Nearly 3am in the morning, and I am having trouble sleeping. I have had an emotional week, and insomnia reigns once again. Earlier in the week, I was fidgeting constantly and could not concentrate on my work very well. Honestly, I probably just worked a normal week instead of a crazy grad student week, but I felt so unproductive. I finally decided to put my model and data reduction aside for a few days and focus on some mindless labwork. I cut and photographed some rocks then picked carbonate crystals for a day-and-a-half while listening to Pandora. Sometimes, repetitive, mindless labwork is just what you need. This past week, such work was about all my brain could handle.
Why was I so upset and unable to concentrate this past week? My wonderful mom was in the hospital because of her diverticulitis, which is a common digestive disorder that is basically inflammation of the intestine. She was scheduled to see a doctor on January 20th to schedule surgery for early February, but her diverticulitis became so painful that my dad took her to the emergency room. When she first went into the hospital, she thought she might stay overnight or at most a day or two. Her intestine had other plans for her as it developed a nasty infection that resisted the first course of antibiotic treatment. She ended up staying in the hospital for 9 days and was just released home yesterday.
My first thought 10 days ago was to rush up to the hospital immediately. My dad (and mom) convinced me to stay at home and work on my thesis. My dad told me that while the situation was bad enough for my mom to be in the hospital, she wasn’t in any immediate danger. He suggested that I wait until my mom was released from the hospital to come up for a few days as I could be more helpful. I reluctantly agreed and did my best to focus on my work. The nurses and doctors could take care of my mom in the hospital, but my dad would really need my help once mom came home.
When we first made this plan, my mom was not supposed to be in the hospital for so long. She was finally released yesterday, and tonight after work I drove up to my parents’ house. I am relieved to finally be here and able to help.
Infections are scary. Really scary. I place much confidence in modern medicine, but truth be told many people still die from infections. More and more often these days, infections are resistant to antibiotics. For the present, my mom’s infection appears to be under control. She still needs surgery, so she’s not out of the woods yet. However, she is home now, resting and trying to regain her strength before surgery.
I would be devastated if anything happened to my mom. My mom is no ordinary mom– she is a skeptic extraordinaire mom. My mom has attended every single US Amaz!ng Meeting (1-8) and a few other JREF cruises and such. She writes for She Thought, she is involved with local skeptical groups, and she often volunteers for the JREF. Her favorite skeptic topic is alien abductions. She has– seriously– read hundreds of books about UFOs and aliens, both the scientific, skeptical ones and the wild world of woo ones. She runs a website (that is colorful and quirky, just like she is) called “Bad Alien” where she provides information about UFOs and alien abductions, mostly to help people who think they may have been abducted by aliens.
My mom encouraged and helped me apply to work for the JREF as an intern, which I did twice back in undergrad. When I graduated from college, my mom arranged for Phil Plait to send me a letter *and* a meteorite as a graduation gift. I’m extremely close with my mom– we talk by phone 4 or 5 nights a week. Some people find it surprising that my mom and I are so close. I’m not surprised. She’s pretty much the coolest mom ever.
My mom is cool for all sorts of other reasons as well– and she’s my mom– so I am understandably distressed by her recent health problems. My mom is still quite sick, but I have a few reasons to be thankful today:
1. My mom is alive today and will continue to remain alive– science willing– thanks to modern medicine and the care of many excellent doctors and nurses. A hundred or even fifty years ago, such an infection would probably have killed my mom. Scary thought. This is not the first time my mom’s life has been saved by modern medicine. She is also a double cancer survivor. To all the doctors and health professionals and medical researchers out there– thank you. Please keep doing your job and doing it well.
2. The skeptical community is wonderful. Most of my mom’s close friends are fellow skeptics. Over the past few days, many care packages and messages of support have been sent to my mom from her fellow skeptics. No one (well, among her skeptic friends anyway) has offered to pray for her. Instead, they have asked my dad and I “What can we DO for her? What can we DO for you to help you care for her?”
3. I am a graduate student and have a flexible schedule. I am going to stay here for a full week to help my mom (and my dad). I arranged with my advisor to work on reducing my X-ray diffraction data all week up here. Most jobs do not have such flexibility.
My mom really is a wonderful person and skeptic. Her one request from her skeptic friends when she was in the hospital? She wanted them to send her skeptical magazines that she could donate to the hospital. As she put it, the hospital magazines were all “Christian magazines, AARP, and Golf Digest.” Thanks to my mom, the waiting rooms in one New England hospital are now covered with skeptical magazines. When she goes back for her surgery, she is going to scatter even more skeptical magazines throughout the hospital.
I’m an atheist, and I don’t pray. However, I do feel thankful today. Thankful that I have such a wonderful mother and that she is slowly recovering. I don’t believe in any deities to thank, so I’ll say this instead:
Thank you, science and scientists, for saving and healing my mom.
Thank you, skeptics and other friends, for your support of my mom.
Thank you, mom, for being the best mom ever.