Looking out for Martha

Martha makes a horrendous noise when she yawns. It is because she can’t get enough air into her lungs and this is the noise her body makes. It is terrifying to hear but what frightens Anne, her daughter, is that it has become an every day noise. When Martha made the noise today in the bathroom, Anne’s son ran from his room to check she was okay. Anne saw fear etched on his face, as he asked his Nan if he could help. She heard herself saying ‘Its okay love, Nan does that all the time’. She wondered when she became so immune to her mother’s illness, when did the pain she goes through on a daily basis become acceptable.

Martha was diagnosed with a lung disease 10 years ago. At that time they told her she had no time left, she was in such poor condition. Martha has defied the specialists and the disease in some way. Although she is in the later stages of the illness now, her amazing and powerful spirit is still fighting. As a family, they have had plenty of time to get used to the illness and know what Martha needs. The number one thing is love, but they also recognise and meet all her other needs.

The autoimmune disease Martha has affects so much of what the family does now. Winters are long and spent inside the home, as Martha cannot venture out in the cold. It’s not only the weather but also the fear of catching the winter viruses that imprisons Martha. She lives for the summer, warmth on her face and vitamin D for her bones. Anne feels her mother’s frustration during those winter months and wants to be able to make her happy in any way she can. Anne feels guilty that she can run around town and enjoy the fresh air but Martha always insists that she does.

It is not often Martha and Anne visit a café anymore, maybe only on hospital visits these days. But when they are in café and Martha has a coughing fit, Anne can see herself waving the waiting staff away when they attempt to help by bringing water. It is not that she is not grateful for their kindness but she knows it is not water her mother needs, coughing is what she does all day, every day. People and the germs all around are as dangerous to her autoimmune disease as anything else, so Anne attempts to keep them away and shield her mother. She has come to recognise the coughs and would know if her mum was in trouble, Anne hopes to god that’s the case anyway. Anne believes she must look like the daughter from hell to strangers, she doesn’t really care what she looks like to other people as long as what she does for her mum is right.

If Anne is honest, she has in fact always cared what she looks like to others. She has always wanted to be accepted and approved of, but she has also learnt to put these feelings aside for now. It is not about her at the moment, what is important is what she can do for her mum.

Martha is fiercely independent and when she goes to any of the many hospital appointments, she likes to go into her consultations on her own. Martha says there will come a time when she needs Anne with her, but until then she wants to be able to manage by herself. Anne understands this but it does not mean she doesn’t sit in the waiting room wanting the floor to swallow her up sometimes. She feels the looks and almost hears the thoughts of the people who witness her remaining seated while allowing her mother to struggle across the room trailing her oxygen cylinder. Anne wants to shout, ‘she won’t let me go with her’, but she wouldn’t dream of causing a scene. For now she needs to harness the same strength as her mother.

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