If you were to meet me, I doubt your first impression would be one of a matron, and you’d be right. I’m not a caregiver or a mother and I have zero medical training. Yet here I am, falling somewhere between Florence Nightingale and Nurse Ratched. Likely closer to the Ratched end of the spectrum.
A few years ago, my mom moved in with me due to her health. She has many ailments such as CKF, PBC, CHF and a few other things best explained through the use of capital letters. But her most dramatic malady is her propensity for gastrointestinal bleeds or GI bleeds as those in the know call it.
I refer to these bleeds as dramatic because they are. Sometimes they are a slow casual affair that we only notice when we see her hematology results. And sometimes I leave the house for a walk and come home to find my mom languishing on the bathroom floor in a small pool of blood.
So, my main job in caring for my mom is keeping her alive. On the surface, it’s not that different than owning a horse. The goals are the same: keep them alive, keep them healthy, keep them safe and keep them happy. All those years of my mom putting her hard-earned wages towards my teenage dream of riding for my country have paid off, just not how we anticipated.
There are some differences between my mom and a horse, of course. Communication with our equine friends is tricky, which is why we’ve learned to read their body language and notice abnormalities in a single glance. In the human world, they call this a head-to-toe assessment. My mom calls it scrutiny.
Even though my mom and I speak the same language I know if my mom is cranky, stops eating, takes a nap, or goes to bed early, trouble is brewing. And when trouble is brewing, I find myself creeping around the house spying on her in the off chance, I suppose, that things have improved. Is she watching TV, is she reading, has she finished her water, is she eating? I spend so much time fretting about what is happening when I am not in the same room, I’m considering buying foaling cameras to string about the house to keep an eye on things without having to get up.
Everything means something. My mom is right, I do scrutinize, and I do it because there is a marked difference between my mom eating and my mom wanting to eat.
My mom is all there mentally, which is a relief as she is my frontline editor for these stories I write, including this one. But when things go pear-shaped, I can’t trust much of what she says. She lies like a sidewalk, spewing falsehoods to throw me off the scent in a desperate attempt to stay out of the hospital. Thanks to horses I understand the importance of vitals and though I have never taken a horse’s blood pressure or oxygen saturation, I know all about temperature, respiration and heart rate. And if those things are out of whack, we call the vet and they come to the farm.
Doctors don’t make house calls, which makes taking my mom’s vitals the best way to get closer to the truth. I know, for example, an absurdly low blood pressure could mean a GI bleed. I know shortness of breath could mean a GI bleed or a heart thing or a lung thing. I know a high temperature may mean infection, but I don’t know of what. The body, human or equine, is a network of confusion and bewilderment and ailments sharing symptoms is just one perplexity in a box of many.
It’s possible I’m a little over the top when it comes to my scrutinous ways, but my mom’s good days and bad days seem to change with the wind, and I like to know whether I should spend the day stressing or relaxing.
Of course, there is no point in doing all this spying and vital taking if I don’t write it down. And so, much as I did for my horses, I keep a dossier on my mom. Doctors do raise an eyebrow when I walk into their office with my attaché case, but I don’t mind. I own my obsession. Vets expect this sort of behaviour from horse owners, otherwise, it makes getting to the root of the problem all the more difficult.
Horses, as I’m sure you are aware, tend to be accident-prone and often don’t know what is good for them, and while my mom doesn’t kick down fences or get hung up in them, her upper intestine is about as trustworthy as a cheeky horse.
In an attempt to get a leg up on her GI bleeds my mom was sent to a gastroenterologist who wields the longest endoscope in British Columbia. With this scope, probably the same one they use on horses, the doctor can burn away any suspicious intestinal veins that cross his path.
During the pre-scope visit, I must have spoken with such conviction about GI bleeds, PBC and portal hypertension and how they tie together that he felt compelled to ask, “Are you a medical professional?”
“No, I’m a horse person.”
He isn’t the first doctor to have asked me this, which means I must be digesting what the professionals are saying. And this, I suspect, harks back to the days when I called the vet out to investigate my horse’s warm ankle, for example.
I wanted to know the cause of the problem, so I asked questions. A lot of questions. I’d look up images of horse ankles to better understand the mechanics of how they work and thought about how my horse may have irritated it enough to make it warm. The more I understood the easier the problem was to correct.
And even though I’m not correcting, fixing or factory resetting my mom, it gives me some peace of mind to understand, even if vaguely, what is going wrong and how best to mitigate further problems or complications.
I credit horses for my ability to care for my mom. Learning and understanding that everything does mean something and figuring out what that something is made a difference to my horse and now my mom.
To all the horses that have passed through my life, I say, thank you—for teaching me how to best care for my mom.