My parents split up when I was a baby. When I was four, my Daddy remarried, and I found myself blessed with two mothers. One I call Mom and one I call Mama. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll my call the mother who birthed me, Mom Jenny and the mother who raised me as her own, Mama Martha. I’ll write about her one day, but for today, I have a story to tell about Mom Jenny.
My Mom Jenny lived in Miami as I was growing up, and I visited her several times a year until she eventually moved back to North Carolina in the early 1990’s.
She was always a beautiful woman. Not without her problems (she and I could write a book on that one!), but she always kept her looks. This is her after she moved to Durham. Stunning, isn’t she?
A few short years later, her health began to fail. She started gaining weight. Her thick, beautiful hair was suddenly sparse. Her face was round and her eyes bulged. She became diabetic, had high blood pressure and sleep apnea.
I kept asking her what her doctor was doing about her health problems. He increased her sleeping pills and bipolar medicine, and started her on blood pressure pills and treatment for diabetes. It seemed to me there was pill after pill being prescribed for condition after condition, but if she was okay with his prognosis, what business was it of mine? Was it my place to do something? Shouldn’t I just trust the medical professionals like she did?
She kept getting worse. Her skin was like paper. A dog jumped in her lap and just his paw on her arm tore such a deep gash that blood shot in the air. When she hit 180 pounds (she’d never been over 100 pounds her whole life), it was time to intervene. Who could look at her and not see something was wrong? Something more than eating too much? Can you believe the difference in her appearance?
I insisted on going with her to her next appointment with her primary care physician. I expressed my deep concerns about her declining health.
“Something has caused her to be diabetic. Her weight, her hair, her skin. Something is bad wrong.”
He said, “Or maybe she’s just fat.”
What?!!? I don’t expect doctors to know everything. I have a lot of grace for them actually. They’re human beings — they’re not God. But I knew something was wrong with her! I actually felt she was dying. If he wasn’t going to help me, I was dang sure going to find someone who would!
I went with her to her next appointment with her psychiatrist. I didn’t know who else to ask. I pleaded,
“This is my mother,” and I handed him a picture of her when she wasn’t sick. “See how she’s supposed to look? She’s inside of that failing body over there somewhere,” and I pointed to her sitting in a chair. “Please help me find her.”
When I got home that evening, her psychiatrist called me.
“I would never in a million years have believed that was the same person when you showed me that picture. I’ve been on the computer researching her symptoms all evening. I believe your mother has Cushing’s Disease.”
He told her to go back to her primary care doctor and tell him she needs surgery. Immediately, they confirmed his diagnosis. She had a tumor on her adrenal gland, and if it hadn’t been discovered, she would have died — sooner than later. In a flash, she was hospitalized at Duke University Hospital and had her adrenal gland, along with the tumor, removed.
What almost killed her had lurked beneath the surface for several years. If she had known it was there, she could have treated it before it took her health, her appearance and nearly her life.
She continues to have a myriad of health problems stemming from Cushing’s. Sadly, she was too sick to put up a fight back then. She was just treating the symptoms, and never finding the root of what was wrong.
Jesus addressed this issue several times in the New Testament. His words on the subject have caused much dispute over the years. He said in Mark 9:43,
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.
He also said if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out! What in the world does that mean?!? Is He advocating maiming yourself? Should we REALLY cut off limbs and remove senses?!
Don’t be silly. Of course He doesn’t mean that. What He’s saying is quite simple:
Don’t treat the symptoms. Take care of the PROBLEM.
It makes a lot of sense to me. Treating the symptoms instead of removing what was wrong that nearly cost my mother her life. She looks and feels better than she did before her diagnosis, but the earlier she found out, the better off she would have been. The longer it went on, the more her health was permanently affected. What was hurting her HAD to come out for her to live.
Isn’t that what we all do? It’s really the human condition. Not just physically, but spiritually, psychologically and emotionally. We think we can take care of the symptoms instead of the problem and we’ll be just fine.
Your teenager is driving you nuts — that’s normal. But what if something else is wrong and is causing the acting out? Isn’t it better to find out the problem and take care of it instead of just hoping it will get better?
How many marriages could be saved if instead of ignoring the problems and pretending like nothing is wrong until it’s too late?
How many people are self medicating their miserable lives with drugs, alcohol and prescriptions from their doctors, when what they really need to do is find out what is wrong with their lives and FIXING IT?
Yesterday we found ourselves back at Duke Hospital. Here my Mom Jenny in recovery from an endoscopy. She’s been having a lot of nausea — to the point that I’ve had to take her to the emergency room a couple of times.
Don’t worry, Mom. We don’t know what’s wrong yet, but we’ll find out. You’ve got a bunch of good doctors and a daughter who isn’t into treating the symptoms without fixing the problem.
Michele Hall Smith said:
Reading this I was thinking the whole time, “Yep, that’s what I have been doing”. Getting down to the root of the problem is taking some time. She is so blessed to have you. I know how much it means to just hear someone say, “Tell me what is wrong, I am going to help you.” You and your Mom Jenny are in my thoughts, heart, and prayers.
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