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Are We There Yet?Charla BelinskiGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Charla Belinski

My mother called me recently to tell me she is now the poster child for back surgery. Thanks to me, that is.Last July she had a three lumbar fusion, which she’d been putting off for roughly her whole life. My mom was given a bad back at birth and somehow she never thought she could exchange it. Turns out just about all our parts are exchangeable if you don’t mind factory replacements. My sister Adina and I cleared our calendars in order to give Mom round-the-clock care when she was released from the hospital. Her journey to recovery, and eventually role model to senior citizens everywhere, was greatly influenced by me. That is to say, I watched my sister work herself to exhaustion while I made finger sandwiches and herbal tea. Hey, somebody’s got to offer support from the sidelines.

Frankly, I thought helping Mom recover would be a lot more fun. “We’ll go for walks and I’ll make you some healthy meals,” I’d told her as we penciled in the dates for me to travel to her house after the surgery. “We’ll watch movies and do physical therapy exercises together – hey, maybe I’ll even get in better shape myself.” I had it all planned, this pleasant girls’ week for the three of us. It’d be a like a little mini spa getaway.And then I arrived. As I stood in the doorway and glanced at the scene inside her bedroom, it looked like a scene from MASH. I’m pretty sure the doctor had discharged her from the hospital along with the entire surgical ward. Her bedside table resembled a pharmacy, with a plethora of prescription bottles and a little notebook to keep track so we wouldn’t accidentally overdose her. A well-used bedpan lay on the floor nearby to catch the effects of all the pain meds. A brace the size of a small plane sat ready for takeoff, and pillows lay strewn about for support. And an ominous gray walker was parked within arm’s reach. From somewhere inside the room, my normally energetic and healthy mother moaned. What on earth had she done to herself? I thought. More importantly, what about my spa?”Let me see your scar,” I inquired, thinking this would somehow break the ice as I stared nervously at the woman who vaguely resembled what my mother might look like in 20 years.

My sister helped her pull back her gown for me to see the “incision,” which apparently is just a euphemism for “knife wound.” You could measure the thing in feet, not inches. And the staples (yes, you read that right) looked like a homicidal handyman got a hold of her. I freaked.It was at this point that I realized the gift some people have as compassionate caregivers. I do not share this gift. I wish I did. It is simply not in my nature to dote on someone, even someone I love more than life itself. And so I watched, cheering wildly from the sidelines, as Adina provided care for our mother in ways that, quite frankly, make me uncomfortable even to think about now. Suffice it to say there are a number of things that are extremely difficult to do after surgery, and helping with these tasks requires a caregiver who – well, who won’t throw up.Sadly, this is not my forte.

But I rock at making my sister laugh, and at the end of a day that’s what an exhausted caregiver – parent, teacher, day-care worker, spouse – needs most. It may not have been a spa weekend, but like I said, someone’s gotta offer support from the sidelines.Laughter is the best medicine, and Charla’s mom is still chuckling over this one, so thanks for indulging her. Charla writes from her home in Snowmass Village, and her columns appear every other Sunday in the Post Independent. Contact her at

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