In every person’s life there comes a moment where they realize the fragility and mortality of their parents. Mine came in March of 2011 when I had a conversation with my mother that shook me to my core.
First, a bit of background. My gorgeous, warm, sharp mother had diabetes for almost a decade and high cholesterol for 7 years. It was managed via metformin for diabetes and statins for the cholesterol. She also struggled with her weight for decades.
She also suffered from pains in her legs for years and to our shame we (her family and her doctor who should have known better) dismissed her complaints as the result of being overweight and not exercising.
Coming from a culture that does not believe in taking pills, my mother disliked taking her metform but truly loathed taking the statins. She took them because her doctor prescribed it and she, like so many, has an unwavering respect for doctors. However, she protested in her way by refusing to take increased dosages of each medication, especially the statins which she instinctually distrusted.
She also recalled how when she was first diagnosed with high cholesterol by her family doctor and a specialist, the nurse and her pharmacist privately disagreed with the diagnosis, confiding that the numbers were not bad and that she could control her cholesterol levels via diet. Faced with conflicting advice, she decided to go with the doctors’ diagnosis and recommendation cause again…good ole respect for doctors.
Year after year, her bad cholesterol rose. Year after year, her A1C1 diabates number rose. She took to heart everything her doctor recommended, including eating a low-fat, whole-grain “heart” healthy diet and to no avail. All the indicators rose. Her blood pressure even rose to the border
Physically, she was finding it difficult to climb the stairs. She often would use her hands and feet to go up the steps cause using her legs only proved too painful. If she sat down, it was a struggle to get up. She always begged for foot and leg massages to alleviate the pain in her limbs. Her diet, rich in heart-healthy whole grains like oats and whole wheat bread, left her hungry. Whenever she ate injera, which is a flat, pancake like bread common to Eritrea and Ethiopia, she would suffer greatly from GERD, to the point of going to the emergency room. In response to her worsening symptoms, her doctor recommending an increase in metformin and statin dosages, which, to her credit, she adamantly refused to do.
One day in March of 2011, while her and I were having a conversation, she mentioned that she was having issues with her memory. While working, she would have to look at the clock a million times cause she couldn’t recall the time. At church, after mass, she had several embarrassing moments where she would greet people and then 10 minutes later greet them again as if meeting them for the first time.
A tinge of ice entered my heart when she told me all this but for her sake, I kept calm and re-assured her she was just having a senior moment. Of course, privately I didn’t believe what I was saying. Senior moment, my butt. My mother was in her mid-50s. She is too young to start having short-term memory loss.
A week later, I had a three-way conversation with my mother and her brother in the US. It was a 2 hour-long, enjoyable, funny and raucous talk, in only the way my mother and her brother can be.
Three days later, my mother called me for some small matter and then lamented that she hadn’t talked to her brother in months.
I felt a sharp pain in my heart. With great hesitation, I reminded my mother that her, my uncle and myself had a very long conversation only a couple of days ago. There was a long pause while I waited for my mother to respond.
“I don’t remember”, she said.