“I need to be a writer.” I confessed.
“You are one.” He replied.
“How do you know?” I inquired.
“You said so.” And with those three words the conversation was complete.
“I need to be a writer.” I confessed.
“You are one.” He replied.
“How do you know?” I inquired.
“You said so.” And with those three words the conversation was complete.
Twenty-five years old and screaming at a monster.
This thing is thriving sitting in a chair.
It says “you’re scaring me.”
Because it knows she’s onto it.
It’s all consuming, like an octopus with tentacles in every place it can find.
It started out so small. Like a leech.
But this little thing grew.
It became a habit.
It went from a body that simply asked for an occasional favor
to a complete life sucking force.
It grew limbs, many of them.
And it latched itself on.
It speculated into the skin.
Its limbs grew around the outer appearance.
Twisting like old tree branches.
And then it reached inside.
It wrapped its way around the brain first.
Reliant on it now.
Seize without it now.
Crave it now.
Never enough for the same effect.
And then it made its way and entwined itself with the aorta,
And it finally took the organ that could clean it out.
It squeezed the vitality from the filter.
It poisoned the blood.
It choked out all last efforts.
A thief to its host.
It took full hold and it grew from the mouth,
Blocked off the ears,
And poured out the eyes.
This thing, this foreign body,
It was never a part of her.
But it couldn’t die unless it took her with it.
She’s twenty-seven now.
Successfully separating her from it.
The untangled mess on the floor lay before an adult child in the aftermath
One a lifeless, grotesque, cluster of mangled gore,
The other, a gentle, generous, kind, patient, loving, warm person.
The two are entirely different and no longer intertwined.
Sorted out and organized into their rightful distinct beings.
She rises from the floor and knows which one to carry along.
The other will rot in all that it deserves.
Good will always win, for that woman kept what is most dear.
What will be protected.
What will be beautifully bared fruit.
The type of character that always wins the day.
She walks away from all she needed to die to.
She walks toward all that God calls her for.
A beam of light, dim at first, brighter then, now ever brilliant.
From the depth of tremendous weakness came unquenchable strength.
Discernment-addiction is entirely separate from the person it consumes.
These things live in a place that no monster can engulf.
For only in Spirit are they truly unshakable.
#addiction #consumption #faith # hope #love
“How much of my mother has my mother left in me? How much of my love will be insane to some degree? And what about this feeling that I’m never good enough? Will it wash out in the water? Or is it always in the blood?”
-In the Blood, John Mayer
“Every patient you see is a lesson in much more than the malady from which he suffers.”
— William Osler
Keep a looking glass in your own heart, and the more carefully you scan your own frailties, the more tender you are for those of your fellow creatures.
— William Osler
“These things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”——-1 Corinthians 13:13
…is being able to admit that you have one.
I’ve always loved the name Jacob and I finally figured out why on a plane ride back to Rhode Island from San Diego when a particular bible story came to my attention. The dude was a total joke until he finally owned who he was. And to this I say…better late than never my friend!
If you’re not familiar with the story of Jacob in Genesis here’s a quick recap: He goes throughout a good portion of his life always faking who he is in order to win his fathers affection and be better than his brother Esau. In fact, there’s even this part in his story where he pretends to be his older brother to obtain a family inheritance and succeeds. And it really only brings him a bunch of heartache until he finally has this phenomenal wrestling match with a mysterious man. (Whether or not this man is supposed to represent God, I don’t know, but from my perspective I think he does.)
After an exhausting night the mysterious man exclaims that the dawn is breaking and that Jacob must let him go. Suprisingly Jacob refuses and says he won’t let the man go until he blesses him. The next part is absolutely awe inspiring. The man who has been wrestling with him all night simply asks Jacob what his name is and he replies “Jacob.” Seems like an appropriate answer. But then once Jacob finally owns who he is, God changes his name to Israel. After this point Jacob just starts getting rained on with blessings, including reconciling with his older brother.
I love this story because it depicts perfectly that we can’t fake our authenticity with God. Actually, it may be one of my all time favorite bible stories. It’s certainly up there. And if you don’t believe me, please pick up a bible and read Genesis 32:22-32. So here’s where I am going with this… Jacob’s wrestling match brings me to the topic of being vulnerable. (Gasp, squirm, cringe…I know! People hate to be vulnerable!)
It finally hit me after one of my recent EMDR sessions as to why I have such a problem when people don’t own who they are. For years I longed to hear my Mom admit she had an addiction to alcohol. To have gone back and processed that precious conversation has been life changing for me.
I felt as though I lived in this ongoing conflict of a young woman who wanted to scream at the tops of her lungs, owning the dysfunction of her family, but in actuality was being told to sweep such problems under the rug. The truth is alcoholic families struggle with having a lack of boundaries and if you don’t learn to sort them out it can be absolutely debilitating. My experience with this disease heightened after my sister moved away for college. My older sister wasn’t there to shield me anymore so when alcohol was being used in my house I became profoundly more aware of it. From ages 14 to 25, I experienced many intense circumstances that I hope most people never have to go through. Sometimes I wished my Mom was an overbearing parent during my teenage years, but if that had been the case, I suppose I would have struggled from another type of lack in boundaries.
At this very moment I see a glaring problem in society and a lot of it has to do with social media. We live in a world of constant comparison, superficial highlight reels, filtered photos and facades. It drives me crazy. Seriously. Not to mention the fact that people are becoming socially stupid (but that’s another topic for another day probably twenty years from now.) Everything is a competition to have the best vacation photo, the best engagement photo, the best caption. And all I see is fakeness. Short lived ego boosts that don’t depict real life.
So I just want to say this; being able to be vulnerable has altered the course of my life forever. After my mother passed away, I realized that there was one thing I couldn’t be fearless about; alcohol. I have not picked up a drink in almost two years and although I’m not an alcoholic there is this glaring fact in my life that I will not ignore; I have an overwhelming genetic predisposition to become one! (I own that. I will happily own that.)
When I decided to be sober for the rest of my life, I worried my friends would think of me differently or that I would be considered weird. After all, alcohol is everywhere and at the time there were very few people that I knew who didn’t drink. To not drink is vulnerable, it’s a little out there, it’s not the norm.
And here’s what I concluded…I do not care what people think of me when it comes to my not drinking. I’ll repeat it. I Do Not Care. And here’s why; I watched a woman who I admired and loved struggle with it for two decades and despite having a loving family and a wonderful support system, the addiction to alcohol still took her down. Genetically, I’m half her. (Thank God, because I am so proud to have been one of her two kids.).
Being half her from a genetic standpoint, the fact is: The odds of me not becoming an alcoholic if I continued drinking are not in my favor. While I’m being vulnerable, based on my former drinking patterns while in college and my years immediately after college, I’d actually say the odds of me becoming an alcoholic if I continued drinking would be “ever in my favor.” (Yes, if I continued drinking my life may in fact resemble the Hunger Games!)
All that said, if someone is going to judge me for not drinking, or dub me socially awkward for refraining from that social pastime then that’s really not my problem. And here’s the kicker, something happened when I made peace with that vulnerability. Not drinking became easy. Not drinking became one of the most natural things I have ever done.
Here’s the thing about vulnerability, you think that showing weakness won’t make you strong but the reality is it does. I think that’s why I so thoroughly enjoyed the last conversation I ever had with my Mom. She was so unpolished, raw, and VULNERABLE. So to the people out there who still struggle with addiction day in and day out whether it’s drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling etc…and you’re trying to walk around like you have it all together, guess what? God knows you’re trying to fool yourself and Him.
For children of alcoholics out there:
As far as the healing process goes…I used to be really angry. I mean who do you know who wouldn’t be angry after losing a beloved parent to an addiction? I used to be angry. I used to fear repeating her mistakes. I used to think I was never good enough. I used to think I was all alone in these experiences, that there were no other people out there who grew up in environments in which addiction was a very tangible thing. With the right resources, counseling and perhaps a touch of faith you can start saying “I used to” as well.
God will meet you in that space and place of deep processing and self examination. You just have to have the courage to go there.
Being vulnerable can save your life. Being vulnerable saved mine.
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
—Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
“I’m in repair. I’m not together but I’m getting there.”—In Repair by John Mayer
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”—Theodore Roosevelt
I’d like to write on the topic of intentionality for a moment. I think my last blog post has got people thinking that I’m trying to paint this picture of a terrible upbringing…and I’d like to be the first person to address it; that’s not what my intention is at all. Furthermore, my upbringing was amazing. (Note: I didn’t say it was perfect. But from my perspective, flaws accounted for and all…my upbringing was nothing short of amazing.)
I had a mother who encouraged me to pursue my dreams relentlessly. And a Dad who was steadfast, faithful and surefooted. My Mom had her issues (doesn’t everyone?) but she always told me that I could do anything I ever wanted. Even when I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career she told me to “give nursing a whirl.” She always knew I’d be able to rise to the occasion of a challenge. She knew my heart before I did. She knew I was a nurturer, someone who could see someone for who they really are and not discredit them because of their health, struggles or their demons.
So that said let me tell you another true story about the woman who was lost to this atrocious disease…
I was eight years old and swimming at a local swimming pool. My family used to sit in this grassy area near the deep end. We’d set up a blanket and chairs and bring snacks for the day. As a kid growing up my biggest problem was “adult swim” because it meant that the kids had to stay out of the pool for a half hour. Truly, at the time, that was my biggest problem.
Until I fell of the diving board.
I had been recently learning how to jump off the diving board and by this age was a decent swimmer. On this particular day I stepped up onto the diving board and sprung up and mis-stepped. I fell off the side of it and on the way down scraped the inside of my arm and the outside of my leg and knocked the wind out of myself.
I remember being in the deep end trying to catch my breath, and stay afloat. Then over the waves of other kids splashing around in the pool, I spotted my mother as she ran from the grassy field and hopped the fence in one swift motion. Two quick steps and she dove into the pool head first and swam directly for me. When she got me to the side of the pool I realized she was much quicker than the lifeguard on duty. The lifeguard was just getting to the side of the pool deck and my Mom had already rescued me.
I had never seen my Mom move so swiftly and so athletically. I had never seen her dive into a pool until that day. Until that moment, I never knew she had that type of strength in her. In fact, I was startled by it. I was intimidated by that kind of strength. She was so fierce in that moment. She must have been so alert and so present to have reacted that fast. I was a scraped up little girl just trying to keep her head above the water, but when I watched her hop that fence I knew everything would be okay.
Her instincts as a mother were remarkable. In fact when I think about it, she was a downright awesome human being. I apologize if I painted a picture of some of my traumatic experiences that would make you think anything less. Please know, that was never my intention. She was brave. An incredibly hard worker. She was driven and smart. She was awesome. And those adjectives don’t even begin to describe the depth of who she was. In fact, they don’t even scratch the surface. It makes me wonder how many other remarkable people suffer from this disease. It makes me want to fight for them and advocate for them. To be a voice.
I’d like to be perfectly clear, I had to go back and examine some traumatic things in order to heal. But the best way I can honor my parent is to exemplify everything she was about. Having found faith in Jesus Christ during the past year of my life, I have been blessed with the ability to thoroughly separate who she was as a person from the disease she suffered from. That disease did not define her. I credit my faith to having found that clarity. And truth be told, anyone who suffers from an addiction, in my opinion, is not defined by the thing that afflicts them.
The fact is this country loses tremendous people to alcohol related liver failure each and every day. And my dream is to help people be freed from it. To be honest, I think she’d tell me to pursue that relentlessly. I know she’d tell me to help educate others about what this disease can do to the human body. I know she’d tell me to be a helping hand to others and try to effect positive change in people’s lives. She’d tell me to try and get a surgeon general warning on every bottle of alcohol in the United States if I felt called to do that. (Which would be an ideal goal that would at least alert millions to the perils of what alcohol can do. As of currently there is only a governmental warning.)
I think she’d want me to aid in liberating people from addiction and tell others that it is perfectly okay to admit when you need help, when you need to go to AA, or when you need a professional therapist. In fact, while we’re on the topic of liberation; I see a therapist myself. I have been doing a type of therapy called EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) for several months now and I am convinced that it is one of the best things I will ever do for myself.
So here’s my message to others reading this…if you find yourself in the patterns of addiction, you don’t have to stay there. You don’t have to be imprisoned by it. Not talking about it certainly doesn’t help bring about change. And making the mistake of thinking you’re the only person out there who suffers from it, is exactly how you don’t ever find the support you need. If you’re the child of an alcoholic parent, pick out the good things you want to keep for yourself that your parents engrained in you and cultivate them. Look into EMDR therapy and then pursue treatment for the bad things. You don’t have to stay a slave to patterns and behaviors that deep down you don’t want for yourself.
My mother was one of the most generous people I have ever known. She left me a great opportunity to shed a lot of light on an incredibly dark situation that affects millions of people in this nation. She also gave me one of the best gifts I will ever have; compassion.
I am choosing to continue to carry on that legacy of generosity by sharing my struggles and my journey so that other children and adults who have struggled with similar scenarios can know that they are not alone. This blog is not about me or my trauma or even my mother’s problem, its about the good that can come out of all of that. My hope for all of you reading this is that you have courage to know that in your weakness you can find strength you never knew you had.
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.”—2 Corinthians 12:10
“Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”—Philippians 4:8
I’ll never forget the scene that followed after she came back from the hospital. It’s been burned into my memory forever.
“I’m going to go get us some food. Would you eat something if I brought it back Deb?”
“Sure, I’ll try and eat something. You didn’t even get to finish your food at the wedding Mike. You must be starving.” She said.
“I’ll be right back,” he said as he turned and closed the hotel room door behind him.
She was lying on the bed with her arms folded over her aqua knit top. Her black skirt covered to her knees but exposed the wound dressing on her left lower leg. It looked like it had finally stopped bleeding.
“This disease…” she trailed off as if in disbelief of her current state of health. “I’m so sorry.”
She didn’t cry and her voice didn’t crack. She was so matter of fact with her apology. As I stood there in that hotel room, in a simple black dress that I wore to the reception, I was nothing short of captivated by her. I had not seen her so sober and clear in years. And in that moment, it was her authenticity, and not her jaundice color that had my full attention. I climbed onto the bed and kneeled beside her.
“They wanted to admit me to the hospital for more than just the big skin tear. But I had tried so hard to be here today and Dad was so tired. I just said I didn’t want to be admitted. I’m going to look into that program on Cape Cod. I’d like to go,” she said.
It was her next statement that showcased just how much insight she had possessed regarding her drinking patterns, her cravings, her limitations and ultimately her addiction.
“This disease has been like trying to wrestle a bear off my back. I never meant to become an alcoholic,” she said plainly.
The simplicity in which she admitted to her disease comforted me. For once, she finally owned it. Finally. She stopped running in her denial. I gazed at her in awe and I wondered how many other people could identify with the eloquence in which she described her addiction.
She was lying there on the bed and I watched this woman who had an alcoholic father who suffered from PTSD following World War II, and a kind, loving, and ever-patient mother. I saw her for exactly who she was; this unreal athlete, a long distance runner, a beloved social worker, one of the most creative teachers in the state of Rhode Island, an amazing cook, a chocolate chip cookie master, this person who cared so deeply and genuinely about the lives of others, a tremendous writer, an advocate for education, a woman whose laugh was infectious, a lover of family, a maestro of holiday gatherings, and my mother.
I replayed those words in my head quietly. “This disease has been like trying to wrestle a bear off my back. I never meant to become an alcoholic.” I longed to hear her admit to this vice for as long as I could remember. The truth, when you hear it, strikes every chord of your being. I felt like I had been holding my breath for years trying to swim through the dysfunction of a parent never owning a problem. And for the first time in my life, I came up for air.
I realized in that moment that she had an amazing perspective on her addiction; one that only a recovering alcoholic could ever have. I had thirst for so long for her to own this vice and in that place and space, she was undeniably and honestly herself. She was bold and courageous and remarkably vulnerable. There in that hotel room, she was just about a week sober. I could finally recognize the woman I admired, a woman of strength and integrity. Her drinking, although a major issue in her life was never actually a part of who she was as a person. The disease of alcoholism is not unlike a parasite; it will feed on its host for as long as it can but it’s never actually a part of the person. This sin that she battled for decades plagued her, but it did not define her.
“Mom, that’s the first time you ever called yourself an alcoholic,” I replied.
“I know. It’s not something I’m proud of at all. But I know. I never meant to hurt you or your sister or Dad. That was never my intention. I used it as a crutch, and then…” she trailed off. “I never thought I would get to this,” she said.
“I’m so proud of you.” I took a deep breath and crawled over to her on the bed. I laid down next to her in the cove of her left side. For the first time in years, she was the parent and I was her daughter.
As we waited for my Dad to come back with food, we rested there on the bed in that quiet space. The moment was so profoundly peaceful. The silence was kind and loving in its very nature. It was the type of quiet in which words do not belong; the kind of instant in which both people know how much they love the other. For the first time in years, I felt as though I had caught a glimpse of God. I savored it in every single way. In my heart, I know she did too.
Each time He said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness. So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me…For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
—2 Corinthians 12:8-10
“Sin is not part of who you really are. God blesses us despite our sins, and he is sovereign enough and good enough to use even our mistakes for His glory.”
—Unqualified by Steven Furtick
“God can’t meet you where you’re at if you’re always pretending to be somewhere else.”—-me
I had just finished driving north from Boston to Newburyport, Massachusetts on the afternoon of August 22, 2015 when I saw my Dad in the parking lot unloading a small suitcase from his car. My parents had rented a hotel room nearby the wedding venue my cousin Natalie had picked out. I had not seen my parents since the afternoon my Mom had signed out of the hospital against medical advice on August 5th. I had been in touch over the phone several times and my Mom had told me that she was working closely with my Aunt Marie and was beginning to look at a rehab facility on Cape Cod. As my Dad shut the back of his forerunner and waved my direction I could tell I was one of the only glimmers of hope he had laid eyes on in a few weeks.
“Hey Kiddo! How was the drive?” he asked.
“I blasted Taylor Swift the whole way up here so I really can’t complain.” I responded. “Is Mom inside already?”
“Yeah. I brought her into the room a few minutes ago.”
“How is she doing today?” I expected the answer that I trained myself to no longer be disappointed by.
“She hasn’t drank anything in six days. I think she finally scared herself into not drinking anymore.” He sounded half heartedly relieved.
“Green carpets in an old, rustic, New England hotel,” I noted internally as I took a right hand turn into the suite. My Mother sat on the bed in front of me. I cannot put into words how her appearance made me feel but her eyes told me she was on borrowed time. The alcohol and Ativan had finally caught up with her. I had two weeks left with her and I fought like hell to deny it. My heart melted with a profound empathy when I saw her. My attitude immediately softened when her eyes met mine. I was an absolute puddle.
My Dad, my Mom and myself all prepared quietly for the wedding and headed to the grounds shortly after she borrowed my Bare Minerals make up. I watched intently as she applied makeup that afternoon beneath the overhead sink light. Little did I know it would be the last time I would ever see her do such a task. I wished my sister Justine was there. I felt really alone and profoundly desperate.
My cousin’s wedding ceremony was nothing short of magical. My family’s weddings never fall short of that description. Those events were and still are what remind me about what commitment, grit, faithfulness, joy and the importance of family truly mean. I tried hard to enjoy myself, but a lot of family and friends kept pulling me aside to ask how my mother was doing. Her jaundice color had everyone concerned. But today was Natalie and Dan’s day and I tried to always direct the conversation back to how beautiful my cousin looked.
Not long into the reception I noticed that my Dad was trying to catch my eye from several tables away. I was seated with several cousins and their dates when I noticed this distressing look on my Mom’s face. A simple cut that would not have been a problem for most people was no longer clotting off. I had not noticed the bandage and gauze she had on her leg back at the hotel room because she hid it well beneath a long black skirt. However my mom was suffering from bleeding mishaps related to a cut on her left lower leg for three days prior to my cousin’s wedding. This was the last family event she would be able to attend, and the truth is, she knew it before everyone else did. Six days sober, she tried so hard to be there, enjoy her family and rejoice for her niece.
I was kneeling on the grass during my cousin’s reception fervently trying to wrap her leg in gauze underneath a banquet table. My thoughts under that table were as follows:
“My mother has minimal clotting capability.”
“Her skin is so yellow. So yellow.”
“Jeez she has bruises everywhere.”
“This gauze is completely saturated.”
“Thankfully I wore a black dress to this event, otherwise I’d look pretty blood stained right about now.”
“Damn it, this thing will not stop bleeding.”
“At least she’s not drunk like the last wedding.”
“This is so embarrassing. But I don’t really care, she’s my mother.”
“You’re under a table in a dress right now at 25 years old.”
“I’m the child of a recovering and dying alcoholic.”
“I’m proud of her for trying to be here.”
“Does this venue have another first aid kit?”
“I’m not going to be able to get this to stop bleeding.”
“I think she needs a liver transplant.”
“I’ve got blood all over me. Oh wow, I’ve got blood all over me.”
I was covered in blood and had to leave the reception tent to wash my hands, and my arms. I tried to sneak my way to the bathroom as family and friends stood up to make speeches about Natalie and her new husband Dan. I was on my way back out of the bathroom following a bath in the sink, when I practically fell into my Aunt Marie’s arms. She was waiting for me as I turned the corner of the museum to make my way back to the reception tent.
“You have to live your life Kristina. Your Dad is going to bring her to the hospital with Aunt Jean. But sweetheart, you have to live your life. This isn’t your burden to bear. You don’t have to carry this. I know you feel like you do, but this isn’t yours to carry. ”
My Aunt Marie, to this day, is one of the most graceful people I know. I knew she was right but when I was in that moment I couldn’t even think about anything else except trying to put one foot in front of the other. Surviving isn’t living.
I blinked back the tears hard and hurried back to the table my parents were seated at. My Mom’s leg kept bleeding and my Dad and Aunt Jean had decided to leave the reception to bring her to the nearest hospital in Newburyport, MA. I offered to go as well, but my Dad told me to stay at the party and represent the family.
I did my best to enjoy the reception the rest of the night. I drank only Coca-Cola and water. I was the only family member present from my immediate family on the dance floor at that event. Dateless, because who would ever want to be dating me at this juncture in my life; no immediate family in sight. Alone. I danced anyway. I sang anyway. I tried to be myself anyway. I could only remain positive because the alternative was to burst into tears. Being positive was all I knew how to do.
My cousin Erin looked absolutely gorgeous that evening and her new husband was thrilled to call her his wife. When the reception concluded, I got a ride back to the hotel and awaited my parent’s return from the hospital. The conversation that would unfold that night between my Mom and I was one that I had accepted would never come to pass. For the first time in my life she would finally own her lifelong vice.
“But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.”–Psalm 3:3
First you take a drink.
Then the drink takes a drink.
Then the drink takes you.
In the early afternoon the emergency room supervising physician came into my Mom’s room and shut the sliding glass door behind him. I’ll never forget this doctor as long as I live. His name was Dr. Nathanson. When he introduced himself and who he was to my Dad, my Aunt Marie and myself, I couldn’t help but tear up again. In the back of my mind I knew that typically hospitals don’t send supervising doctors into patient rooms for minor things or even for serious issues. If you get a personal visit from a supervising MD, there’s a reason. The look on his face and in his eyes behind his glasses said it all. I knew where the conversation was going before it even started.
The doctor explained some of my Mom’s lab levels to my Dad and to my Aunt Marie. Being a nurse in that situation was absolutely awful. The worst part was that I didn’t need any explaining, all he needed to say was a level, and I immediately knew the meaning behind it. Her blood counts including her hemoglobin, hematocrit and platelets were at an all time low. Dr. Nathanson explained that her golden color and her yellowed eyes were directly correlated to her bilirubin levels. He proceeded to explain that because my Mom’s liver was failing her, the toxins that would normally be cleaned from her blood, were compiling and thus made her disturbingly confused. He also informed us that he had reason to believe that her body was destroying or lysing red blood cells and that her body was working incredibly hard to make new ones. Her heavy drinking after many years had likely caused a change in cells and that it was likely that she now also had liver cancer. He would have to consult a the hematology and oncology physicians and gain their insight. He concluded by telling us that her liver enzyme levels were very high and that he was aware of the recent abdominal ultrasound that showed she had liver cirrhosis.
My Mom had that particular ultrasound a few weeks prior just after she crashed her car into our house. That ultrasound was done on August 4th. And once she had the results from it, she promptly signed herself out of the hospital against medical advice. Now we were back at the hospital on August 27, 2015. This was what full-blown alcohol related liver failure looked like.
“We’re going to treat her the very best we can, we are going to need to give her a lot of blood and if we see improvement that would be great. However, we can’t fix her problem without a new organ. Her liver is completely failing her. She needs a liver transplant.”
I heard my Dad start to choke up. I hated seeing him distraught. I very rarely saw him cry. In fact, the truth is, I couldn’t really bare it and I still can’t. I couldn’t even turn his direction. There is something profoundly sorrowful about watching one’s Dad weep. It creates within you this inexplicable painful void that floods with desperation. I held my attention on the Doctor Nathanson.
“A liver transplant,” I thought. My next thought, “how long does one have to be sober in Rhode Island before even getting on the liver transplant list?” And then I realized it wasn’t a thought. I actually just blurted out the question.
“Six months.” Dr. Nathanson said.
My Mom had been sober for a grand total of ten days. He must have known by the look on both my face and my Dad’s that six months seemed like an eternity. Dr. Nathanson’s sincerity and concern was palpable.
I stepped toward the stretcher. And my Mom’s confusion interrupted what I was about to say. She readjusted herself on the emergency room stretcher and turned to Dr. Nathanson.
“Can I help you?” she asked in slurred and garbled words. “Can you help me!” she exclaimed as she squirmed her legs around the railings of the stretcher. She did not know, nor have the capacity to know what he just informed her family.
I looked at Dr. Nathanson and he simply gazed back at me. It was a gaze I was no stranger to. It was a gaze I had received from doctors before, the kind of look you give one another when you’re both working tirelessly on a patient whose prognosis is grave. In that moment, all the patients that I’ve taken care of flooded back to me, but especially the ones that pass from this life to the next on my time. I thought of the patients who were made DNR/DNI or do not resuscitate/do not intubate, the ones who only received comfort measures only.
One patient in particular stood above the rest, a man I cared for while working as a new graduate. His golden color, as I recalled, was not nearly as profound as my mother’s was. I thought of a professor I admired so very much in college and the Holistic Nursing course she taught. For a brief moment I felt like I was back in my Medical Ethics course and I could picture Professor Daly explaining the term active benevolence.
“To actively choose the good for someone else,” I recalled him saying this as he simultaneously underlined the term benevolence during a lecture at the top of oldest building on campus. The essence of terms like “quality of life” and words like “dignity” resonated in my consciousness.
I again became aware of the emergency room, the fruity smell to my Mom’s breath, the distress on her face, the bulging in her abdomen; the physical ramifications of her debilitating disease. She was yellow, and glowing, her eyes soaked in the golden toxins that had built up in her system.
“So she’ll be admitted to ICU I’m guessing. And we’ll try, but what you’re essentially saying to myself and my Dad especially,” I reached back and motioned him to stand as close to his wife as he could. “You’re saying that palliative care and hospice are a really good option.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.” Dr. Nathanson concluded.
He confirmed for me what I already knew would be the best for my Mom. But the decision to pursue comfort would ultimately land in my Dad’s hands.
I turned to my Dad unable to hold my tears back any longer. Silently streams of salty water fell down my face and turned the curves of my jaw line. I wiped them away. Rooted only in strength that I had not yet known was blessed to me by God. I gained my composure with ease.
I thought of my sister. We had not spoken in over a year and a half. “We should call Justine,” I whispered.
“Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light.”—Matthew 6:22
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