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July 19, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Fragile Skin

The problem is healing.

The smallest cut or scrape can open a wound that will take weeks to heal. I’m no doctor. At least not that kind of doctor. I don’t know whether to leave the wound open to dry out or cover it with anti-bacterial ointment and a bandaid. If the Retirement community had their way, she’d be off to the doctor for drugs and bandaging.

Two months ago, when Mom first arrived from her jaunts with husband Al, she had a badly infected toe. Evidently, she had stubbed it somehow and not taken care of it. Not knowing what else to do, I took her to the doctor.

He proceeded to carve open the thick, hard scab to “break open the puss pocket.” After much poking and painful prodding, there wasn’t any puss. He bandaged her foot and gave her antibiotics. Then he suggested I take her home and soak her foot in Epsom Salts. An open wound in salt water? Mom, who is notoriously stoic, doesn’t scream but she came close to it after one dip into the water. We didn’t do it again.

Over the next weeks, she remembered to take her Antibiotic pills and the Lasic pills to take the swelling down in her legs. I bandaged and rebandaged her toe, covering it with Neosporin ointment. Eventually, more than a month later, the wound had finally healed but it was still tender and sore.

This time, the cut was to the back of her ankle. Again, I don’t know how she hurt it. I remember stories of how careful patients with Hemophilia must be. The slightest bump or bruise can set off bleeding that doesn’t stop. In Mom’s case, we have to be every bit as careful. The bleeding stops, but the healing doesn’t come.

I did not take her back to the doctor. Today, there is a reverence for the medical profession that sometimes may be misplaced. Certainly there are miracle drugs like penicillin and antibiotics that we cannot do without. Perhaps I have become overly cynical, but the list of drugs coming out of the pharmaceutical companies, and their astronomical prices, makes me wonder who they are benefiting, us or them? And the side-effects? Lord have mercy!

My sister is a believer in holistic medicines. While she was with Mom, she bought a small Aloe Vera plant. Cutting off the thick green leaf, she split it open and applied fresh strips of the gooey green substance to Mom’s cut. By the time I got back from Mexico, ten days later, the wound was almost healed, the swelling was down, and the redness and pain were gone.

This is not to say I am going to slap Aloe Vera on Mom’s forehead the next time she takes a header into the door frame. But there is certainly a place for many forms of medicine and medication. Slowly, our society is coming to accept that our “modern” treatments may well look like witchcraft to future generations. And that we need to study older cultures for answers as well.

Having spent the last week wandering through the native markets in Mexico, I was fascinated to see the baskets and boxes of herbs, roots and powders used by the “curanderas” or medicine women to heal the sick. Each one carried labels for the cure of various diseases and internal problems. These remedies have been used for thousands of years to cure everything from a broken toe to a broken heart. If they hadn’t worked, they wouldn’t still be in use today. Okay, maybe not the broken heart thing but there is much to be said for the power of suggestion.

We may laugh at those native cures, but even the chemists from the pharmaceutical companies have taken note of the effectiveness of these herbs. And promptly used the natural chemical compounds to turn into expensive pills. Thank you, Big Pharma!

But Mom is healing. And I’m doing my best to keep her from bumping, bruising or hurting herself again. That, however, is like trying to keep a rowdy little kid from getting into scrapes.

Accidents will happen. And when I ask what happened, she doesn’t remember.

Elderly Mothers
About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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