My mother is a bad passenger. Sure, we could blame this on her inability to breathe because of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), but that wouldn’t be honest. She has always been uncomfortable in the car. Even when I was a child, in our small town of Manning, Mom would not make left turns across traffic. Seriously. She always turned right and then drove around the block. As a passenger, her key contributions include pointing out possible road hazards, the phrase “it’s not clear my way” at nearly every intersection, and a teeth-grinding-air-sucking-noise that indicates her displeasure at all driving maneuvers. This is Mom’s level of participation on a good day in slow traffic in a tiny southern town. This summer, we decided to drive from South Carolina to Indiana so my mother could see two sisters and a brother she hadn’t seen in more than 30 years.
My mother has been sick for 11 years. She has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). For the last five years, she has been on oxygen 24/7. The only time she has spent the night outside of home has been for hospital stays and one night in a hotel in Charleston for my Dad’s surgery. Traveling with Mom requires serious packing skills. I made an excel spreadsheet of all the medication we needed and what could be packed in the car and what needed to be in the front seat reachable and what needed to be refrigerated. Machinery alone included a large oxygen generator, a nebulizer, a convertor that allowed the nebulizer to plug into the car cigarette lighter, and many many backup spare parts. Plus, we had a wheelchair, 20 tanks of compressed oxygen, and a giant wedge pillow that she uses to sleep upright. Oh, and, well, some clothes that we stuffed in small bags so they could be squished in around the machinery.
Throw all this in the car plus the oxygen deprived old lady (kidding, kidding) who is seriously in need of new glasses and it made for quite a driving experience. Mom highlights included her watch-dog like skills warning me of: “Watch out for that old hunched lady crossing the Burger King parking lot!” – actually an employee pushing a grey trashcan, “Be careful for the sparks being thrown on the highway!” – actually a flashing yellow roadwork sign, “Watch out for those kites!” – Kites?? Actually, the plastic balls they attach to power lines so airplanes can see them.
In case the deadly kites were not enough, as we were outside Indianapolis Indiana, the sky got very dark and we could hear sirens around us everywhere. “Tornado sirens?” my Mom asked. Of course, I didn’t believe her. Then it started to rain so that I could see nothing and we switched on the radio to discover that yes, in fact, they were tornado sirens and that tornadoes had touched down in the county we were driving through. As we crawled along the interstate through the rain we passed two semis which had been turned over by the high winds. And the entire time I’m thinking, exploding oxygen tanks exploding oxygen tanks exploding…
But, we didn’t explode. And, overall, the drive went fantastically well. My Mom did an amazing job of managing her anxiety (you might be just a bit nervous too if you knew that forgetting some bit of equipment might mean you couldn’t breathe). And, as with any good road trip, we had some laughs – for example, when Mom said aloud, “Oh, I thought that was my boob.”
Her (holding the pillow that she likes to keep in her lap): “The pillow. I felt it there but I thought it was my boob.”
Me (laughing, the pillow is neon blue): “Why did you think it was your boob?”
Her: “Well, it was soft and squishy and laying against my waist.”
Me (more laughing): “Oh god.”
Good times, good times. And no explosions.
(Ogden Dunes, Indiana)