Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Physical Therapy

When I was 12, I had to learn how to give my mother physical therapy. I'm not sure why they chose me to do it instead of my older brother. Apparently, my father simply wasn't co-ordinated enough to manage it properly, but as far as I know, they never even tried to teach my older brother how to do it. Of course, he was the difficult child and I was the obedient one, so that was probably it. Or maybe it was because I was a girl and he was a boy. Everyone knows that girls are better at taking care of people than boys are, right? Even if they are two years younger and far more emotionally vulnerable.

Anyway, my mother had a very nasty lung disease. My family referred to it as terminal bronchiectasis. I don't know if that is the actual scientific name, but that was what we called it. Basically, my my mother's lungs were slowly, but surely filling up with infected phlegm. One of the ways to get this phlegm out was to put her on a tilted board with her head downwards and rhythmically beat on her back, sides and front with slightly cupped hands until she hacked up some of the phlegm. We would then look at it to check what shade of yellow, green or brown it was, and if it had any blood in it.

We did this physical therapy three times a day, morning, afternoon and evening. Each time, the whole procedure took a little over an hour. 10 minutes for her left back, 10 for her left side, 10 for her left front, then 10 for her right back, etc... She would usually cough up phlegm 2 or more times during each 10 minute section. I hated it. I hated the sound of her cough. I hated looking at the mucus covered tissues. I hated feeling her body struggle first to breath, then to expel the phlegm that was slowly killing her. It's not that I didn't want to help my mother. I did. It was just that being forced to be so intimate with her disease was extremely stressful for me. I was, after all, only twelve.

I had been told that by performing this physical therapy on my mother, I was helping her to live. But all I could feel as I was drumming on her body, was her dying beneath my hands.

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