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My Mother's Legacy

The older I get, the more I see my mother's face in the mirror. The first time this happened, I screamed like a banshee and ran from the room.  Now, it both pleases and scares the hell out of me.

My mother was a strong, independent woman who dealt with great adversity & grief and raised two young children alone (my father was killed in a wreck when my brother and I were young.)

She died at 56, of a cerebral aneurysm. She had serious hypertension and had been having debilitating headaches for over 20 years. Oddly, however, the physician she trusted (our family MD) never investigated her blinding head pain and nausea.   He simply wrote it off as "stress" and instead prescribed pill after pill - muscle relaxers, pain killers, sedatives - when a simple CT scan (or its equivalent) might have saved her life.  

I was told at the hospital by the chief neurosurgeon, after my mother had slipped into a coma, that they could have done surgery before her brain began to swell, (Golly Darn!) "if they had known about her condition  ... in time."   I lost control completely.  I don't remember everything, but I know that I ranted, screamed & cursed until a nurse stuck a hypodermic in my arm.

Over the years and with a lot of work, I have forgiven the negligent doctor who helped hasten my mother's death, but I will never forget.  Fortunately, he has lost his license to practice medicine.  I truly hope this has saved other innocent lives.

Still, I acknowledge that no one forced a pill down my mother's throat.  She had the right to speak up and never found the courage to do so.  She avoided confrontation at all costs, as my younger brother does to this day.   

I learned a great lesson from her suffering and early death.  Refusing to make waves, even when you're drowning, will cost you your life.   

Watching someone close to me crash & burn has given me a different perspective on medicine & on life.  I believe that part of my mother's legacy was the gift of healthy skepticism.  I take nothing for granted now, especially regarding my health.  I do my own research before I take prescriptions or allow procedures, and I look for interactions.  I go to internet websites and to the library and read, read, read!  I do not trust physicians easily.  Instead, I trust my body and its instincts.  This has caused several previous physicians to view me as a 'difficult patient'.  After watching what my mother went through as a 'good patient', I figure this is just the price I pay to stay alive.

A good doctor welcomes questions & wants you to understand what she's doing and why.  Educated patients help themselves to heal and any MD worth her salt knows this.  Ignorance & illness are a very dangerous combination.

My doctor never surprises me.  Anytime she proposes a treatment, she explains her reasons & we discuss it.  Nothing is carved in stone; we make my health care decisions together.  I have said "No" more than once to her suggestions.

In short, she is a partner - not the Director - of my wellness.  She is open-minded and supports alternative healthcare when possible, i.e.  exercise, yoga, meditation, and holistic remedies.  It was she who, years ago, recommended Evening Primrose Oil to me for menstrual cramps and PMS. Primrose is an ancient Native American treatment that has worked for generations for symptoms of PMS, menstrual pain; even to lessen labor pain during childbirth.  Also, she suggested that I take biofeedback to reduce job stress when I was trading stocks during the "Excessive 80's".  It helped me keep my job ... and my sanity!

If your physician gives orders instead of suggestions, doesn't listen or hesitates to answer questions, you have reason for concern. There are far too many good doctors out there to put up with even one bad one.

Updated January 2002.