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(Cinders McLeod/Jason Chiu/The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod/Jason Chiu/The Globe and Mail)

10 pills a day and proud of it: My mom, the health-care addict Add to ...

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Some mothers are famous for their homespun remedies, like chicken noodle soup or hot rum toddies. Not my mom. She is completely devoted to our modern, publicly funded health-care system. She never met a doctor she didn’t idolize and never heard of a diagnostic test she didn’t want to undergo.

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My mom proudly takes 10 pills a day, some for serious conditions she’s accrued over the years – she is 86, after all – and some for what I suspect are spurious conditions she is convinced she has. For her, all symptoms seem to point to a medical emergency. A dizzy spell means she is having a stroke, an anxious feeling in her chest is an imminent heart attack.

She summons an ambulance the way Hollywood movie stars summon a limousine and she knows all the paramedics by their first names.

It seems to me that the modern, publicly funded health-care system returns the love, or at least has no interest in reining in her enthusiasm for the newest improved test, procedure or pill.

At the drugstore, where her friendly local pharmacist packages her pills in weekly containers so she won’t forget what they are all for, she is asked: “Would you like to pay your monthly bill today, ma’am?”

I brace myself for what I assume will be an astronomical outlay. “That’s $12.56 this month, ma’am.”

Honestly. Of course I’m resentful. It’s not like those freebies are going to be there for my generation or my children’s generation when we become elderly. I fear the well will have run dry by then.

As my mother ages, her love affair with the modern, publicly funded health-care system requires more and more of me and that just increases my resentment. She needs a driver to her many appointments, a secretary to take notes on what the doctor said because she might forget, and someone to figure out the complexities of the hospital parking payment system.

Her enjoyment of these appointments, her child-like faith in the doctor’s every word, her thrill at filling out a new prescription, all make me angrier.

Anger is not a good basis for a relationship with an elderly mother, so I go hunting in her history for some reason to sympathize.

Mom was the youngest child of seven in a family where love, attention, privilege, and even food, were meted out from eldest to youngest, with partiality given to the boys especially. She remembers the serving pot of meat stew arriving at her end of the table without a single chunk of meat left, just carrots and gravy. Sometimes her mother took a little off her own plate to share with the baby of the family. But her mother had some kind of heart disease and was an invalid for most of my mother’s life, dying at 50.

So, she wasn’t around any more when my mother married, got a job at the Children’s Aid Society, opened a nursery school, had her own three children, celebrated 55 years of marriage, lost her husband to cancer and ended up in small-town Ontario at the mercy of a resentful and critical daughter.

People who make such lavish use of our modern, publicly funded health-care system are essentially attention-seekers, I figure. And, to be fair, medical issues certainly command attention. I don’t always have time for my mother’s lunch invitations, but I up and run when she is admitted to hospital with uncontrollable vomiting. Even sick with the flu, she knows how to get the young intern’s attention.

“How often are you vomiting?”

“Oh, every 20 minutes or so.”

“And when did it start?”

“Last night, after supper.”

After the panicked intern leaves her bedside, I remark: “Mom, are you aware you just told that nice young man that you’ve vomited 120 times?”

“Well, it certainly felt like it,” she retorts.

Recently, my mother has completed an exhaustive study of her heart function, under the care of a very thorough and knowledgeable cardiologist whom even I came to love. I am at the last consultation to make notes she can refer to later and, of course, to deal with the complexities of the hospital’s parking payment system. The results are good. My mother’s heart function is excellent for an 86-year-old woman, and there is even talk of stopping some of the medications she has considered indispensable for many years.

“Well, Mom,” I say, perhaps a little smugly, as we walk through the hospital hallways, “that’s new. Now you’re going to have to start thinking of yourself as a healthy, long-living person!”

“Yes, I will.” But then she is quiet.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, irked.

“Nothing.”

She stops to admire a donated painting of a river landscape and to read the donor’s reason for giving. “I was just thinking how lucky I am to have the benefit of all this.”

She spritzes her hands at the disinfectant wash station. “And how nice it would have been if my mother could have lived in these times.”

She looks around her, reverently, seeing what a modern, publicly funded health-care system really means. And, suddenly, I see it, too.

Sheila Deane lives in North Dumfries, Ont.

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