San Mateo, California, USA

I’m very sorry that we have been MIA for a few weeks BUT you will be relieved to know that we have been (merely) holed up in my native hood.

My mom was admitted to the hospital on the 19th of January with a staph infection. I don’t know a lot about staph but I do know that it’s a potentially dangerous bacteria that a lot of people carry around with them; sometimes it gets out of control when your immune system is weak. In my mom’s case, she had come down with the flu the day after Christmas and couldn’t hold down her rheumatoid arthritis meds. A few days later, she started to feel better but then her left ankle became extremely swollen and painful. Her doctor upped her med dosages in an attempt to ease the swelling; an X-ray revealed that she had multiple hairline fractures throughout her foot. (She doesn’t know exactly how she got these fractures but has recently remembered that while she was sick with the flu she had turned her ankle a few times in her new, fluffy slippers. Her ankle has so much damage in it from the rheumatoid arthritis that it was easy for the bones the break.) Her podiatrist ordered a “boot” for her to wear on her injured foot; it gave support so that she could get around and go back to work. Well, she returned to work and the next day woke up with excruciating pain in her back. (My mom thinks that the boot may have been too heavy for her to move easily and also made her walk unevenly, and that this is what caused her back problem.) She could barely move and her G.P. ordered a synthetic-morphine patch (as well as bed rest). A few days later, my sister Michele came to visit my parents and found my mom almost delirious with a 105 F degree temperature. Mam couldn’t remember simple facts (like, where she keeps her medications) and Michele decided to call the doctor. He told her to get Mam to the hospital as soon as possible and, because my mom could barely move, Michele called the ambulance.

After many hours and a full day of tests the doctors figured out that Mam had a staph infection (as well as a bulging disk in her back). She was immediately put on strong antibiotics and had them administered every six hours through an IV. She had an infectious disease specialist (Dr. Lindquist) as well as a neurosurgeon (Dr. Base) as well as her regular doctor (Dr. Steyer). (I will leave out her rheumatologist and podiatrist…).

Meanwhile, halfway across the world, I was freaking out and worrying about what was happening with my mom. After much discussion, Casey and I decided to use my dad’s travel companion passes and catch a plane from Singapore to San Francisco. My mom was admitted to the hospital early Sunday morning and Casey and I flew out a two days later. At this point we were unsure as to how far the infection had spread; the danger was that it had entered her heart. If it had, she would need four to six weeks of antiobiotics. If not, and it was just in her blood stream, a two week course would clear it up.

The first time I saw my mom, she was so pale and weak and barely there. What I mean is, the antibiotics had taken away her spark and her personality; the only bit that remained was the soft, helpless side. She was doped up and wiped out.

After sixteen days of hospital care, my mom was a free woman. I won’t go into details of those days…anyone who has had a parent in the hospital knows what it is like. The dynamics of the relationship change and the person who used to be the caregiver becomes the taker (and, if they are like my mom, they are not happy about it). But, for me, it was a chance to show my love for my beautiful mother and to give back to her some of the care and patience she has shown me throughout my life.

Now Mam is home. She is using a walker until her back gets stronger and her body recuperates from the infection. She is making good progress (she can sit up longer–an hour at a time–before the pain becomes too intense) but sometimes she wants to do more than she should. I keep reminding her that she needs to take it slowly or else her body will react and she’ll be back where she started. She is taking lots of pain medication as well as the usual meds for her diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis; I had to write them all down so that I could help her to keep track of them.

Casey and I will stay in the Bay Area until the end of February; we are due to meet our friends Gary, John and Ooi in Thailand around that time. Hopefully Mam will be a lot better by then and my dad will be able to help her with the things that she needs. Right now she needs help getting dressed and washed and help when she goes to bed (or even gets up to use the bathroom or eat at the table). But, today she put on her pants by herself and yesterday she walked outside (with the help of the walker) for about five minutes. Each step is small but significant. She has been through a lot in her life and I already knew that she’s a strong woman who’s not afraid of pain. When I think of all the physical discomfort she has had to put up with in the past few weeks (an echogram procedure in which they put a tube down your throat and run it to your heart; a picc line inserted; and, when Michele and I couldn’t be there to do it, a stranger washing your body and taking care of humiliating, personal matters) as well as the intense pain that she still deals with today, I feel even prouder of my mom than I have ever felt before.