My mother died in September 2018, after a long battle with dementia. Once they got her meds figured out, she was always a very pleasant lady. She always knew who I was, in the sense that she identified me as a coworker at the organization she’d retired from twenty years before, and she treated me professionally and warmly, as she would any subordinate who was working for her. But that’s not this story.
In 1982 I was an ensign in the Navy, and about to start Submarine Officers Basic School. Mom had come out to Connecticut for a week after I had been in a plane crash because I was having trouble with some things (sleeping, moving, carrying anything besides myself — I got banged up some). My right wrist was in a cast, but my thumb was mostly free. I was due for a follow-up exam the day before Mom was supposed to go home. She came along with me to the base hospital, mostly (I thought) to make sure I was driving okay. Then she came in with me. NOT after asking me first.
Background 1: Ensigns are the lowest form of Naval officer. No one takes them seriously, unless they’re former enlisted (I wasn’t). So having my mommy come with me to see the doctor was fairly humiliating.
Background 2: Mom was head nurse on the orthopedic floor of the top hospital in the northern Chicago suburbs. She knew her stuff, in other words.
So the corpsman takes me in, gets me x-rayed, has us wait, comes in where we’re waiting and says the doctor told him everything looked good, we were done. And he’s on his way out and Mom says, “May I see them, please.” (Lack of question mark: not a typo.)
“Ma’am?” (But his body language said, “What, lady?” Oh!, thinks I, BIG MISTAKE!)
“The x-rays. Please bring them here.” (Cold, cold, cold tone.)
Eyeballs lock. Mom normally stares down doctors who are WAY over this guy’s pay grade, so no contest. Corpsman leaves and returns with my x-rays. Meanwhile, the stupid floor stubbornly refuses to open up and swallow me.
Mom looks at x-rays. “The doctor saw these?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Hey, lady, weren’t you listening, I already told you.
Mom points to an area at the base of my thumb on the x-ray. “Tell him to look again here. There’s a hairline fracture on the navicular. Tell him the patient has tenderness consistent with it.” Hands him the x-rays. NOT up for discussion. The corpsman leaves. Lightning fails to strike me down and relieve me of my suffering. Stupid lightning.
Corpsman returns. Corpsman has turned off the “some dumb broad who’s an ensign’s mommy” attitude and addresses Mom like she’s a senior officer. “Yes, ma’am! The doctor agrees with you, ma’am, and he’d like the patient’s thumb immobilized. Would you like to come along, ma’am?” Why don’t I come, too, since I can’t detach my arm at the elbow — yeah, why don’t I do that.
So, now that my mother has essentially bitch-slapped the corpsman all around the room without raising a hand or her voice, she goes into charm mode and starts talking shop. “What cast material are you using? Have you tried <something or other>? How do you like…” and so on. By the time they were done they were best buds. Me, I got asked, “How’s that feel?” and I gave a positive grunt. The lack of a detachable arm was my only reason for being there.
So anyway, that was my mother. She stayed in health care but went to work for a small retirement home as senior health assistant (head nurse); got her masters and moved into administration; retired as director of health care of the (by then expanded) three-campus retirement community many years later. When she would go back to visit, people would flock around her and say how much they missed her. She was smart, capable, and basically the standard against which I measured any woman in whom I showed an interest the rest of my life.
She also startled the hell out of my first wife by showing up unexpectedly at her workplace — two thousand miles away from where Mom lived — to give Linda a piece of her mind after we divorced. But that’s another story.
After note: although other bones that were broken in the crash bother me sometimes, my right thumb has always felt great. So there’s that.