A co-worker and friend stopped down the other day and somehow or other we started talking about childhood injuries and the different reactions that moms have. Her mom could handle the crisis but then had strong physical reactions later, often passing out if blood was involved. Jason's mom's trademark, shared with several of her sisters, was to stand in one spot with her hands to her ears, running in place for a moment before tending to the injury. (The only time I saw this in person was at a Christmas party when one of the younger kids got a DART STUCK IN HIS HEAD because they were all playing a game in the basement where one kid threw a bunch of darts in the air and everyone else ran away from them. Kathie and at least two of her sisters ran in place with hands at ears and screamed, and I just sat there with my mouth wide open and my head buzzing because my brain just could not believe what it was seeing. The kid was fine, by the way.)
Ainsley has yet to present to me with a broken bone or a serious cut, so I really don't know how I'd react. Given that sports injuries that get replayed on TV make me see spots and feel light-headed, I don't think I'd get through an obviously, distortedly broken bone without needing smelling salts. But blood doesn't bother me. (It does Jason, so I guess we're evenly matched and could probably handle an Ainsley injury pretty well if we were together when it happened. If.)
I tried to think of what my mom does when she has to deal with something grosser than gross from one of her brood, and all I could think was that she...well, deals with it. Calmy, coolly, and without so much as a gag. Amazing.
Her friends say all the time that she missed her calling. Had she grown up in a different time and a different place with more educational opportunities available to women, she would have made a magnificent nurse. A trauma nurse, even. She's just that good at dealing with the blood, gore, snot, and offal that makes most of us turn gray and find a toilet.
The only way I can even tell that mom's disgusted by something is this noise she makes:
I don't know what she's trying to say. Maybe she means to put an "it" at the end to make it her favorite curse word but can't quite get it out. But I've heard this for years whenever she begins to clean up whatever god-awful mess someone has made--vomit, a nasty knee scrape where most of the child's skin got left on the sidewalk, a large smear on the carpet from where the cat has used the rug as toilet paper. I don't know what it means, but right after saying it she grabs her tools and goes at the job anyway.
And mom's seen things which, to quote Jeff Foxworthy, would gag a Roto-Rooter man.
When my sister was 8 and broke her arm after falling off the porch and onto the lawnmower, legend has it that she came in to the house pale and holding her arm.
"Mom, something's wrong with my arm..."
And when she let it go, the lower half of her arm dropped down at an angle. The bones couldn't make her arm straight. The thought of it gives me chills. Mom just grabbed her purse and went to the hospital without so much as a whimper.
Not only did she deal with a lot of disturbing injuries from my athletic sister, mom had to deal with a lot of illness from me. For the life of me, I could not contain my vomit as a kid. When I got sick, I blew like Old Faithful, minus the predictability.
"Sheee...." she'd exclaim as I tearfully showed her my bed, the side of the bathroom garbage can, the driveway, wherever it was I'd gotten sick. And with a mountain of towels and some Comet, she would clean up the mess without a single word of complaint (though she did wonder, out loud, to nobody in particular, why her youngest couldn't hit a toilet.)
I've cleaned up Ainsley's sick many times now. Not once have I been able to do it without at least one good, hearty gag and a half-time break to get out two cold cloths--one for Ains, one for me.
And don't even get me started on cleaning up cat crap after things don't go well in the litterbox.
When I was around 12, mom took a job as the hairdresser at a nursing home. The first place she headed when she got home was usually the bathtub. Once clean, she would run down that day's gross-outs; sometimes her ladies hocked and spat in her general or specific direction. More than once a patient's colostomy bag broke. IVs sometimes slipped out and blood would puddle in the floor. Since the patients only got their hair washed once or twice a week and most weren't able to exercise good personal hygeine, mom would sometimes discover feces in the patient's hair while she had them in the shampoo bowl.
That she could tell me what happened with little emotional or reflexive reaction while I was usually suppressing a gag impressed the hell out of me. Going to visit her while she worked and bring her lunch in the summertime made her my hero.
"You want half my sandwich?" she'd say, holding a tuna-salad-on-toast in one hand, sweeping up hair with the other (hair gags me just about worse than compound fractures), and keeping an eye on a lady busily clearing phlegm from her throat into a kidney bowl in the corner.
"No, thanks." I would say. And think to myself, I just may never eat again.
In dad's final days, when he had a surgical wound that wouldn't heal and both a urostomy and a colostomy, we had to go through a couple hours of wound care training at the hospital. By that time, I'd been through a lot myself; I'd given myself shots during chemo, doctored layered wounds left from the drainage tubes from my biopsy, and been more or less aware during my bone marrow biopsy. I thought I'd grown accustomed to anything, which is why I was there and my more squeamish sister wasn't.
The overhead lights were shining right down on top of me as I learned the procedures for packing the wound, cleaning the stoma, and changing the two bags. I started to get hot. I pretended that I needed a chair to let me get closer and see better, but really it was because my legs were failing but I needed to be strong and tough it out for my parents.
Mom, in the meantime, was pulling on the rubber gloves and grabbing the supplies out of the nurse's hands and saying, "Show me everything."
Not once after he got home and all that care fell to her did I hear her complain. Though I am pretty sure most of our phone calls those two weeks began with, "Sheee...."
There's a lot I admire and respect about my mom, that southern spitfire. But I think her best quality, the quality I wish either me or my sister had had the good fortune to inherit, comes down to sheer intestinal fortitude in the face of distress. The woman can just about handle anything.
All of us moms clean up nasty messes because we kinda have to. But few do it with such steadfast calm as mine.