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Evolution of a Frequent Flyer

An open letter to the volunteer fire department that responds to my mother's house:

I am sorry that you had to respond to my mother's house again. There is no way for me to predict when she's going to get out of bed at the buttcrack of dawn, get all banged up on mouthwash, smoke all the cigarettes in the house and then decide to call you guys because she refuses to do her nebulizer and would rather just borrow your oxygen for a few minutes.

You see even though she has the lungs of a coral reef, they won't give her home oxygen for her COPD because the woman is non-compliant and a walking fire hazard.

I cringe every time I get the call that she's dialed 911 again. Upset and frustrated to tears, I wish I could change it and prevent the waste of your time and service - but I can't.

I know what you must be thinking when the tones go off and her address comes across. Insert any number of "frequent flier" comments in there, I've probably heard or said them myself about other abusers of the system. I am sure you see the picture of me in uniform on the living room table, or she's told you for the thousandth time that I'm a paramedic, and you get pissed off at me. I would, I have. One of the biggest system abusers we've ever dealt with here at home had a daughter who was a high-ranking member of the police department. It did not stop her from calling almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I never understood why of all people, someone who knew that their parent was taxing the system would allow it continue would not take steps to stop it.

I understand it now. I hate it, but I understand it.

It is not as simple as it seems. The reason you did not come that frequently prior to this last year is because my father was still alive, and instead of enjoying his retirement the entire remainder of his life was dedicated to keeping a lid on my mother and my brother's behavior. I am the genetic anomaly you see, the only one who got out without alcoholism or polysubstance abuse issues. In those last few years, every single day was spent trying to contain my their addictions. Not control, just contain. Nobody can know, nobody should be in the family's business. The family shame. So he would never ask for help, even I didn't know just how bad it was until it was too late. So you didn't go to their house, at least not like this.

You didn't have to come, because my father took care of things.

But you came when my brother drank himself to death, and mercifully left him there.

You came when my father was found dead at the dining room table, his hand reaching for his pack of cigarettes as his heart finally quit in the pre-dawn hours of another day of relentless anguish.

You've come in the days and nights since.

You always come, and I know what a particularly double-edged sword that can be. To respond even when you don't want to.

You always come, but do you know?

Do you know that my parents were together for 42 years? Before that she had roommates and before that she lived with a twin sister. Until my father and brother died, my mother had never once in her life lived alone. When you are there she is not alone.

Do you know that my mother was an Emergency Room nurse for over 30 years? A good one. You probably do know that because she'll mention it, but do not let her fool you. She uses her little old lady looks and that experience to get the most out of her "emergencies" -- and by "most" I mean benzodiazepines.

You can lecture her all you like, it will not make any difference. She loves your attention, and will agree with you on anything you say. It will be a lie. Everything she will tell you in regards to her smoking, drinking, and medical compliance will be a lie. It will look natural and you will want to believe her, you will. That this time will be different, this time you will hit upon the right combination of compassion, anger and frustration to get through to her that she is abusing the system and those around her. Let me save you the trouble, it won't work. Not even a little. She will wait for you to leave and light up, or she will stop at the gas station on the way home and buy beer. Every. Single. Time.

You want to tell her she's abusing the system, and I'm sure at least one or two of you probably have. That's ok, I understand. She doesn't, nor does she likely remember that you had that conversation with her. My mother genuinely believes herself to be outside of the system, and rules she finds tedious simply do not apply to her.

Her entire life has been about getting what she wants when she asks for it. She has no reason to believe it should be otherwise. She requests and you respond. I suppose in a dark twisted way EMS is the ultimate co-dependency. You fill a need and for the last thirty-odd years her life has been about a neverending quest to fulfill an unfathomable need. My mother is a diminutive Sisyphus pushing a giant tab of Ativan up a hill made slippery by box wine.

"You're her daughter, why don't you take care of her?"

That is an excellent question and one that I confront myself with, every day. The answer is as brutally simple as the problem itself. It comes back to the "Do you know?"

Do you know that I have a strong marriage, a wonderful family, a self-made career that I am proud of, and an overall good life? I pried myself out of the horrific, destructive cycle years ago. I did not share in my family's dependencies so I was essentially rejected, kicked out and only considered when something was needed. There is no bitterness there, only sadness for what might have been and gratitude for not falling victim to the cycle of need. My father literally gave up the last decade of his life to being trapped by the consequences of addiction. Everything he worked for, and wanted for his family and future, was trashed and gone -- made completely worthless by countless cases of beer, benzos, and cheap vodka.

I will not do that to my family. I will not do that to my children. Breaking a cycle is difficult, but not impossible. If I take her in then the cycle is inevitable and her need will consume everything I have and that I've worked for.

I'm sorry, that's not happening.

I promised my father that I would keep her safe, it's the best I can offer. She has a roof over her head, she has a steady caretaker and I make sure she's fed and looked after. My mother has enough of her faculties left that, believe me, she knows what she's doing. In order for me to stop her, I would have to incarcerate her. I cannot give up the well-being of my family to become her warden.

The consequence of that choice is to go from never hearing from her to thinking about her every day. It is to dread the caller ID, knowing it will be her rampaging in a parking lot, or hearing that she's called the ambulance again because she won't comply with her medications or modify her lifestyle. It is to lie awake at night and worry that she will set the house on fire, or to figure the math yet again on how much it costs to provide care for her. My personal cost is in man hours spent every month correcting things she's sabotaged each month because she wants me to come down and care for her. The price of protecting my family breaks my heart and makes me feel lost, dealing with a mother whose needs will take everything I have if I let it.

If I could stop her from calling you when she didn't truly need you, believe me that I would. I have reasoned, begged, yelled, and discussed this exact subject with her dozens and dozens of times. I've given her my experiences, made her recall her own from her career, and none of it matters. She just does not see herself as one of "those" people.

Please understand something, while it does not feel like you make a difference with her - you make a difference with me. I know what you are putting up with and if I could take it from you I would, but I have to protect my children. I have to do it better, for their sake. So you make a difference to them too.

Thank you for what you do, thank you for coming.

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