In the Business of Caring — Satisfaction Guaranteed

The evolution of the parent-child relationship can be a difficult sea to navigate. How an object from the past became a guiding beacon.

The early morning calmness of the hospital waiting room will end soon. One stranger and I are the sole occupants of the room, neither of us interested in becoming acquainted. The silence is diminishing as the hallways begin to fill with the sounds of ringing phones and chattering voices. Other anxious family members will soon begin arriving, reaching out for conversation to distract them from their nervous anticipation for the well being of loved ones.

I don’t look forward to my involuntary inclusion into their troubled lives. I close my eyes and release a heavy sigh knowing the inevitability of what is to come. Strangers find me approachable. A phenomenon I’ve always found baffling.

On the inside, I protect my heart from connecting to too many people, I tend to distance myself emotionally. On the outside, I’ve been told I have a wholesome look. I’m still not certain if that is a compliment or a dig, but it is accurate. Modest makeup, a simple hairstyle and practical clothing suggest I’m not a rebel or a diva.

As strangers reach out in my direction for support, I usually oblige and provide a steadying hand to calm their anxieties. Today, I try not to make eye contact. I prefer to stay selfishly cocooned in my own bubble as this day dawns. Caring about the plight of strangers would only serve to divert my attention from the more important task at hand. Today, focus must remain on being an advocate for my loved one.

The polar extremes of love and hate don’t come easily to me. The heat of passion doesn’t course through my veins. I hate dealing with all things medical. Yesterday my mother referred to the installation of a pacemaker in her chest as surgery and the physician’s assistant interrupted her to educate us that, “We don’t refer to this as surgery. We call it a procedure.” Really? That’s what is important to you right now? This 79-year-old woman is bravely swallowing the fear of being cut open and becoming partially cyborg and you are concerned with semantics.

I shoot a disapproving glare in the direction of the physician’s assistant. She is confidently oblivious to my visual condemnation of her bedside manner. My focus has momentarily shifted to contemplating the systemic problems of today’s healthcare environment. A business drowning in a sea of patients and attempting to navigate through an armada of insurance company rules and regulations.

I’m not certain if the root of the problem lies in logistics, time management or empathy. Regardless of the source, the output is a diminishing ability of the current healthcare system to process a growing population. I suspect solutions exist to heal the industry if only people would make the time to listen and change.

Too many egos and personal agendas clinging to antiquated methodologies and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge a changing society. Diversion is easier than attacking the problem head-on. Maintaining the status quo is simpler than adapting to socioeconomic shifts and technological advancements. I know it’s a common dilemma we all face in ways great and small. We are only human, and we are doing our best to keep afloat.

In the interim, I must be diligently watchful for medication errors and negligent care. I mentally prepare for the lack of communication and the deflection of blame as hours are lost waiting in lobbies, patient rooms, and hospital cafeterias.

I’m to be an advocate and ask the right questions but I lack the knowledge to know what the right questions are. The internet is my main tool to educate myself on symptoms, side effects, treatments and management of various conditions. In spite of misinformation and snake oil salesmen, the internet can be a life preserver, keeping us buoyant in the ocean of healthcare.

Experience reminds me that the hospital stay is where the caregiving begins, not where it ends. Eventual release from the facility will be accompanied by a packet of information carefully constructed by a team of legal professionals. A packet containing thin, meager lifelines much too weak to be functional when later tossed in the direction of help.

The rant inside my mind sounds long winded when in fact it was quite short lived. Like the flash of a camera momentarily intruding into the shadows, leaving an imprint and dispersing silently into the darkness. The forefront of my thoughts must return to caregiving to this woman who gave me life, nurtured my existence and diligently molded my character. Our roles are blurring at a pace that is gaining momentum with each passing year.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Tick, tock …

A sniffling little girl sporting a scraped knee from a bicycle accident searched out her mother’s healing touch. You’ll be fine. Get back on your bike only be more careful and watch where you’re going.

Tick, tock …

An awkward late bloomer coming to terms with intellect, eyeglasses, and figure flaws is protected by her mother’s assurance that she is beautiful, special and destined for great things in life. What you are on the outside is not as important as who you are on the inside. Think about how boring the world would be if we were all exactly the same.

Tick, tock …

A broken-hearted teenager seemingly devastated by hormone-driven drama and oblivious to the agony and depth of true pain is bandaged by her mother’s comfort and wisdom. Everything happens for a reason. Your perfect match is out there. Be patient.

Tick, tock …

A young career woman planting the seeds of a new life is empowered by her mother’s encouragement to stand strong and be her own hero. Find strength in independence. Always be able to take care of yourself.

Tick, tock …

A mother’s assurances of happily ever after calms the nervous anticipation of a young bride. You have applied the wisdom of patience and found your perfect match. Enjoy your life together.

My mother and I are not unique. The story of our life mirrors the lives of mothers and daughters around the globe. My mother has been the most constant and unfailing love of my life. Now it’s my turn to be her source of strength and encouragement; my turn to heal the wounds inflicted by the ravages of time.

I protect her as we navigate through medical facilities and “procedures”. I find helpful gadgets to diminish the difficulties she faces at home, living alone. I help with grocery shopping, bill paying, house cleaning, taking out the trash, etc. Our relationship has blossomed into the most meaningful of friendships nourished by the sunshine of joy and watered by the tears of tragedy.

Ironically, many of the chores I perform for her are identical to those found in a coupon booklet that I constructed and gave to her for Mother’s Day in 1972 when I was eight years old. This treasure was recently found in an old boot box full of photos and newspaper clippings. The three certificates inside the worn booklet cover are specifically for:

  • Washing dishes, dusting furniture, setting the table and taking out the trash.
  • Watering flowers, feeding the cat and dog, cleaning my room and being quiet.
  • Making my bed, sweeping the floor and helping to make dinner and supper.

The 3”x5” booklet is a pale peachy pink color. The body of the form is hand printed in dark blue marker proclaiming, “Satisfaction Guaranteed”. The full legal names of the recipient and benefactor are faintly designated in cursive with a pencil. The cover is made from construction paper and pinking shears were used to give its perimeter a jagged saw blade edge.

The certificates, cut from notebook paper, are slightly smaller than the cover. In the upper left corner, a hole has been torn through the cover and each of the three enclosed certificates. A pastel green ribbon, frayed and tied in a simple knot, connect the pages together.

Photos by author

As we marveled over this fabulous find, a realization took shape in my mind and a smile crept across my face. “Hey! You’re still cashing in on these coupons today!”, I exclaimed to Mom. For several minutes we sat at her kitchen table sharing a genuine laugh at the irony of the situation.

Over fifty years of caregiving passed between mother and daughter flashed before our eyes. A bridge between past and present was formed by a forty-seven-year-old Mother’s Day gift. As I took a mental picture of this moment, I knew we had both fully accepted our interchanging roles.

The sound of Mom’s post-procedure laughter fills my heart with gratitude, somehow softening my view of all things medical … just a little. Perspective changes everything. Mom has embraced the reality of needing my assistance now and then with everyday tasks, and I am no longer uncomfortable in the role of caregiver to her. That day in the hospital is a distant memory.

Now I look forward to collecting a cerebral album of mental photographs of the special little moments of happiness that we will share. Moments of conversation and laughter as we sit at Mom’s kitchen table or out and about in a restaurant as we search the metro area for the best biscuits and gravy. Laurie’s Kitchen is leading the competition so far.

I did take a quick peek at the coupons for any small print indicating time limitations. A careful examination of the coupon booklet concluded that there was indeed no expiration date listed on any of the pages. The coupons are legitimately valid for a lifetime of caregiving. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Ex-accountant, lifetime cat lover and avid wearer of hats. Exploring a creative path during the second half of my existence.

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