I’ve mentioned her a few times in this blog, so regulars know that Momma Ape has been struggling with a host of pain and mobility issues since I was a teenaged ape. But I wanted to take this Mother’s Day as an opportunity to dedicate a whole post to the wise, resilient, amazing woman who continues to be my loving, patient guide through this ordeal.
Back when Momma Ape first starting having problems, not much was known about Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. As recently as the early nineties – in fact, still today, in some cases – a woman could walk into a doctor’s office seriously unwell and be pushed right back out the door with a diagnosis of it’s-all-in-your-head. But my Mom is neither hysterical nor easily intimidated, and she relentlessly pursued doctors and therapists until she finally encountered people who took her seriously and started working to help her.
Unfortunately, because mainstream medicine had not yet assimilated a full complement of chronic pain syndromes, Mom was often forced to turn to alternative [to] medicine specialists, most of whom promised the moon but never delivered. While it’s important to point out that a handful of the dozens of practitioners she saw did offer relief, some of it significant, there was a prevalence of mind-over-body treatment modalities, based on the idea that it is the sufferer’s emotional or spiritual state that is responsible for her pain.
That may be useful for people with temporal, stress-induced issues like stomach upset or headaches (not migraines), but for those with genuine, physical ailments underlying their pain, it only serves to heighten the guilt and doubt they feel about their maladies. I can’t imagine the pummeling Momma Ape’s self esteem endured as she pursued treatment after treatment, grappling with insinuations that she was somehow personally responsible for her condition.
Even now, under the care of specialists who were able to correctly diagnose and treat my injury, I suffer from guilt and doubt. The first doctor I saw did not take me seriously and treated me for something I didn’t have, undoubtedly expecting that the placebo effect of having needles jammed into my neck would give me relief. (It didn’t.) The first physical therapists treated me just like any other patient, causing me to overwork and overuse muscles that became damaged and inflamed, making my injury worse instead of better. It was Momma Ape who swooped in and directed me to pursue other options. This is not right, she said. You should not still be in so much pain. I’ve spent my whole life ignoring my body’s signals. I had no idea that my treatments were not helping. But Mom knew, and she pushed me to keep going and keep looking until I found the right people.
Those of us who benefit from the efforts of the pioneering doctors and patients who came before us are usually too wrapped up in dealing with our own issues to reflect on why it is that we can walk into a doctor’s office and be taken at our word, or how it is that the treatments we receive came to be. I had a front row seat for Momma Ape’s journey, and even now – especially now – I am humbled by her strength and tenacity. It is because of her, and men and women like her, that I have been able to receive the pain medications and treatments that are keeping me functioning. Twenty years ago, I would have been crippled by this injury, unable to drive, to work, or to even continue to live on my own, unassisted. I might very well have been under veritable house arrest for the rest of my life.
Would I have been able to maintain the optimistic spirit that bore my mother up over the years? I have a name and treatment regimen for my injury. She had no such luxuries. She is my lady with the lamp, but she had to fumble through in the dark. And through it all, she refused to give up. She held true to her inner voice that told her that she was right and there was more that could be done. It takes a powerful self-assurance to travel the path she followed; to pursue something that she herself might only receive limited benefit from so that those who came after her would be taken care of. I don’t know if I could have managed it, and I’m immensely grateful to her and others like her, whose efforts meant I didn’t have to.
Thank you. Thank you, Mom. Thank you to everyone who refused to take no for an answer, who refused to believe that their problems were all in their heads, and who insisted on being heard, and taken seriously, and treated with dignity. You are among the saints and angels. We who follow your path gratefully take your hands as we make our own ways through the wilderness. Because of you, we are diagnosed sooner and treated more aggressively, and are able to avoid some of the serious consequences that you now bear with such grace. We owe a debt we can never repay. All we can do is honor you and speak the truths you have taught us.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I am the luckiest little ape in the world.