Many of us have a story about mom and, for this Mother’s Day, I hope you will indulge me as I share mine.
My mother, Irene, was a child during the Depression. She was fortunate to live in a home where her father was employed and her mother maintained a large garden — between the two, they had food on the table and a roof over their heads.
World War II played a key role in her life. Graduating from high school, she believed nursing would be her contribution to the war effort. By the time she graduated from nursing school, the war had ended. Young and looking for adventure, she moved to Hawaii to begin her career. After spending two years in Hawaii, she decided to return to her hometown to continue her nursing career, obtain a Bachelor of Science degree, marry and begin her family.
Nursing was not just her profession; it was her passion. At a time when physicians ruled and you didn’t question their knowledge or authority, it was Irene who consistently challenged them to assure that her patients received the care they deserved. It was Irene who broke the unwritten rule about not contacting doctors on Wednesday afternoon (stag day) at the local country club when her patients were in crisis.
With time and persistence, she earned the respect and admiration of the physician staff.
Not only was she a relentless patient advocate, she was a leader. Throughout her career, she held many positions, including director of an LPN program, director of education and director of nursing.
It was during her time as the director of nursing that she met Michelle, a local high school student looking for a job. Irene quickly found her a position as a nurse’s aide and encouraged her to continue her education after high school to become a registered nurse.
Always an independent woman, Irene’s life in retirement was no different. She remained active as a volunteer at the library, played tennis and bridge with her friends, worked in her garden, and preferred to walk rather than drive whenever possible.
Like many in her generation, she was a smoker, and eventually her smoking caught up with her and she developed peripheral vascular disease. The arteries in her legs grew narrower, requiring two bypass surgeries.
When she fell and broke her pelvis, weeks of rehab in a nursing home and a drug-resistant infection changed her life. And here is where the seeds she had sown over those so many years began to blossom.
Discharged to home, she received the services of a nurse’s aide and an RN to visit her weekly. For a strong, fiercely independent woman, she was not very welcoming when, on her first visit, the aide insisted on helping Irene take a shower. As she would soon find out, aides trained in the Irene tradition didn’t give up and always did what was right for the patient. Ultimately, the shower was accomplished, and soon the two of them became partners in her recovery.
When the RN made her initial visit, she was accepted as a peer. And, in the Irene tradition, it was this RN who contacted the physicians when necessary to assure that Irene’s medical care was the best.
In addition to her full professional life, juggling the responsibilities of marriage and raising children, she and my father found time to develop deep, long-lasting friendships. And, at the most crucial time in her life, her friends stepped up and showed up every day. Whether it was just to visit, to make a trip to the grocery store or to bring her meals, not a day passed without a visit from one of her friends.
When Irene learned that her out-of-state sister was coming to visit, her recovery and overall health went from good to great! By all appearances, she was in the best health she had been in years and they had a wonderful three-week visit.
It was on her sister’s last night that her health took its final turn. A trip to the local hospital, an ambulance ride to a major hospital, followed by imaging at the special studies area and the diagnosis was made. She had another clot in her leg and the surgeon informed her and us that, without surgery to remove her leg at the hip, she would certainly die.
Throughout her live, Irene had a very strong belief in living a good life and knowing that, when the time came, she would not be afraid. When the surgeon recommended an amputation of her leg at the hip, Irene didn’t hesitate and was clear in her response: “There are things worse than dying.” And much to the surgeon’s displeasure, with that the decision was made.
The next step was to find her a bed at hospice, and we knew who to call. You see, Michelle was now the director of the Hospice House, and even though she and her family were on vacation, she was quick to assure us that she would make certain that Irene got the care she deserved.
Irene’s life was a life well lived. One where her professionalism, determination, love and friendship given was returned in multiples.
— By Mark Smith, Tribune community columnist