Home Nursing

Not my mother

Not my mother

When sick, Mom maintained a stoic silence and went to bed, telling my siblings and me to move our squabbles beyond her hearing; so we dutifully went outside when thumping one another became unavoidable.

She expected the same bed rest and silence from us when we complained of swollen glands, stomachaches, or ingrown toenails, “Go to bed. You’ll feel better after a nap.” Her job description didn’t leave time for entertaining us or clucking over our earaches and bee stings.

One day Mom heard howls coming from the yard where Barbara had taught Blaine and JL an exciting new game in which she threw rocks and they dodged them. When Mom went outside to investigate and discovered the crooked, bloody mess that used to be Blaine’s nose, she pinched it into shape, staunched the bleeding, applied tape and told him to go take a nap. She then advised Barbara to run away from home and returned to her ironing.

When a chronic problem, unusual symptom, or something she couldn’t fix prompted a visit to the doctor, she enforced any recommendations with rigor. After we bared our behinds for penicillin shots, we stayed in bed until well, swallowed pills so big we didn’t need breakfast and huddled beneath blankets breathing the pungent fumes of a vaporizer. As directed.

I’ve had sinus problems my entire life. I sometimes imagine the thought process that accompanied my creation: “We’ve given this girl sturdy feet. Let’s even things out by equipping her with flawed sinuses.” One winter, our family doctor told my mom to irrigate my sinuses daily and showed her how to do so. That night, she filled our all-purpose hot water bottle with a saline solution and attached a tube to it with a special nozzle I had to stick up my nose.

She held the contraption level with her head, pinching off the tube, while I bent over the bathroom basin, then let ‘er rip. Oh, the caterwauling and grief. Water and mucus spouting from my nostrils and mouth, I gagged and pleaded; but the water continued to flow. So I pulled the nozzle from my erupting nose and threw it in the basin.

“Janet, you have to do this.” She leaned over, reinserted the tube, and held it firmly in place as I wept. We did this dance for two weeks, as prescribed. I eventually accepted my fate with stony-faced dignity, and my siblings quit clustering around the bathroom door for the evening entertainment.

We couldn’t look to Dad for sympathy or coddling either. He had robust health and didn’t fall prey to common illnesses, so he reacted to the sicknesses of his loved ones with indignation and expressed his worry as anger: “Oh, get up, there’s nothing wrong with you that a little fresh air or work won’t fix.”

Naturally, I inherited Mom’s no-nonsense bedside manner punctuated with Dad’s irrational irritation: “Why doesn’t he just go to bed?” I wonder as Joel wheezes and snuffles around the house, giving me hourly updates on his symptoms.

But the mother who tenderly cared for my sister, Carolyn, during her childhood struggles with polio and rheumatic fever; and the father who visibly worried about Carolyn and checked on her as soon as he got home from work are part of me as well. I learned from my parents to respond to serious illnesses with attention and sympathetic care.

Perhaps the secret of good home nursing is knowing when to nurture kindly and when to stick the nozzle back up your screaming daughter’s nose.

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84 thoughts on “Home Nursing

  1. My mother would say “give it a rub and you’ll be okay”.

    You weren’t considered sick unless an orfice was spewing something fluid OR you had a fever.

    BUT like you, I remember her being up all night as the 4 of us shared (at different times) measles, chicken pox and mumps.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I was raised the same way, Janet! My mom didn’t have time to coddle when there was an illness. Instead, I remember many days just spent in bed with a “teepee” strung over it and the Vicks in the air. There was no time for skinned knees, sun smothered shoulders or sibling squabbles. But, when it was serious, it was taken serious. The love and concern shown to my mother while in her youth was shown to me as well. I personally hope that my children have had the same upbringing. It helps to build character.

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    • So good to hear from you, Dawna. I’ve been thinking about you lately and hoping you are doing well. i chuckled at your comment. Sounds like my sister. But I agree with you that she knew when something was serious. She often looked out for me when I needed a big sister. Are you planning on going to the reunion this summer?

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      • I’m trying to arrange things so I can be there. I’m currently in school and the reunion is towards the end of a semester. This ol’ brain is struggling and needs all the help it can get! But, I would love to be there! I’m doing my best 🙂

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      • I just talked to your mom — I was missing my sister — and she told me you had started taking college courses. Good for you, Dawna. I’ve no doubt your old brain will do well once it has adjusted to the new task you’ve given it. I’ll feel better at the reunion, if you’re not there, because I’ll know you are doing something you want to do.

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  3. I RECEIVED SOME TRAINING AND WAS MY MOTHER’S HOME HOSPICE CARE NURSE FOR LAST 6 WEEKS OF HER LIFE .I RELIVE A PART OF THAT EXPERIENCE EACH DAY NOW SINCE 9/17/2012. I AM GLAD I DID IT AND SHE DIED IN MY PRESENCE AND BETTER THAN PUTTING HER IN A DEATH WAREHOUSE(SEEMS ONLY VERY RICH CAN DO THAT) BUT THE MEMORIES ARE OFTEN HAUNTING IN UNCOMFORTABLE WAYS.

    SEPT 17 IS 9-1-7 AND I OFTEN PLAY THE NUMBER IN DAILY CASH 3 . IT HAS HIT SEVERAL TIMES ANS SEEMS SHE’S SENT ME SEVERAL THOUSAND DOLLARS FROM HEAVEN OVER LAST FOUR YEARS. IT HIT MONDAY FOR $250.

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    • Thank you for finding my blog and leaving a heart-touching comment. Taking care of your mother during the last 6 weeks of your life was such a loving thing to do, and I can see why it would leave you with haunting memories. I like the idea of her continuing to bless you from heaven. I’ll visit your blog soon.

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  4. I read your post with great interest. My son has chronic sinus problems and I also have to do a sinus rinse on him. It is slightly more sophisticated than your hot water bottle and pipe description but not much. We have been doing this twice daily for five years. Michael has become quite nonchalant about it but the beginning was hell.

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  5. Oh Janet, I see your parents influence in JL. We have come a long way from the early years, but it has been a learning experience for both of us. I remember being ill and JL becoming furious with me, I was stunned! Your Mom explained that Dad acted the same way and she thought it was because when someone they love becomes ill it frightens them and rocks their world. Another time when I was very sick but I thought that I was getting better. I had a sinus infection that kept getting worse and I went to the emergency room where the ER doc thought that I was after pain meds. All I really wanted was to get better and yes, pain meds would have really helped. Anyway they put me on daily IV antibiotics and I thought I was getting better, so when JL had to go out of town for work I sent him on his merry way. By the next night I was in severe pain and I had to call Mom to in the middle of the night to come to the house to watch the kids so I could go to the emergency room. It turned out that I had a huge abscess in my right ear. The same ER doc who thought that I was a drug seeker was on that night had to lance it and was falling all over himself to give whatever pain medication I wanted.
    Anyway when JL got home your Mom really ripped into him about leaving a sick wife alone. I really felt sorry for JL.
    I know this is long, but when JL is ill he ignores it for as long as possible and tries to hide whatever it is that is bothering him (although he is getting better). I think the incidence about Blaine and the broken nose led to him trying not to let his Mom know that he was sick. (Making splints out of popsicle sticks when he broke all of his toes for example)
    It’s amazing how we carry on our parent’s legacies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved your detailed comment, Janice, full of stories I hadn’t heard before. I agree that we do tend to mirror our parents, and most of the time, I feel fortunate to do so. But I try not to imitate Dad’s impatience with illness, even though I agree with Mom that he did it out of concern and worry. Your illness caused by an abcess in your ear sounds dreadful. I’m glad Mom was there to help.

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  6. We had Vicks, iodine for cuts, (man, did it sting!) and Milk of Magnesia. Fortunately, that was the sum total of care required.

    Have you ever tried a Neti Pot? It was prescribed for a nasal something or other. What a messy proposition, not to mention the awkward and uncomfortable feeling. Never again.

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  7. My grandma gave her kids castor oil if they “bellyached” too long. She had 10 and the threat of castor oil probably got them to be quiet so she could deal with the actual problem, such as my mom falling off their Percheron and breaking her arm. 🙂

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  8. This was such a fun read, Janet. Not laughing at your troubles, but I know that kind of treatment so well. My father prefered “no bandaid, the air needs to hit that” and “walk it off” My mom administer cod liver oil for years despite every attempt I made to avoid it. I think you’re right about that balance point. Great job, so well-written and funny.

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    • The air also healed cuts and scrapes at my house, but cod liver oil was not to be found in our medicine cabinet. Nor was cough syrup; Mom thought it was too liberally laced with sugar. We did a lot of soaking sore appendages in epsom salts, however. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Dan.

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  9. I think the Princess has inherited your Mom’s no nonsense approached to illness, as well. Her solution to my recent illnesses: “Lay low today….but make sure you (and then she gives me a list with a 100 or so items on it to do before she leaves for work!!!)” Cracks me up!

    I love your Mom’s version of a netty pot. Heck, Janet, you coulda made some big bucks on the contraption if you only knew that your Mom was “on to something”!!!

    This posting had me chuckling out loud. I could just see your Mom pinching Blaine’s nose and dragging him inside. And I loved your comment about advising Barbara to run away from home…..makes a loving Mother somehow more human to the rest of us who didn’t know her.

    I’ve tried using a netty pot myself and have gagged, so I gave it up. Can’t imagine your Mother’s contraption up my nose! Yuck! 😉

    Enjoyed this piece immensly. Thanks for bringing me back to my childhood and making me laugh!

    You skillfully (and lovingly) showed us your Mom’s no nonsense approach to surviving illnesses in a large family, while at the same time honoring the loving, dedicated Mom she was…..nice job, Buddy! ❤

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    • I’m so glad that both the practical side and nurturing side of my mother came through, Lucie, and I’m certain the Princess has both of them as well; though I laughed at your description of the lists she leaves to keep you company while you lie low. Blaine and Barbara still entertain us with the story of his nose at family reunions. And each year the story gets better.

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    • I agree with you on preferring the nose end over the other, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Marjorie. Thanks for noticing the last line, I chuckled at myself when I thought of it.

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  10. I am sorry to hear of your sinus troubles growing up, I have those too. Such a bother! Oh what a thought to have a rubber hose stuck up my nose, especially when I didn’t want it done! You paint a very direct, funny, real picture with your words, Janet. Always a treat to read your story-telling.

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    • So good to hear from you, Carrie, as always. When I was in sixth grade, my teacher told my mother during a conference that I was a born storyteller and should perhaps try writing them rather than relating them during class. I didn’t follow his advice for fifty years, but I eventually got there.

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  11. Knowing when to nurture and when to nozzle can be a fine line. I’ll bet your mother didn’t enjoy the procedure either. I know I was attentive to my children but when he was older I heard my son say “yeah, she’s a nurse and if I had an arm ripped off she’d say she knows someone who had both arms ripped off.” Really? I was more caring than that.

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    • The first line of your comment gave me a guffaw, as our friend Sheila would say. Great use of words. I also laughed at Mitch’s comment. Couldn’t help it, though I didn’t believe it for a minute.

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  12. I shudder at the mention of that tube!!!

    It is amazing how much of our parents rub off on us, though, and this with the angst-filled resolution of the Teen screaming inside: “I’ll never be like my mother (or father)!” At the end of the day, we can only hope that we have taken on the good along with the quirky and not so great.

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    • It did bring some relief, but, of course, you always wonder if the passing of time would have done the same thing. They do still irrigate sinuses, but now they use a Neti pot, which sounds much more civilized. Fortunately, I haven’t had to try one.

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  13. so now, I love your mother too. My kids tell stories about me too, washing puncture wounds with a water hose-they say if bones weren’t showing, I just said wash it off and go play. Thankfully, they were hardly ever sick-well, if they were, I felt really sorry for them. What an entertaining post. I laughed and then felt sad for Carolyn-how that must have been so sad for your parents -I can’t imagine.

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    • Carolyn’s illness, which followed polio and surgery to correct its crippling of her leg, was worrisome and sad for the entire family. Fortunately, she survived those terrible childhood illnesses and has led a healthy, good life. Thank you for your concern about her. I would have guessed that you, too, were a no nonsense nurse, and I’m sure you laugh, as our mom did, when your children exaggerate your nursing style. I know you would, indeed, have loved my mom; and she would have loved you and your rabbit patch.

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  14. More wise advice Janet. The trick is deciding which of us needs bedside nurturing and which is better off alone. I like keeping quiet and alone, but Dr. A needs constant reassurance. On the other hand, he has a hard time soothing ruffled feathers. We just need to keep well or as another wise person said, just keep pulling the sheet off your own face.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My husband and I, too, are opposites in terms of how we like to be treated when ill; we mirror you and your husband. I loved the saying “just keep pulling the sheet off your own face.” It sums life up, doesn’t it?

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  15. Sorry, Janet. I just had to chuckle at the thought of the bathroom scene. My mom would turn on the shower as hot as it would go and shove me in there with a book to read whenever I had bronchitis, which attacked me once a year for about six years.

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  16. My Mom was the same kind of no-nonsense nurse that your Mom was. Thankfully though, except for the usual measles and chicken pox—no mumps in our family—we kids were never seriously ill.

    As a few of your commenters have said, that last sentence is a gem. It neatly sums up home care-giving—something I’m not too good at!

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    • I’ve been surprised by how many readers had moms like mine, nurses who kept their sympathy for the truly ill, and by how how many readers admit to duplicating their mom’s behavior. We’re not alone, Rita!

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    • Please feel free to use it at will. Barbara regales us at family reunions by describing how she then wandered along an irrigation ditch trying to decide whether to run away or just drown herself. Then she remembered Mom was making cinnamon roles and decided to just go home.

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  17. I’m still smiling! Poor Barbara, being told to leave home, and poor you, with the nozzle up your nose! Loved every minute of your post. It’s interesting to see how we react to illness. My mother was a no nonsense ex-nurse and we were treated in a very similar way. I hope I shall have more patience, than I do now, if ever I’m faced with serious illness.

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  18. My mother had one cure for just about every ill my sister and I suffered. Vicks Vapor Rub for the outside and Castor Oil for the inside. Consequently we didn’t get sick that often.

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