frozen in memory

by Elouise

frozen in memory
erupting without warning
dear earth gasps for air

* * * * *

haunting
sounds of
choking
escalate

no words
no breath
no time

mother
panics
stands up
signals
father

diners watch
helpless
frozen

father waits—
for what?

sister
leaps up
arms circle
mother’s back
hands pressed
into diaphragm

breath flows–
thank you,
Sweet Jesus

***

Mother and Sister #3 (Diane) were polio survivors.  Mother was learning to live with post-polio syndrome—a cruel, often unexpected development in many polio survivors.  Diane was now learning to live with ALS; her early symptoms had suggested post-polio syndrome.  To see a post-polio survivor ID card, click here.

For Mother, swallowing food or liquids was like walking a tightrope.  Every little movement mattered.  Her goal:  get small portions of food or liquid into her throat without inhaling them into her windpipe.  When she choked, it was like drowning.

She felt ashamed and even guilty about these unwelcome events, especially when we ate in public places or at private social gatherings.  I always felt terrified, as though the end of the world had just arrived.

The episode above happened at a restaurant in spring 1996.  Family members present included my parents, all four sisters, Diane’s husband and daughter, and Sister #4’s granddaughter.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 July 2014