Grace Under Fire

January 18, 2005

In late November my mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital after collapsing at home. She had been weakened almost to the point of death by an unchecked and undiagnosed bleeding ulcer. After a short stay in the hospital to receive blood transfusions, she has been recuperating in a nursing home. To call my mother-in-law stubborn, secretive, and more than a little paranoid, would not be putting too fine a point on her personality. The forced invasion of medical and social services personnel has heightened her personality quirks.

Preferring to live well outside the light of normal interactions with government agencies or medical providers, Mom had no real safety net in place. Two years ago Michele put into place Medicare part B, as her mom couldn't (or wouldn't) do this for herself. Based on information from the medical staff who has examined her mother, Michele realized that her mom could no longer function safely on her own. At the very least her mother required regular in-home care visits, and for the time being she really needed to stay in the nursing home. Her blood counts were dangerously off, and the risk of stroke or embolism were high. All of this care would require more than Medicare would cover.

Michele undertook the complicate and time consuming process of qualifying her mother for Medicaid. Each move her mother made, from ICU to general care, from hospital to nursing home, has resulted in at least one change in social worker. Michele has had to start the process of getting services and coverage for her mom over and over again. She has had to deal with more or less helpful case workers; some are cheerful while others are rudely intrusive. Along the way she has become the focal point for all the emotional angst from her mother's sisters, and from her own brother. Not to mention the increasingly hostile responses from her mom, who wants no part of any of this.

Every day for weeks now Michele has set aside her emotions about the wanning days of her mother's life in order to coax, cajole, finesse, bully, plead, navigate, grovel, and push her way through the thickets of red tape surrounding her mother. Every day I see the toil this herculean task has taken on my wife. The unrelenting, unending nature of this task has eaten away at her limited reserves. She is totally spent, and the end is no where in sight yet.

What is most amazing to me, and the reason for this posting, is to record the amazing grace Michele has shown consistently throughout this ordeal. Over and over she has allowed her mother, or aunts, or brother to vent their frustrations while never getting a place to vent her own, with them, in return. She has been courteous in the face of a vast and seemingly uncaring bureaucracy, and she hasn't once taken out any of her anger, fear, or depression on anyone else. I'm not saying that she hasn't broken down and cried, or raged, or been depressed. On the contrary, she vents almost daily about the absurdity and lunacy of the entire situation, but she does so in ways that are appropriate and healthy.

I am honored to have been a small part of her efforts to provide a comfortable, stable, and relatively safe environment for her mother. And I have been privileged to the safe place where Michele can fall when it all gets to be too much to bear. I have a new standard for grace to use in my life.

And that standard is my beautiful, incredible, wonderful wife, Michele.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.