~a true story of resilience (originally published January 2, 2022 on medium.com)
What do you do when the odds appear stacked against you and all seems lost? Well, this little lady refuses to give up. Here is a brief recounting of some of her trials and triumphs in the hopes that you will be inspired to stay the course, too, when faced with adversity.
“Do not be afraid; only believe.” Mark 5:36
My mom, Mumsy to her grand-kids, is a very beautiful, vibrant woman of 86 years. She was an educator for most of her life and also helped her first husband, my dad, in his law office. My father died at the age of 54 after a two-year battle with renal cell cancer. Her second husband, Louis, eventually succumbed to heart problems. Mumsy provided loving care to them both and shared with me in her mischievous way, “I never wanted to be a nurse!” But that was the hand that she was dealt, and it is her deep faith that has brought her through the many trials she has persevered. Her motto, which has served her well, is, “This too shall pass.”
In addition to the illness and death of two husbands, Mumsy has had substantial structural problems. One year in autumn, when Mumsy was twice a widow, she began experiencing back pain. She went to a pain management specialist who recommended an epidural. She had already had one that year which was mildly successful, and so she followed his recommendation and scheduled an appointment to receive another injection.
After the procedure, the nurse told Mumsy to get up and get dressed, then left the room. My mom tried to stand up, but couldn’t feel her legs and crumpled to the ground. As she fell, I caught her and broke the fall, but her head flung back and hit the door of the room. When the nurses and doctors heard the loud thump, they rushed to the room and pried themselves through the door against which she was lying. They assisted her to the bed and instructed her to remain still for a while. The doctor said to the nurse, “Let’s make it standard procedure to have a nurse with the patient when they get up from the bed.” I said a loaded, “Thank you.” Amazingly, she did not have a concussion or any broken bones. Thus began our holiday season that year and my mom’s journey with chronic back pain.
Mumsy got no relief from the injection and went from active and energetic, to almost completely disabled. She could not walk without experiencing a pain level of 9 on a scale of 1–10 (10 being the worst). She could not even sit comfortably. To help with the pain and give her support, she began using a walker or cane. She discussed her options with the specialist. Due to the severity of my mom’s condition, surgery was not a viable choice. Neither was pain medicine because it made her nauseated. After ruling those possibilities out, the specialist introduced the idea of Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS).
SCS involves surgically placing two leads up either side of the spinal cord and subcutaneously installing a small, pulse generator (in Mumsy’s case, on her hip area). This generator has a rechargeable battery and is controlled by a remote, which the patient operates after the generator is programmed. SCS works by emitting pulses which block pain sensations from reaching the brain. The pain is still occurring, but the patient doesn’t feel it. It is an amazing technology which had its beginning in the gate control theory that was proposed in 1965. The gate refers to the dorsal horn or gate of the spinal cord where nerves carrying pain and touch sensations terminate.
Before the SCS is permanently placed, the patient undergoes a 5–7 day trial period with a temporary insertion to find out if the device will be effective to reduce pain. I acquired my understanding of the extent of my mom’s condition when I and my youngest son, Josh, accompanied her to have the SCS implanted on a trial basis. The doctor had the presence of the grim reaper when he showed us my mom’s MRI of her back and seemed to hint to us that people who have this much degeneration end up paralyzed. He elucidated how, in addition to Mumsy’s stenosis, she had extreme scoliosis. Her spine was not shaped in an “S,” but a “C,” and that “C” also twisted.
When they wheeled my mom away to begin the procedure, Josh and I sat stunned in the waiting room. Did the doctor just say what we thought he said? Did the doctor say that Mumsy would most likely be paralyzed? We just couldn’t process it.
When the doctor returned, I asked him if I had understood him correctly; namely, was Mumsy going to eventually experience paralysis of her legs? He answered that paralysis was a possibility, but not necessarily a likelihood. It seemed to us like this whole whirlwind of pain and disability had happened overnight. The doctor explained that this condition had been coming on gradually, but that when stenosis reaches a critical level compressing the spinal cord, chronic pain is the result.
As it happens, the temporary SCS placement worked very well for my mom. It seemed like an absolute miracle! Before the permanent SCS placement, however, we decided to visit an orthopedist who specialized in back disorders to completely rule out surgery as an option. The surgeon told us that because of her extreme scoliosis and stenosis, surgery was not advisable. He reassured us that it was highly unlikely that Mumsy would be paralyzed, but that because of the pinched nerve in her back, she would always have a dropped foot. Mumsy had lost the ability to flex her left foot. She had been receiving physical therapy in the hopes that it would correct this condition, as well as make her stronger. The surgeon told her that physical therapy could not correct the pinched nerve. She could expect that the condition would not worsen, but it would also not improve. Armed with this knowledge, she proceeded with the permanent SCS implantation and for about two years experienced 100% pain relief.
“Good people come to worship me for different reasons. Some come to the spiritual life because of suffering, some in order to understand life; some come through a desire to achieve life’s purpose, and some come who are men and women of wisdom.” The Bhagavad Gita 7:16
A series of falls inaugurated the next chapter of Mumsy’s story. The first occurred when we were out-of-state to attend a wedding. Mumsy was walking without her cane in the carpeted hotel. Her dropped foot caught on the rug, and down she went. She landed on her face and knees, which caused her nose to erupt in a colorful bruise. An emergency room visit revealed that she had a subdural hematoma on her knee, but no broken bones. Back at the room, Mumsy looked at me regretfully and said, “I guess I need my cane,” and she has been using a cane or walker ever since.
On another occasion, Mumsy fell in a restroom in George Bush Intercontinental Airport en route to a wedding in California. Although her left foot was facing the wrong direction, clearly indicating a break in her leg, she expressed that she was not in pain. Through the compassionate care of the staff in the emergency room in Houston, the follow-up surgery and attentiveness of an orthopedic surgeon back home, and her recovery in in-patient rehab, she was able to walk again.
“All things are possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:23
Not to be discouraged by the two falls (and others not recounted here) and the return of back pain, Mumsy began seeing Derrick Hines, a physical therapist who uses dry-needling and other therapies, and is the grandson of one of mom’s college roommates from the ‘50’s (and my godmother). She has been seeing him for several years now. And despite the dire prediction of the pain management doctor, the pessimistic news of the back specialist, and the facts of her stenosis and scoliosis, Mumsy’s pain is at a minimum. If you saw the MRI, like I did, well . . . you wouldn’t believe that it was possible. These structural issues are set in the context of other diagnoses with which Mumsy is living, such as high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, emphysema, and COPD. Most recently, macular degeneration claimed the sight in Mumsy’s left eye. Not to be daunted, she is receiving a series of three eye injections with positive expectations. The first treatment has yielded a slight improvement in her vision.
Yet through it all, Mumsy does not allow her life to be defined by her losses or her health challenges. Rather, her life is defined by her faith in a Power greater than herself and living that faith through service. To date, Mumsy is regularly cooking for her family and texting words of encouragement to, as she puts it, “Anyone who Jesus puts on my heart that morning.” She never fails to tell each member of our little family how proud she is of us and to thank us for anything we do for her. She sends greeting cards (virtual or paper) to her many friends on almost every holiday. Her attention is captivated by the suffering of others and her prayers for their recovery.
“Use your mind for doing good, not for harm. Train your mind in love.”
The Dhammapada 17:233
Does this chronicle of grace, resilience, and faith seem incredible to believe? Perhaps you recognize yourself or someone you know in parts of it. I hope that by hearing Mumsy’s tale, you will connect to your own story of grace, resilience, and faith. This narrative is only a small part of Mumsy’s personal history, and I’m so proud to be her daughter. Her legacy lives on in me and those whose lives she touches. May we each be inspired to live into the highest version of ourselves as we refuse to be defeated by difficult circumstances and express our love through acts of kindness.
May your mind be peaceful and calm, may your body be relaxed and comfortable, and may your heart be filled with love.
Thank you for reading.
Blessings and gratitude,