At times in life, a child may need to nurse his parent. Maybe the child might feel stressed, but so many times the child can come through the difficulties and rise to the occasion. Most of the stories I hear about modern children who have to take on this responsibility are about situations where the child has to take control of an emergency with the help of responders reached by calling 9-1-1.
Year after year—my dad used to say it happened seven years in a row but I don’t know—my mother had pneumonia. Dad stayed with her as much as he could, but he needed help. Even before I reached the age of double digits, I missed school so I could nurse my mom. I was the youngest, the only girl left at home. Mother needed a girl to help her. Sometimes I missed school as much as two weeks at a time. My teachers, who were sweet to me, seemed to understand. They often excused me from the work I missed.
Dad placed a cot in the dining room, where she could be warm. From that location, she supervised my cooking activities when she had lucid moments. I remember how we propped the foot of Mother’s cot up in what I learned later in nursing school was a position known as reverse Trendelenburg...to keep her from fainting. We turned her on her side so she could cough effectively.
The antibiotics she took made her hallucinate, and the strong medication nauseated her. We made a mixture of chicken broth with cornmeal cooked in it. We wrapped her in a quilt and dangled her feet over the side of the bed. One spoonful at a time, we fed her.
Daddy went to town and returned with paper bags of supplies. Among these was a little bottle of bootlegged white lightening. “If you’ll take this, Myrtle, it will help your cough, and you’ll get better.”
Mother, who was a teetotaler, protested, but she was too weak to offer effective resistance. We spooned the liquid into her every time she had a coughing fit. I wasn’t sure whether the medications or the whiskey cured her. I never felt self-pity. Instead, I enjoyed the break from school. My mother was acting so goofy she made me laugh.
I had a special mama, who cheerfully nursed her children through whatever happened. I was not a special kid. I merely did what families had to do before the days of home health care. Every winter, I was glad my mother didn’t die from pneumonia.
And then there were times when my wonderful daughter helped take care of her parents, but that's another story....
(Mary Cooke, whose pen name is Mary Lou Cheatham, has co-authored with Sarah Walker Gorrell a poignant novel, Travelers in Painted Wagons on Cohay Creek, about a young boy trying to take care of his mother, who suffers with cancer.)