Mothers and Meaning

John G. Scott

“Dr. Scott, this is Dr. Font.” The call came from my mother’s cardiologist as I was about to see my first patient of the morning. “Your mother is worse. You’d better come as soon as you can. I don’t think she’ll survive the day.” Those blunt words shattered my denial: I had convinced myself that it was possible to fix the cumulative, lifelong damage wreaked on my mother’s heart by her atrial septal defect, a congenital condition.

I thought back to the time, weeks earlier, when I’d gone to visit my parents. The vibrant, life-loving, intellectually engaged woman I knew so well was beaten down by her illness. Pain clouded her eyes and lined her face. I could see the bony outlines of her hips underneath her clothes.

I had sat up with her all night, feeling her racing pulse and holding her hand as she struggled to master her terror. Eyes closed, she repeated over and over, “Lord, give me strength. Lord, give me strength. Lord, give me strength.” By morning, I felt exhausted–and ashamed to realize that my 84-year-old father had been doing this for weeks. My medical objectivity vanished: all that mattered was to …

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