In relative terms, visiting rights are a minefield
MY mother knows how to lay on a guilt trip. First she calls up from Arizona for medical advice.
“I don’t want to worry you, but I just took my blood pressure and it is 190/110.”
I ask her to lie down and repeat the measurement in 10 minutes. It goes down to 80/60. For the next few days I get calls with wildly fluctuating readings.
“Are you upset over anything?” I ask.
She doesn’t speak the words, but I know the meaning of her silence. “My children never visit me.”
This is an exaggeration. Both of my brothers were at her bedside in intensive care four years ago after she collapsed with takotsubo cardiomyopathy.
She was expected to haemorrhage to death when the balloon catheter assisting her heart was removed. A morphine drip was placed by her bedside to ease her out gently and still I didn’t come. But I was in close phone contact with her and explained my tough-love rationale.
“Parents always die when the last child arrives.”
“Really?” she asked.
“Yes. I’m not coming. You have to get better.”
My strategy worked. And didn’t I pop over for a visit once she was back home?
I decided not to remind my mother of the episode. Instead, I instructed Mum to call her doctor and get an urgent appointment. She was put on an ACE inhibitor. I continued to receive her phone calls reporting labile readings.
The next thing I heard was that my older brother was coming to visit her from interstate for her birthday in a week’s time. Mum was really excited.
“And what would you like from me for your birthday?” I asked.
There was silence again.
“Okay, Mum, I’m going to be there for your birthday, too.”
After I cancelled patients, organised international and domestic flights to coincide with my brother’s arrival, coordinated a shuttle for the final 2.5-hour journey to her house, went through three different companies to obtain the most comprehensive travel health insurance for the US that I could get, and called all my patients on warfarin to make alternative plans for follow-up, Mum called again.
“I’ve decided that I don’t want you to come if it is going to be any strain on you,” she said.
“It’s no strain at all,” I lied, holding back tears of exhaustion. I didn’t even mention my biggest fear: trying to remain healthy amid a horde of patients with swine flu. (Meanwhile, I begged a box of Tamiflu at the local pharmacy just in case.)
A few days later I got the final pre-departure call. Mum was considering the deeper implications of our visit.
“You know, I’ve been thinking... what if you and your brother want to sleep and I want to watch TV?”
Her blood pressure stabilised and we stayed in her flat without incident. We celebrated Mum’s 83rd birthday with a cake full of whipped cream. (That’s what lipid-lowering medication is for, right?)
Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the development of another miracle drug – one that rids the body of excess guilt.