Oh my god, not my mother again...
July 5, 2023 8:45 PM   Subscribe

After a pretty good run of being generally okay to deal with, I thought my mother was doing decently well (within her limits), but... the day before I leave on a 12 day vacation... well, her health issues surface again. I truly don't know what to do. I can't cancel my trip/I don't want to, but I don't know what to do and why (of course) this has to happen the day before I go on my trip... just like all of her other medical issues. Details inside!!

My mother has been having skin issues lately and, naturally, refuses to see a doctor. Her doctor used to do home visits for a bit, but they haven't been doing that because of understaffing. Today she rolled down her sock and her foot (I noticed that her sock was wet, it seemed weird, I don't know why I noticed it to be honest). And her foot is just... gross. She has some awful rash over the entire top part of her foot and my anxiety went into overload. It's probably infected, it's... ick. But I don't know what to do... do I cancel my trip and take her to the doctor?? Her doctor is on a vacation. I did send a message to his practice BEGGING them to maybe send a nurse or someone for a homecare visit to have a look. I'll drag her to the doctor when I get back, whether she wants to go or not. I'm scared that she'd be admitted to the hospital to deal with an infection or something. And then what?

Her doctor's practice did over a phone consult, but she doesn't respond to that type of stuff well. She underplays everything, says everything is fine, etc. I'm so furious now that she didn't tell me earlier (maybe last week.. the week before...) that this was going on. She always wears socks (to avoid slipping, so she's concerned about one thing), so I never ever would have noticed until I noticed that the would was kind of wet through a gray--not black as she usually wears-- sock.

I mean I feel horrible... how can I go on vacation when this is happening to her? But on the other hand, if I didn't notice that... I would be going on my trip as usual, the rash would be there or not? Now I feel like a shitty fucking daughter, leaving my mom to "deal with" this gross shit on her foot. But she never would have told me!! I feel so torn.

If I cancel this trip, I'd get zero of it refunded. I feel like a fucking idiot for, again, trying to do something to make me happy. I *literally* had a therapy appointment this morning and discussed how to avoid worrying about my mother on my trip (my therapist suggested barely communicating with her the entire time, which I thought was a good idea). Now I'm going to be constantly worried about her fucking foot!!!

I don't know what to do, what to think, I'm fucking freaking out. I was about to pack my suitcase, but I'm just frozen. Am I a horrible person if I go on my vacation and deal with this properly in 12 days?

I just don't know why I expected to be able to do anything fun for myself. What should I do?
posted by VirginiaPlain to Human Relations (55 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Go on vacation. Put on your oxygen mask first. Stop freaking out.

She's not going to die of a foot rash. Hopefully her doctor will be able to see her. If not, you'll take her when she gets back. You could do an Amazon order right now and send her some generic rash cream for her to try using, if you think she'd use it.

Go on vacation. Take a lot of deep breaths. Think of your therapist's instructions. Pack your suitcase. Drink some water. Take some more deep breaths. Don't forget to pack your (whatever it is you might forget).

Go on vacation.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:52 PM on July 5 [55 favorites]

Honey, go on the trip. You can deal with it when you get back. It’ll be ok.
posted by cakelite at 8:52 PM on July 5 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, I meant to say her doctor's practice *OFFERED* a phone consult this morning, when I called about her other skin issues, this was before I saw the foot!! It's not just a rash, like it's awful.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:52 PM on July 5

Your update changes nothing. Go on vacation. Maybe contact your therapist and see if they can do an emergency 15 minutes with you to help you calm down.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:56 PM on July 5 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, BlahLaLa it wasn't an update more of a correction (I hadn't seen the prior responses when I clicked post answer. I'm waiting to hear back from my therapist.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 8:57 PM on July 5

Unless you're not telling us something about her capabilities?, your mother is your mother. Your mother is not your child.

Go on your vacation. Your mother is an adult, and she can go to the doctor on her own. You do not need to parent your mother. Find a friend of your mom's and have them check in on her.

It is not worth the resentment to stay. If her symptoms worsen, she, like any other adult, can make a decision to see a doctor/go to the ER.

Taking a step back. It sounds like YOU desperately need a vacation/break. This vacation sounds vital to your health/wellness. Put on your mask first.
posted by ellerhodes at 9:00 PM on July 5 [53 favorites]

Go on your vacation. You're not abandoning your mom to "deal with" this rash; the only time someone can be described derogatorily as "leaving [someone] to deal with" something is when they're responsible for causing the issue, which you are not.

You're not an idiot for booking a vacation. It is in fact an excellent idea. I hope you don't continue to beat yourself up for making a great decision.
posted by watermelon at 9:03 PM on July 5 [16 favorites]

Go on vacation. You are not a bad person for doing that.
posted by Geameade at 9:11 PM on July 5 [6 favorites]

A rash is one thing, but an infection is more serious. I'm no doctor but it sounds like it could be cellulitis. That could get serious quickly if it hasn't already. A skin Infection shouldn't be left to fester for twelve days, so some medical professional needs to look at her foot before you get back. Could her doctor do a video visit? Or, if you left for your trip and sent a car to pick her up, could your mother be trusted to go to an urgent care center by herself?

I'm so sorry this coincided with your trip. You certainly are not a bad daughter for not psychically intuiting that something was wrong with her foot! That said, if your mother isn't capable if dealing with this and you are responsible for her medical care, then this sounds like a priority. It doesn't mean you have to cancel your trip, but maybe you delay your flight a day, or better, arrange for another family member or friend to see to it that she gets her foot looked at.

If your mother is capable of handling her own medical advocacy/getting herself to a doctor and is simply being stubborn about it, that is an equally frustrating situation but not your responsibility. You could let her know that she must deal with this in whatever way signals urgency, but it would be up to her to follow through.
posted by prewar lemonade at 9:17 PM on July 5 [39 favorites]

Find a friend of your mom's and have them check in on her.

Strong agree with this. It might be a serious infection, so if it was my stubborn parent, I'd ask their strongest-willed friend to do a visit soon. But yes, go on vacation!
posted by coffeecat at 9:22 PM on July 5 [14 favorites]

Find an a friend who can do home visits, and/or get her doctor's office to send a nurse's aid for home visit, or maybe her insurance can do it. But let your friend handle that.
posted by kschang at 10:08 PM on July 5 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: This is where the situation gets difficult. My mother doesn't have a close friend (or any friend) that could help her. I don't have a friend I can get involved in this.

I truly think she has cellulitis. I've just spent the better part of an hour begging her to let me take her to the ER, but she doesn't want to go. I can't physically drag her there. What the hell am I supposed to fucking do? She doesn't WANT to go. Period. She won't want to go tomorrow. She won't want to go the day after.

Is she capable of handling her own medical advocacy? Well, all I'll just say is that she's somehow capable of doing her banking independently (and correctly), but doesn't tell me about ANY medical issues until this happens. Then she doesn't want to go to the doctor. Period. She doesn't want any help.

And no, I would have to cancel the entire trip (not-postponing it) everything is non-refundable (but I did get travel insurance, so I will look into that).

I have no idea what to do, this is just so frustrating. I just can't win. Either, I miss my trip begging this stubborn woman to go to the doctor, the ER, leave the damn house, etc. She doesn't want help? What am I supposed to do? I don't get it.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 10:22 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]

If your mother

is mentally competent (eg does not have Alzheimer's/dementia or severe mental illness);

speaks English;

and is capable of calling herself a taxi to the doctor or calling herself an ambulance

I think you can go on the trip with a clear conscience.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 10:31 PM on July 5 [71 favorites]

Can you call 911 and have the EMTs look at it? It's expensive but if it's cellulitis they may have more influence on her.
posted by emjaybee at 10:35 PM on July 5 [11 favorites]

Ethically speaking, if someone who's competent to refuse medical help, refuses medical help, they get to do that, and that's all there is to it. I mean, that really is the end of the matter.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:43 PM on July 5 [44 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry for thread sitting. I did call a friend of mine who will check on my mother every few days.

I'm just going to go and expect to return much sooner than my anticipated date, at this point.

I cannot properly express in words just how stubborn/reluctant my mother is to get any medical care. Is she competent? Legally, yes. Do I think she's actually medically competent? No. She has a long, long, long history of refusing medical treatment and not taking care of herself properly. Could she call a taxi? 911? Yes. Will she? No, she wouldn't. I have to pick up the slack for all of her self-neglect.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 11:05 PM on July 5 [4 favorites]

How old is she? Is she diabetic? Can she walk? You talked to a health care provider; did they say Go to Urgent Care or Go to the ER or Call an ambulance? Talk to a health care provider, even if yu have to make a ton of insistent calls. People on the web can't assess the health care concerns.

I can't tell if your Mom is intentionally trying to get you to not go. Be fierce, tell your Mom to go to Critical Care, now. If there are other family or friends, ask for support.

Let us know how things work out. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 11:05 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]

She has a long, long, long history of refusing medical treatment and not taking care of herself properly.

... to the degree that you expect of her.

Lower your expectations. She's competent* to make her own medical choices, even dumb ones, and live with the dumb consequences. Go on your holiday.

* one exception: diabetes or another condition that means she also has reduced sensation of pain in the foot.
posted by Superilla at 11:22 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]

Seconding the emergency therapy call. Perhaps you can gain some tools to allow you to make the most out of your vacation once you arrive at your destination.
posted by happy_cat at 12:44 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

I cannot properly express in words just how stubborn/reluctant my mother is to get any medical care. Is she competent? Legally, yes. Do I think she's actually medically competent? No. She has a long, long, long history of refusing medical treatment and not taking care of herself properly. Could she call a taxi? 911? Yes. Will she? No, she wouldn't. I have to pick up the slack for all of her self-neglect.

Look I hear you, and this sucks for her, but you can't make her a better patient by sacrificing yourself. You're not in charge, she needs to make her own decisions here. Please understand that she's in control of herself, and while it will suck if her own choices have consequences, you don't need to give up part of yourself so she doesn't have to deal with her shitty choices.
posted by Carillon at 12:49 AM on July 6 [37 favorites]

You sound really angry at her, for ruining your vacation with this burden of medical worry that she has trained you to carry for her. Have you told her that her unwillingness to take care of herself is going to ruin your vacation? What kind of mom does that? I mean we know what kind of mom does that but can you make her see what she is doing to you? Maybe not.
If you stay you will miss your experience so you can watch her be stubborn and childish in person and there’s no benefit to that. Please go on vacation, send her daily postcards that say “please go to the doctor like an adult would do!”
posted by Vatnesine at 12:54 AM on July 6 [23 favorites]

It sounds like your mom is at the tough love, "well do you want to lose your foot...or leg?" "The infection can become systemic, reach your heart, and then you might die before I get back." OR, "I'm taking care of you. I love you and I don't want you to die or even suffer. Getting skin looked at is not as bad as leaving it to fester."

I know this resistance, and at a certain stage of life saying "no" can be the only control they feel they can exert over their life and circumstances, whether to their detriment or to every dinner suggestion. But in reality it's just the cat going underneath the back stairs to die. Pitiful withdrawal. I'm sorry you're going through this, it probably seems obvious that I have recent experience with this personality trait, so I feel for you. It's a big opportunity to establish boundaries, but it's hard. At the end of the day, she's the parent, and kids can't fix parents.
posted by rhizome at 1:06 AM on July 6 [15 favorites]

I cannot properly express in words just how stubborn/reluctant my mother is to get any medical care.

She is allowed to be. You don't get to control her. People in general are allowed to be stubborn and wrong and make things more difficult for themselves. Having made a good faith effort, as you already have, the only answer is to let her get on with it.

She doesn't want any help.

Then stop trying to force it on her.

Go on vacation. call on your friends and support network to help you. You are not accepting the reality of your position in relation to your mum's health, and a vacation might help
posted by plonkee at 1:09 AM on July 6 [29 favorites]

If she is not getting medical advice, I don't imagine that your presence is helping resolve this situation (I don't mean to sound harsh, I have a daughter like this and it has always been painful watching family members contort around these situations). She's outsourcing her anguish to you, and amplifying the suffering for both of you in the process. "Enabling" is a word that comes to mind. For your mom, so does "manipulating."

The responsile thing to do here is to draw a firm, reasonable boundary. "I am not a doctor. I can't help you do anything but arrange your trip to the doctor. Period."

Take care of yourself here. Don't neglect the emotional rawness in yourself that you're experiencing as anxiety and indecision. Feel that anxiety and indecision, which you do not have to act on. Your emotions are not truth-tellers, alright? You have vacation, your mom has what sounds like a situation that doesn't require someone other than your mom to drop everything to attend to it, and there is no indication tht an intervention that doesn't happen urgently will cause irreperable harm. Furthermore, this is one in a series of experiences like this so... now is a good time to feel those emotions and responding to them with acknowledgment but, firmly, refusal to act out of panic and guilt.

Hang in there.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 1:37 AM on July 6 [13 favorites]

If she's legally competent, whether or not medically dumbass, then you just can't make her see a doctor whether you're on vacation or not.

And she is ultimately responsible forv how much influence you have on her. Not you.
posted by away for regrooving at 1:44 AM on July 6 [6 favorites]

If she wouldn’t go to the er with you now, why do you think she would go with you in four days time if you cancel your trip? If the answer is “it might be bad enough then that she is desperate enough to go”, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s you or a taxi that drives her. Go on vacation, and anyhow, it’s not vacation, it’s respite leave, you need this or you will be the one in the ER.
posted by Iteki at 2:58 AM on July 6 [23 favorites]

Drive her to the ER today if you can.

If she truly refuses to comply, trust the friend to do it if necessary. Your mother is accustomed to ignoring *you*, but she might actually take a stranger's advice more seriously.

Then go on vacation, and do whatever you can to put this out of your mind for that brief time. Your friend will be there, they'll keep you posted with anything urgent.
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:31 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]

She doesn't want help...

Then stop helping her.

Maybe the reason she is not helping herself is because you're always jumping in and doing everything for her, and if you stopped doing that she'd finally do what needs to be done herself.

Go on your vacation. STAY THE WHOLE TIME YOU PLANNED. Then deal with things when you get back - or wait longer and see if you even NEED to deal with things.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:52 AM on July 6 [46 favorites]

I had several family members who were this adamant about not seeing doctors. One of them died of a stupid bladder infection that could easily have been treated, so I get this. It sounds very possible and even likely that your mother will eventually die because she refuses to seek medical attention. That is what happens with people like this. And that's terrible for you, but ultimately, it will be out of your hands. There's no such thing as "medically competent" that is separate from general competence. She's allowed to refuse treatment even if that will kill her.

You have a friend who is going to check on her. I think that's going to have to be enough. I know how hard it is to let go in cases like this, but ultimately, that's what you have to do for your own sanity.
posted by FencingGal at 4:11 AM on July 6 [32 favorites]

A friend called her out of state, recalcitrant family member and said, "If you don't get yourself to the ER I am calling 911 to come get you." That was early in the COVID epidemic and he was having trouble breathing, so eminent threat of death. He got himself to the hospital. You can help with this from out of town, if you want to.

I think a walk-in clinic might be the way to go here, if her healthcare provider has one. See if your friend can do that.
posted by BibiRose at 4:24 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]

As someone who had a medically willfully negligent parent, I'm going to say the quiet part out loud: you cannot keep your mother alive (or at any specific level of 'healthy') against her will. It literally does not work. You cannot force a level of compliance greater than their desired level of compliance. Furthermore: you do not have an obligation to do so.

You do not have an obligation to do so.

This gets increasingly grey-area as they get less competent as a result of their own choices plus time and you become increasingly responsible - legally and ethically - for care decisions. But right now you are in the stage where she is technically competent and you simply disagree with her lifestyle.

The worst that could happen is that she gets spooked and ends up in the hospital, and/or she dies. There it is. And it is guaranteed that she will eventually die, as we all do, and it is likely to be related to her lifestyle when it happens (as is also true for most of us). It will suck and be complicated to lose a parent under those circumstances, all the more so when you assume you have an obligation to keep it from happening.

You need to find a way to embrace your mother's agency and come to terms with the eventual outcome. Visualize that each one of these neglected medical conditions is a new motorcycle she has bought herself, which she rides without a helmet, doing wheelies, probably only pausing to smoke cigarettes. There's not a thing you can do about it if she can pass the vision test at the DMV and doesn't ride drunk.

The other thing that could happen, if you will unclench and manage your anxiety and live your life, is that you remove yourself from this super toxic power dynamic and your mother, without this drama to participate in, gets actually scared and takes control of her health to some degree (but probably never to the degree you'd prefer), or at least goes to the fucking doctor/ER. Use this vacation as an opportunity to give her what she claims she wants, and let her find out if she means it.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:27 AM on July 6 [106 favorites]

Given your mom's history of poorly-controlled mental health issues and the risks of an infection, if you can't get her to the ER or urgent care on your way out of town, I would try exactly one more thing: getting a picture of the foot, sending it into her doctor's office, and stating very clearly to them that she is refusing to be seen and that you will be unavoidably unavailable for the next 12 days. If they can send in an rx or arrange something, let your friend help and bring her back one really groovy souvenir.

The best therapist I ever had would often counter my anxiety over caretaking for a parent by saying: what would everyone do if you didn't exist or were hit by a bus? My suggestion leaves your mother better off than she would be if she did not have you at all but also should kick into gear any social support mechanisms that are available for dealing with people in your mother's circumstance when they have no daughter willing to sacrifice her own well-being for the chance to maybe improve their own against their stated wishes.

I know this is incredibly hard, and I'm sorry. But the days of utterly necessary vacation you take now are also what may curtail greater unavailability in the future if you burn out from caretaking.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 4:28 AM on July 6 [27 favorites]

I was in a similar situation once and the social worker said to me, "Your father has the right to make bad choices." That simple truth helped me a lot.
posted by spibeldrokkit at 4:47 AM on July 6 [36 favorites]

If you could drag her to the doctor when you get back, can you drag her to the ER on your way out of town? You do not have to wait with her for hours in the ER. You can make sure she is registered and tell the registration nurse that she will try to leave and can they get her into a clinical room right away even if she has to sit there for hours instead of the waiting room. Then she either gets admitted, or gets an antibiotic prescription, and can take a taxi home. Your friend can still check on her and pick up the antibiotic for her.
Also, there are a lot of very strongly worded ideas here about the absolute rules of individual responsibility that for many of us seem simplifying especially when applied to emotional relationships with semi-competent people. You should go on vacation but you don't have to also feel bad for not just shrugging your shoulders and saying it's her own decision without trying something helpful on your way.
posted by rainy day girl at 5:00 AM on July 6 [7 favorites]

She's running a game. She knows that this whole thing would get you twisting in anxiety and she's enjoying every minute of it.

I'd bet that she's been running games on you all of your life; not only does she know where all your buttons are, she's the one who installed them.

Tell her you love her, tell her also that you'll see her after you come home. Probably she'd give herself polio if it would mess up a happiness that you've planned.


When you get home, get you into some therapy, and get used to the idea that it's going to take a few years to break free of her games.

Just go. Go and have fun, in fact if you can begin to detach from her racket it'll be fun to see how ridiculous this whole thing is.
posted by dancestoblue at 5:07 AM on July 6 [34 favorites]

When I first started taking care of my dad, I didn’t think to check his feet. A little bite (that he didn’t even complain about and I didn’t see for too long) turned into a mild-moderate case of cellulitis. I’m extremely lucky that my dad’s generally compliant, but yeah he had to go inpatient and the risk of not treating this is sepsis and death.

You can’t leave her like that unfortunately… can’t reason with her either, so the next best things are yeah sending pictures to the practice (take pics while she’s sleeping if you have to), and if that doesn’t yield a prompt response from the office and your mom’s understanding of what’s going on, you have to call 911. Maybe she’ll understand the gravity of this when the paramedics show up and things get real.

If it were me I would probably pull all the stops (issue ultimatums if necessary). (I do have to do that sometimes with my mom who would rather stay mystified by post-heart attack cardiac symptoms than deal with the shitness of our healthcare system but anyway, yes I would paint the bleakest picture of the outcome, show her pictures of how bad cellulitis can get, even in the worst case say I’d never talk to her again if she didn’t go, really.)

So sorry this is happening.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:46 AM on July 6 [4 favorites]

You have to protect and care for yourself first. That means going on the vacation, and staying on the vacation. It's not accidental that she is suddenly coming to you with issues right before your trip -- it's manipulation 101 and she is working that dynamic hard.

I also agree that in the small gap between now and when you leave, it would be good to get photos to her doctor, and offer yet again to take her to the ER and/or call 911. And, hopefully she listens to the friend once you are gone.

It's a long story and the details are different, but my parent died when they did in part because of avoiding medical care until things were too late. On the one hand it is frustrating, but on the other hand, they were making those decisions in a fully competent state and it was in keeping with their values. So if your mother is genuinely competent, and this is in keeping with her sense of self, I'm not sure you are in a great position to force care.

Regardless, put on your own oxygen mask first and protect yourself.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]

i hope you are already at the airport, having called 911 to go to your mother's house. It's her right not to take care of herself, but I would bet that once the paramedics are there she'll let them in and allow herself to be treated.

I'm scared that she'd be admitted to the hospital to deal with an infection or something. And then what?

Look, I'm gonna tell you this and you won't believe me, but: then what? You feel amazing for the first time in ages. Because someone who can actually help your mother IS helping her, and she will be safe.

Look I am also someone who has taken on a pretty substantial burden of my mother's care, so I understand your feeling of obligation and I don't think it's wrong, but I do think you haven't realized the limits of it. I fully get that in your mind, no reasonable competent person would decide to not get medical care, ergo: your mother is neither reasonable nor competent. And if she does have a long history of mental health problems she may not indeed be "competent" practically, even if she is so legally. But that legally is the one that matters. The most you can do right now is call paramedics to go to the house and try to take care of her.

So do that, and go on vacation with some peace of mind that you have done all you can do. Come back in 12 days and see where things are.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:52 AM on July 6 [11 favorites]

I have to pick up the slack for all of her self-neglect.

No. No you do not.

As others have pointed out, she is an adult and if she is legally competent, she has the right to make bad choices, including about her health.

I don't know how these issues are handled in your jurisdiction, but in mine, if I were checking in on a friend's mother and I saw her deteriorating and refusing to seek medical care, I'd have the option of calling the city and asking them to arrange a wellness check. They can send someone to assess her and help her get to a service provider if necessary.

It sounds like your mother knows exactly how to manipulate you and you need to stop participating in this dynamic if it's ever going to change. I hope you go on your vacation, enjoy yourself, and seek help with breaking out of this co-dependent cycle when you get back.
posted by rpfields at 6:53 AM on July 6 [17 favorites]

You are extremely hard on yourself for a situation that absolutely sounds engineered by your mom to cause the worst amount of stress and angst in you. This frankly seems like deliberate manipulation and an attempt to guilt you, hurt you, and keep you under control.

She's a grown ass adult and making choices. Yes, they are objectively terrible, but they are not your fault nor your responsibility. Easy for me to say I know. But if she isn't willing to at least help you help her, then there's really not much you can do aside from get people with official powers involved. No amount of logic, begging or pleading will work if she's that stubborn. Or, as plenty of people have said, running a con job on your emotions and happiness. Again.

She sounds draining and dysfunctional at best. If people are determined to hit bottom, sometimes stepping out of their way is the sanest thing for everyone involved.
posted by Jacen at 7:06 AM on July 6 [11 favorites]

I am so sorry this is happening to you.
Sadly i had numerous such situations with my mother in the decade or so before she died in 2019. Cancelled vacations, frantic trips (she lived three hours away), emotional black mail, etc, right up to her death. She had quite severe chronic health issues from longterm diabetes, up to and including amputation of a leg, and, a Firm Believer in a Connection between physical health and emotional wellbeing, blamed my perceived lack of Attention to her needs for all and every physical illness and at the same time refused Professional medical care (Eg: when you are with me my heart rate/blood sugar/open sores on feet/circulation etc improves - which objectively was not the case. The only difference was when i was there we argued endlessly if she would permit me to call an ambulance. She told me she preferred to die while i was with her instead)

Coming from this perspective i think if you can (your own mental and emotional state permitting, i mean, not hers), then go.
I regret that i allowed myself to be drawn into her Dramas over and over again at the expense of my own mental and physical health and my son's welfare.

What did help me in the longterm (and sadly only after she died) was to explore in therapy why i felt i needed to sacrifice my own wellbeing and prioritise it over my own basically all my life.
posted by 15L06 at 7:46 AM on July 6 [24 favorites]

You've received some excellent advice above! I can really relate to your question, so I'm going to give some things that have helped me while I'm actually doing the difficult thing (in your case, going on vacation). If I were in your place, I could easily spend 90% of my trip ruminating about my mom's health instead of focusing on myself, so I'm going to give some thought experiments I use to a) snap myself out of the rumination cycle and b) refocus on learning about myself:

How would you react if this was another loved one - but less fraught? Say a close friend? Would it be easier to distance yourself from their health after expressing your deep concern? Why would that be easier?

Why is your mom's health your responsibility? Does this dynamic play out in other relationships in your life? If it does, how is it different / similar? And how do those relationships make you feel?

Is there a societal dynamic going on here? Were you socialized as a girl / woman? If so, does that contribute to how responsible you feel for someone else's health? How would someone else in this situation respond?

How do you care for your health? How did you learn to care for your health? Can you celebrate the way you care for your health?

Did you get adequate concern and care when you were sick as a kid?

Did you have time for yourself as a kid? What happened when you focused on yourself? Can you be grateful to yourself for focusing on yourself now (taking that vacation)?

Did events / celebrations / care focus on you? Were you centered in situations that called for it? (Birthdays, holidays, even challenging situations like accidents or illness?)

Health and bodies are closely related - how did you learn about your body, how it grows and ages? Were there other instances of bodily-denial in your family? How have you internalized that, or worked against that?

Health and death are closely related - was death discussed when you were a kid? How did members of your family acknowledge / commemorate / confront death (if at all)?

Note that as much as possible these thought experiments focus on you, not her (so not, "Why does mom not care for her health?") And they have actual (if complex) answers, instead of conjectures (so not, "Did my mom have family issues as a kid that caused her to behave this way?") These questions don't matter to you in this moment - just questions and experiments that can focus on you, center yourself in this situation, and can theoretically led to self-discovery.


Sometimes when things happen like this, I think, "Well I can go on this trip, but I'll be worrying about my parent the whole time" but that is also playing into this same dynamic. So I turn it into an experiment, a challenge - "Well I can go on this trip, and WHEN I worry, I can try to learn some things about this dynamic and myself. And then do my best to set it down and go [do incredibly fun thing and be in the moment]"

I might even start a small vacation journal just to write my thoughts down and get them out of my head. And like put it in the back of a drawer during the day, so I can physically distance myself from these issues while hiking / relaxing / treating myself. Best of luck on your vacation! You deserve this time just for yourself.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 8:12 AM on July 6 [20 favorites]

Power move: threaten to, or do, some kind of process to declare her mentally incompetent.

Power move: send her a link to some devices, information, surgical options for when she gets her foot amputated.

Get on that call with her doctor if you can. If it's a Zoom call, maybe go the heck over there.

If you are out of the country when she does meet with the doctor, you can still send images (take the photo), send a note, etc.

You can also, probably, make real progress on the 'declaring her mentally incomptent' thing (this is kind of my own worst nightmare, so I'm only suggesting it because I'm super angry on your behalf. Not just at your Mom, but at the systems that have made her adapt by trying to not make a fuss.)

Also: I get that she doesn't have friends or contacts. There are people - lots of them - who will help even if they don't know you/her. If you're desperate, and it sounds like you are, reaching out to her neighbor might not help, but it might. Lots of women, especially, know this dynamic, and they get that they have to fight it together, sometimes by fighting their own or others' reticence.

Reaching out that way does have risk -- not least to your incredibly scarce time -- but it sounds like you feel that you have very few options. If you're considering it but are worried it will just end with someone being mean -- try to imagine the independent film version where you or your Mom end up traveling to Mongolia and having a fabulous adventure with this person you haven't met yet :)
posted by amtho at 8:27 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]

The real power move is not changing your plans because mom's trying to manipulate you into changing your plans.
posted by emelenjr at 10:06 AM on July 6 [20 favorites]

I'm sorry. This is awful.

I would do whatever you can today, whether zoom or urgent care or sending a photo by email, to get medically trained eyeballs on the rash/sore. That gets her or the process started, and she can take it from there (or not!) while you are gone, since she is a sentient adult with resources. Tell her that's the plan. Follow through - but only today. Do not get sucked in to the black hole past that, it's really on her to take care of herself.
posted by Dashy at 10:32 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]

Please go.

I have to pick up the slack for all of her self-neglect.

No, you honestly don't. She's a capable adult. Many, many adults are responsible for destroying their own health through smoking, drinking, driving without seatbelts, living in filthy spaces, or overeating and/or under exercising. She is one of them. You are not responsible for any other capable adult in this world, including your mother.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:41 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]

Your mother is manipulating you and is sabotaging your chances to have fun -- she isn't as helpless as it seems, she's using you for narcissistic supply, look up that definition please. Call her on her bluff and see that she can do it.
posted by yueliang at 1:12 PM on July 6 [4 favorites]

Sometimes people make their own messes. Sometimes we see those messes and want them cleaned up. But they made their messes, and you can't force them to clean it up.

She has a long, long, long history of refusing medical treatment and not taking care of herself properly. Could she call a taxi? 911? Yes. Will she? No, she wouldn't. I have to pick up the slack for all of her self-neglect.
Your mom has made her own choices and decisions over many, many years. You don't actually have to pick up the slack. You can stop fighting. Truly. She is an adult and she has made her choices.

I suspect the timing of this is not a coincidence. The best way to change this dynamic is to go on vacation.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:00 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]

If you hadn't noticed the wound yesterday, you'd be off on your trip, none the wiser, and she would have had to deal with whatever happens. Can you imagine what she would have done? Would she have finally gotten help on her own? Would she have called you repeatedly on your trip to inform you of gory details while still refusing to get help? I ask because this too helps establish whether she is deliberately manipulating you into fretting over her or just plain old "will not address medical issues until it's ER time."

Other people have given you good advice on the manipulation, but if she's more of the "refuse to care about my own health", then I think you need to have some real talk with her. It is her choice to let medical issues get bad enough for the ER. It is her choice to possibly die from something entirely preventable, and I think you need to put it in that stark of terms for her. I don't get it, but some elderly people especially just will not bother with the 'hassle' of doctors and think it's just "their time to go" even when it's something that should be fixable.

You can't beg or force her to care more than you do, as you know. It may sound cruel, but she may be at the point where she needs to hear directly: "I can't beg or force you, I can't keep exhausting myself trying, I deserve to not worry about this 24/7, I am now letting you make the choice even if your choice is to become much sicker than you have to be."
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:01 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]

To be clear: it is absolutely not our job as adult children to continually sacrifice our time, money, and mental and physical health to support parents of sound mind who intentionally neglected their own physical health. It's not our job to parent our parents. You can't badger someone into taking care of themselves. You can't.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:14 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]

Alright, suppose you stay. You can always try to let her clean and dress the foot. But she doesn't want to see the doctor about it, so if she doesn't let you clean and dress the foot, doesn't let you take her in to Emerg, doesn't show the doctor her foot during a telecare Zoom call... then what?

If you stay most likely you get to spend your vacation time not helping your mother because she won't let you help. So no benefit to you staying.

Now there IS a small chance that this will turn terrifying or highly painful for her, go septic or some such. And IF it gets to that chance there is a high chance she will cooperate and let you take her to ER. Of course there is also a high chance she won't cooperate until it is past time to call an ambulance.

When she gets to that point, she will be capable of calling an ambulance herself. And if she is capable of letting herself get past the point where she can call an ambulance.... then she is also capable of getting to that point, hiding her medical problem from you until it is too late for you to call that ambulance.

You can't actually save her from her medical neglect if you stay. You can't actually do anything if she decides to let this turn into septic cellulitis. If you hadn't seen the damp sock you still wouldn't know something was wrong. If you stay, it could get so painful and she could start feeling so weird and dizzy as sepsis takes over that she says, "I'm pretty sleepy, going to go to bed early..." and then shuts herself into her bedroom, wedges the door so you won't check on her and dies in there before morning.

Your best bet to get her to look after herself may leave her with out the backup plan that you will rescue her. If she knows she needs to call an ambulance before she gets too sick to, there maybe a better chance of her giving in and calling them, than if she is in a power struggle with you to keep you from calling them. Contrary people are more likely to do the right thing if no one asks them to do the right thing. Your leaving could potentially be the only way that she starts taking this seriously.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:31 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]

I have to pick up the slack for all of her self-neglect.

It sounds like you can't though? I'm so furious at her and so sad and frustrated for you. But I mean, you're exactly right:

I have no idea what to do, this is just so frustrating. I just can't win. Either, I miss my trip begging this stubborn woman to go to the doctor, the ER, leave the damn house, etc. She doesn't want help? What am I supposed to do? I don't get it.

It doesn't sound like you can do anything. That's so awful. I feel like you need some kind of major emotional release, like having a huge cry out of frustration and helplessness and anger and worry and grief and anger, and forgive yourself for not being able to handle what is truly an impossible situation, then maybe find a little peace in the fact that you truly are helpless to solve this against her will. Bad stuff may happen. Or it may not. It's up to her and the universe. You truly do not have the power to control it. You've done what you can do and it's not enough but you can't do enough to make sure this is okay. That sucks. But once you've done all you can do then the best thing you can do is forget about it so that you can restore your own self to help if she ever is ready to accept it.

You might read Al-Anon stuff if you get a chance as families of people addicted to drugs etc struggle with accepting their helplessness in not being able to stop their family members from doing something reckless and unhealthy.
posted by slidell at 6:42 PM on July 6 [5 favorites]

I want to push back gently on the idea that seems to be emerging in some of these answers, that your mother is being manipulative or playing a game. There can be some very real reasons for medical avoidance, having to do with fear, anxiety, bad past experiences and so on. In his book, In Sickness, Barrett Rollins describes a years-long situation where his wife avoided treatment for cancer. Both of them were doctors, too-- cancer specialists in fact. This behavior by both of them may seem very paradoxical but maybe they were all too aware of what happens when you enter the medical system?

Not so much to chastise you, OP. Dealing with a family memeber's medical issues can take over your life at the best of times and in this case it does seem like it is getting very hard to plan your life around these issues and it is perfectly fair to assess how much it's doing to you and for how long.
posted by BibiRose at 4:28 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

the sudden reveal of the miserable physical situation at exactly the right time to destroy a much-needed vacation away from the mother

This is unclear from what we've been told. OP noticed that her sock was wet, and that might have been why she ended up seeing her foot.

I'm not saying she ISN'T manipulative, but a lot of people are jumping to that, and we really don't have enough information to know her motives.
posted by FencingGal at 8:58 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

I hope you went on your holiday!

I do feel for you, feeling that overwhelming sense of duty/responsibility for a parent. But as others have said, while she’s of sound mind, you can’t make decisions for her. Hopefully she knows how to call an ambulance, that’s all you can do. You are allowed your own life.
posted by veebs at 9:04 AM on July 9

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