Hearing the front door close behind me, my mother called out, “I’ll be down in a minute. I’m looking for something.” She bustled around upstairs. On MLK day, she snapped the tip off of her right elbow, along with the tendon that attaches her triceps to it, but she refuses to let that inconvenience interfere with her activities.
Rummaging noises heightened and I called back, “Do you need some help?”
As I knew she would, my mother declined my offer to assist her searching. “No,” she said, appearing at the top of the stairs, then mumbled, “I put my sling down somewhere. I can’t find it.”
She’s a determined sort. If her life’s path had signage, it would say NO STOPPING OR STANDING. She drives hard bargains and haggles as general conversation. Nothing is exempt from negotiation, not even medical protocol.
After the initial treatment for her wounded elbow, she forced my father to take her splint to the woodshop and saw off a fourth of it. It constrained use of her hand and she was having none of that, no matter how my daddy protested.
The physician she chose as her victim fared no better. Within minutes she had him making concessions like a used car salesman. He cried uncle and agreed to forego the splint and a cast, saying, “We’ll keep an eye on it and see if the bone and tendon reattach.” She left his office with a sling in hand and admonitions that she would have to wear it for it to do her any good.
For the most part, the sling hangs from her shoulder like a purse. Occasionally, it slides around and dangles like an amulet on a necklace. She’s deemed it a nuisance no better than the splint.
“You’re not wearing it are you?” I accused. Knowing I was out of line to speak to my mother this way, I avoided rebuke by scouring the downstairs for the misplaced apparatus. I found it in the kitchen tossed aside like Tuesday’s leftovers.
She came downstairs and strapped it on, putting her damaged arm into the crook, all the while complaining that she can’t get anything done while wearing it. “I think that’s the point,” I said.
She defended her actions: “I hold my arm in place like this as if it was in the sling.” If she moves it in a way that hurts, she explained, she tucks it back into the correct restrictive angle. The one problem she’s having is that her biceps burn.
At risk of being reprimanded for sassing, I suggested that the burning sensation in her biceps is probably from the strain of holding her arm in place without the support of the sling.
She discounted my precocious remark.
The next thing I hear she has my father driving her from Georgia to Memphis in a full-on ice storm so that she can care for my widower uncle post surgery. With the sling cast over her back like a cape, she’s held her arm in strict alignment and tended to his meals, housekeeping and necessities.
When she gets back to Georgia this week and sees her doctor, she’ll sit in his office with her arm in the sling. He will question the patient about her progress, choosing his words carefully. She’ll report the burning in her biceps. He’ll have to ask, “Have you been wearing your sling?”
Because she technically has, my mother will reply, “Yes.”
The poor man will not think to inquire, “How have you been wearing it?” And he has no idea the ways in which this omission will be leveraged against him.