and she lays down, just as she did six years before. She has barely opened her legs when I spot something thin, dark and undoubtedly foreign within the folds of her flesh. What the hell is that? I pinch whatever it is between my thumb and forefinger and gently extract it.
“Ouch!” Mom cries.
It looks like a cornflake. I squeeze it; it doesn’t break. Not a cornflake. It’s about an inch long and three-quarters of an inch wide, perfectly curved and smooth on one side, rough and knobbly on the other. I roll it around in my fingers: the hard cornflake-like thing has jagged, razor-sharp edges. Tears well in my eyes. Poor Mom. This whatever-it-is has been lacerating her vagina for days. A rush of anger dries the tears as quickly as the thought of her pain prompted them. I grab my iPhone from the top of the dresser, tap the camera icon, slide to video and press the red record button.
The remainder of the afternoon is magic. Free from the pain that has tormented her for days, Mom is peaceful, happy and relaxed. We sit and admire the fragile glass and crystal ornaments sparkling on my tree. We sing along with Celine to our favourite carols. We talk, laugh, and enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company. Together, we cook a fine dinner of sautéed shrimp, steamed broccoli with butter, and apple rice; dessert is dark chocolates and spiced tea. Not a traditional Christmas meal to be sure–no turkey, no turnips, no brussel sprouts–but it’s delicate, delightful and delicious.
There are other gifts, strange and unexpected perhaps, but gifts nevertheless. For one, I am grateful to have been able to ease Mom’s pain as she had mine on countless occasions throughout my life. Most important, it is a special time, a precious time, a tender time.