I'm sitting in the half-dark watching and listening to my mom as she struggles to find a peaceful, restful balance between gasp-inducing pain and the loopy uncertainties of prescription pain medication 36 hours after undergoing shoulder surgery. She was told she'll probably need to sleep in a recliner for 6-8 weeks as she recovers, so she's now wrapped in an almost structural configuration of blankets and pillows arranged to keep her comfortable and stabilized and not too hot and not too cold on a borrowed electric recliner in our living room as I sleep on the nearby couch with a three-hour alarm set in perpetuity on my phone to ensure I give her her pain medications consistently on time.
This woman spearheaded a full-family battle for my health and my very sanity for years as my escalating bipolar depression clashed with a literally bewildering array of ramp-up and withdrawal side effects from increasingly desperate attempts to find the right cocktail of psych medications for me. My parents have helplessly watched me twitch and yell in my sleep, crawl like a blinded animal up the stairs from a drug-onset migraine, lie gray and unmoving in a hell of despondency in my bed, land in the ER after a blackout and a crash to the floor that was so catastrophic that the nurses assumed I was the victim of a violent assault, and stare emptily but gratefully back at them as they admitted me to a locked psych ward for what ended up being an eight-day stay. They've fought for me, they've stood by me, they've repatriated me ... and now it's my turn to start paying them back.
Mom seemed to be doing remarkably well in the first 24 hours after her surgery, but then the last of the nerve block wore off and waves of breathtaking pain started surging through her reawakened nerve channels, and we've watched helplessly as she's whimpered and cried and tried to keep a brave face through her pain and confusion and unsure self-awareness. But she knows she's loved and being cared for and watched over with the attentiveness she's given my whole family over the years. And she seems to be sleeping comfortably and productively at the moment.
I should be asleep right now too. The couch is all made up next to me and it's quite comfortable; this I know from endless days into nights into days that I spent on it as I fought my way back to sanity while sleeping as close to my parents as I could if I needed anything. But I'm rather enjoying sitting here with her in the dark, post-midnight quiet. The war-zone explosions of fireworks that kept alarming her and waking her up a few hours ago have died down, I just woke her to give her her midnight pain meds and a popsicle, she seems to finally be sleeping comfortably and restfully ... and her partial helplessness and need for me have me thinking that there will soon be more medical problems and more nights like this for both my parents ... until they simply won't have any more medical problems ever again. And I want to remember and savor these moments where I can care for and love them the way they have done for me.
When I got out of the hospital two and a half years ago and spent the next two years fighting to regain my own sense of normal, it became clear that I was going to spend this newest chapter of my life under their care. In return, I've promised them that I'll do everything in my power to keep them in their -- our -- home as long as I can as they get older. Because I can't imagine taking care of them any other way.
So here I sit. Watching the mother who showed me without fear or reservation how to love me and all my psychoses unconditionally as she suffers through what by all accounts will be a painful but successful healing process. But it is undeniably a harbinger of the future in our home. Which is scary in the abstract. But right now it's a present and a future managed with love and commitment and a deep, profound honor that I am able -- in no small part from the lessons and examples my parents have provided for me all throughout their selfless lives -- to care for them in the way they cared for me.
And it's all very peaceful.