Thank You, Mother!
By Margaret Ann Porter
I recently had surgery on my cervical spine to correct two instabilities in the 5th and 6th vertebrae that for years had caused neurological problems and pain in the neck, torso and arms. A series of accidents over the last 20 years were the culprits: A jet-ski accident on Lake Sakakawea; a bicycle accident on the road that runs beside the Chula Vista Country Club; a fall in a dimly lit restaurant in New Hampshire – I missed a step while distracted by the fussy grandbaby that I was holding.
In each accident, I’d felt a discernible ‘crunch’ in my neck, but a broken leg, a busted head and dislocated shoulder had received the most urgent care. The surgery that I had last month is the most-common surgical procedure for retired NFL players, which gave me pause – too many years of butting my head against hard surfaces had laid me low, too; perhaps it was time to reconsider the recklessness and come up with a better game plan.
My mother was over six feet tall and when we were both in top shape, people said we resembled Amazons. But she had the grace of a dancer while I, her third daughter, had tried throughout my life to be the son she never had. A tomboy, I’ve been stitched up and pasted over with cast-making material more times that I can count. After each injury, my mother admonished me, “Margaret, you’re going to pay for all of this someday … your joints are already protesting and will soon go on strike.” She’s been gone 11 years, but after my diagnosis I finally admitted to her that she’d been right.
I also inherited my mother’s imperious nature, which, like hers, shows up whenever I’m embarrassed or fearful and want to flee the scene. It’s rarely employed for a more useful purpose, such as an attempt to win verbal combat; I am the queen of perfecting a comeback eight hours after the opportunity to deliver it has passed; these go unused in my portfolio of cruel things I could say someday if called upon.
But there I was, spitting nails all the way to the hospital, suddenly suspicious of all three “expert” medical opinions that I’d received about the need for surgery, recalling that I’d cancelled the impending ordeal twice already with complete tolerance and understanding from the surgeon. My husband reassured me that it was the right thing to do, which I found highly irritating.
Nevertheless, I faced my fate, one of anesthesia and scalpels and IV drips and a catheter – and a wailing baby in the next room. The Guadalajara hospital was modern and clean, but the walls were thin. A baby with a life-threatening virus had checked in a few days before and in my waking moments after surgery, I could hear him screaming out his complaint that, damn it all, here he’d just arrived on earth and things weren’t going so well. I felt for him even as I begged him to shut up.
Finally, at midnight on surgery +1, not able to move, my neck feeling like a prison shank had been left inside, Baby hollering, and I was about to cry out for my mother when, suddenly, I heard a woman’s voice in his room. It was purposeful and strong, as if it were coming from someone well-rested who’d just arrived. It cut through the thick, cold hospital air like a warm quilt unfolding above me. Baby immediately stop crying as the woman cooed something to him. I heard the little guy giggle, whimper and then babble loud baby complaints at her.
It was Baby’s mother, I was certain. After a bit, she started singing a lullaby, her voice clear and tender. The melody came through the wall and kissed my ears and it was the most soothing medicine I’d had since right before they reduced the morphine drip. I was transported into her arms; she became my Mother, too, and Baby and I slept through the night. And the next.
On check-out day, I was waiting for my husband outside of my room when the door to Baby’s room opened and he bobbled out into the hall with uncertain, plodding steps. A handsome man was behind him carrying the still-attached IV bag, followed by a beautiful woman who was urging caution.
I was going to say something to her, to try and explain my gratitude about her singing and how she’d helped me so much. But I had such a big lump in my throat that I could only smile.
Mother smiled back.