Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I Put Blueberries in My Oatmeal

My mother is going to the doctor. This is earth shaking news.

Since my dad lost his job and the health insurance plan that came along with it, my parents rarely avail themselves of modern medicine. A $10 co-pay is one thing, picking up the entire tab for office visits and procedures will cause one to ponder whether something like skin cancer can’t just be treated with, say, Cort-Aid.

Not that Dad was ever an advocate of needless trips to our family practitioner. We kids knew our garden variety sore throats and ear infections needed to approach strep or ear-drum bursting levels before meriting a consultation with Dr. Swindaman. God help us if our symptoms abated before the day of the appointment. If we didn’t walk out with a prescription for penicillin, indicating the presence of an actual illness vs. youthful malingering, well, it wouldn’t be pretty around the dinner table. Dad would launch into one of his patented diatribes, the gist of which being that we were all conspiring against him, sabotaging his best efforts to “get ahead,” “catch a break” and/or save for retirement. We were clearly operating under the misguided theory that money grew on trees and it was his personal mission to disabuse us of that notion.

My mom’s beef with the health care system is not so much financial. She simply doesn’t trust physicians and their chemical potions, preferring to diagnose and treat herself.

What this amounts to, of course, is that Mom suffers far longer than the rest of us from commonly treatable maladies. Muscle aches? Advil’s for wimps. For god’s sake, the woman gave birth four times without benefit of an epidural and swears it didn’t hurt. Over-the-counter cold medications? Only if you consider yourself a giant wuss-ass. There’s not a Sudafed in the house, but at least I can take comfort in the knowledge that my parents aren’t running a meth lab on the side.

Then again, your average wuss-ass hasn’t been congested since March, when my parents sojourned in Florida, only to return home with the sniffles and scratchy throats. “I think it was the pollen,” Mom deduced.

A month later, they were still miserable and the pollen defense was looking less tenable. Dad threw in the towel first. He rang me up to say they might have to cancel a planned weekend visit to Chicago. “I’m dying,” he said. Translation: “I think I have the flu.”

“Do you have a fever?” I asked.


“Do you feel nauseous?”


“Are you achy all over?”


“I’m pretty sure it’s not the flu.”

One outing to the M.D. later and the visit was back on. The verdict: a really bad cold. He did not, I should point out, receive a prescription for penicillin. Nor was he forced to remain in bed, watching endless “M.A.S.H” re-runs, as punishment. It’s good to be king.

Mom basked in the glow of her own superiority. According to her, the score sheet read: Dad + doctor appointment=sissy, Mom + home remedies=tough as nails.

“I take care of these things myself,” she bragged. “I’ve been gargling, drinking tea and putting blueberries in my oatmeal.”

But when I gathered with my siblings and their assorted spouses and children at the old homestead a week ago, Dad was right as rain and Mom was still hoarse from post-nasal drip. Apart from the gargling, she had now taken to holding a home-made heating pad up to her face: a gym sock filled with I don’t know what—hot coals perhaps.

We went to take my nephew Connor for a spin in his stroller. Mom stayed behind in the hermetically sealed house. “I can’t be out in that air,” she said. You know, the pollen.

When a nap failed to improve the situation, my brother Matt proffered her an Airborne tablet. She accepted. Airborne (as seen on “Oprah”) meets my mother’s stringent criteria:
* created by an elementary school teacher, not a drug manufacturer or other certified Institute of Health,
* a “natural” remedy containing key buzz words like herbs (used in Eastern medicine, not the pesky Western variety), vitamins, anti-oxidants, amino acids and electrolytes. Not an anti-histamine in sight.

Of course, Airborne is supposed to be taken at the first sign of a cold, not when one is in the throes of a three-month bout with pollen. The electrolytes provided limited relief and then Mom was back to the gym sock. I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that leeches or “bleeding the ill humors” were next on her list of treatment options.

Matt pulled my brother Joey and I aside: “Want to place bets on which of us comes down with a ‘pollen attack’ when we get home? We’re all going to get sick.” Poor Matt—it’s not wise to mock Mother Nature. He shot out an email the following week:

This weekend was truly a learning experience. For example:

*I learned that changing diapers is not as time consuming as I once thought.
* Unfortunately, I also learned that “allergies” can be quite contagious.

So it comes as a relief that Mom is finally willing to cry “uncle,” that she’s able to admit the limitations of her personal powers of healing. I’ve actually lain awake at night working myself into emotional distress imagining the following exchange:

Mom: “I’ve had this horrible pain in my stomach for months. I’ve tried gargling but it won’t go away.”

Doctor: “Ma’am, you’ve got a tumor the size of a watermelon.”

Mom: “How that can be? I put blueberries in my oatmeal.”

I’m eagerly anticipating the diagnosis that will explain her nasal congestion and water-logged ears. My prediction: a sinus infection.

But I wouldn’t rule out pollen.


Blogger swindy55 said...

I found your blog while searching the net for my family name. You mentioned Dr. Swindaman in one of them. Can you e-mail any memories you may have of him? He was my Dad.
Thank you.

Pat Swindaman

7:51 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home