I lost my mother last year. Before she died she was diagnosed with matted adhesions (intestine) or bowel obstruction. Bowel obstruction occurs when the normal flow of intra-luminal content is interrupted (that is the gastrointestinal contents are prevented from passing), leading to bowel dilation and retention of fluid within the proximal to the obstruction. The common cause (as I was told) is either postoperative adhesion or hernia. In mum’s case it was both. Her first two diagnoses said it was just hernia and that it could be managed without surgery but as pain and swellings increased another scan was done. This time is was matted adhesions and at this point mum’s case was an emergency. To make matters worse the resident doctors embarked on an industrial strike action four days to her date of surgery.
Within the first month of the diagnosis, I traveled every weekend to take care of my mother as we lived in different towns. Seeing her struggle with excruciating abdominal pains, hungry but cannot eat, spewing the little fluid that she managed to take was the worst experience a child could see her mother pass through and not knowing how to help. The nights were worse, she was hungry but could not eat. I could not eat either because I didn’t see the reason or find any comfort from eating as my mother starved. Mum lost strength and was a shadow of herself.
When I returned to the office every Monday morning I heard her resounding plea that I should take my annual leave and be with her but it was not the right time to go on leave as I was already behind schedule on the scholarship programme. However, I promised to take 2 weeks off to care for her post-operation. The guilt of leaving her every Monday morning lurked in my head all week long till I returned the next weekend. I called every hour but a phone call could not take the place of a daughter’s tender and reassuring words.
Weeks after the last diagnosis we finally got a surgeon who rounded up a team of three other doctors to operate her in his private clinic. The surgery lasted six hours with a ‘minor’ complication because she was hypertensive but she came out fine.
Caring for her post operation was the happiest moment for me. The girlie chats, staying up at night to tend to her every need helped me to appreciate motherhood and caregiving, I spent quality time with mum and this brought us even closer. She recovered very fast and three weeks after the surgery she was discharged.
She was a strong woman and her wounds were healing fast. Mum went for post operation check up every fortnight for three months. The doctor said she was strong and could come once a month. In April, four months after the surgery she complained of shortness of breath. The doctor said she should rest more often and not lift anything heavier than a glass of water! In May mum called one evening and said I should come take her to the hospital but I told her my brother could do that and that I would take my turn the following month because I had a tight schedule and could not travel. I should have gone that day may be I would have understood the shortage of breath and swelling in the legs (like fluid retention).
She went to the hospital but the doctor handling her case had sent her file to another because he had to tend to a more serious case. The doctor who saw her said the fluid retention was due to the hypertensive drugs and stress but her heart was fine. In June she complained once and I told her I would be home to take her on the next appointment. Unfortunately, around 4:00am on June 25, four days to her next appointment, I was called that she choked while breathing and it was all over. Mum had embolism months after her surgery we all thought it was stress, she complained of shortness of breath, pains in hers legs and fluid retention.
I cared for her for two months pre and post operation, I thought the boys would give the level of precision I gave to her caring but I was wrong. I only saw mum’s cold body I didn’t get a chance to take her for the next appointment. I didn’t even pay much attention to her complaint. I thought the worst were over and I felt she was stressed and needed to just rest! I feel guilty each day, I would have done more if only I had taken that leave to spend time with her. After all that was all she asked. I should have been there to watch her myself.
Today I have decided never to leave anything to chance. I find solace in caring for the elderly, monthly I make out time to visit a widow or an elderly women (from the church or within my neighbourhood). I also give psychosocial support and counsel to women who are members in of the same Church as I. This guilty may not go away anytime soon. I have not done much but I know I can make another mother happy. As I pencil this I don’t know whether to feel inspired or haunted.
Culled from Ekaette Udoekong's memoirs