22 March 2015

Not the flying doctor

Spring in Torino
Spring in Torino - not the reason I was there
Waking up to a text message that begins "Hi Mum, I'm fine, but I'm in hospital after being knocked down by a car" is guaranteed to get maternal anxiety going big time. Especially when the daughter who sent it is in a hospital over 13,000 kilometers away in Italy. 

We managed to talk by phone. She said that she'd been taken to the hospital by ambulance because she'd had a bump on the head. She sounded groggy, but it was, after all, the middle of the night there. She said her friends were looking after her well. "It's not that serious" she reassured us.

The time difference between Italy and Perth meant that we had to wait another 7 hours before we could speak to her again without disturbing her sleep. In the meantime I'd managed to contact one of her friends who told me that Zoe had a skull fracture and had been vomiting "but don't worry, she's doing fine". 

Not worrying is not easy if your medical training tells you all the possible disastrous complications of a head injury, and your imagination has nothing to stifle it except brief text messages and phone calls. I needed to SEE that she was fine. "Do you think I should go over there?" I asked my husband. "What's stopping you?" he said, without hesitating.

So about the time that I'd expected to be sharing morning tea with my bible study group in Perth, I found myself sitting in Dubai airport, waiting for my connection to Milan. The whole thing felt surreal. Usually I plan overseas trips months in advance. This time I'd bought the tickets and packed my bag just hours before I boarded the plane. How thankful I was that I had the resources and the freedom to just up and go like that, and thankful too that I knew where I was going and how to get there.

On the plane I worried that I might burst into tears when I saw Zoe. I was feeling pretty strung out emotionally. When I arrived she was sitting on a trolley in the emergency department, looking pale, with two black eyes, her hair unbrushed and standing on end. She looked like a Goth after a hard night of partying, but she was smiling with that typical broad smile of hers. No tears were needed.

To cut a long story short, after staying in hospital for a week, Zoe went home with no complications. I stayed with her for a few more days, happy when I left that she was functioning quite normally, except for tiring easily. Her friends did a fantastic job of looking after her, and me, and would continue to be there for her after I left. (You can read Zoe's account of her experiences in her blog.)

Now that I'm home, still trying to pick up my normal routine where I left off so unexpectedly, I find myself wondering, what was that all about? What did I hope to achieve, what urge did I satisfy, by travelling half way across the world at short notice? I'm sure Zoe appreciated me being there, but as an adult, did she really need my presence? Or was it me who needed her? What is it that ties a mother to her child even when that child is a fully independent adult?

All sorts of "what ifs" come to mind. Would I have travelled across the world to see her if she'd had a broken leg rather than a cracked skull? What if she was married and had a spouse by her side? What if I'd been working full  time, or couldn't afford the price of the ticket? Questions like these have no answers.

I remembered while I was travelling to and from the hospital how my own mother visited me every day when I was in hospital as a child with appendicitis. It took her two bus rides each way through the snow to get there. At the time I didn't understand or appreciate how much effort she put in to being there, or why she did it. I do now.

Yet I also recall mothers I've met who seemed detached from their children, or even hostile, too overwhelmed by their own problems to be interested in their welfare. This thing called mother love isn't simply a matter of instinct.

"No matter how old you are, to me you'll always be my baby" says the Facebook sentiment, complete with picture of baby bear or bunny or pup. Well, I don't think of my adult daughters as "my babies" any more. For a start, they wouldn't appreciate it if I did. And I really like the women they've become, and wouldn't have them any other way. But when they hurt, I still hurt. I want to be there, even if there's nothing I can do to make things better. I probably always will.

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