This is the face of my mother. Please look closely at her face. She is a perfect example of what the present medical and insurance systems can do to you when given the chance. I have many pictures of her, much nicer pictures. These are the pictures you need to look at right now.
Carmella De'Angelo was born in the year 1919 in White Plains, New York, and was not expected to live. She was a sickly baby and had more medical issues than any child deserved. She was petite, frail, and had a calcium deficiency.
She also contracted scarlet fever when she was seven years old. This illness caused a heart murmur. Her mother would force her to drink castor oil by the gallon and even that could not strengthen her brittle bones. Everything about her life cried out for help. Still she forged on and ahead because Carmella was not a quitter.
How my mother survived the medical community's efforts to save her is beyond my understanding. She had to have a total hysterectomy in her early teens in order to save her life; consequently my brother and I are her adopted children and we are both proud to call her mom. She forged on, trying her best to fit into this life given to her by God.
She was a devout Catholic girl who attended Mass almost daily, and she must have related to the old Italian widows in church all dressed in black better than the kids her own age the way the other children teased her. She wore her bowlegs and crossed eyes like badges of courage; children can be so cruel.
One of the largest failings we have as human beings today is the way we judge each other based on how we appear rather than what is in our spirits. If only we could all open our inner eye – what a world this would be!
She met and fell in love with a neighborhood boy when she was fifteen years old. Nicholas Moon was a special man indeed because he could see her inner beauty, and she blossomed to the point that the family noticed her. Many pictures of her were taken after meeting Nick, and they married in 1941.
She followed her husband to the state of Washington in 1946. Here she worked for the War Department as a canvas repair specialist until Sgt. Moon's return to civilian life in 1947. Once home they opened a small Mom & Pop grocery store in the poorer section of our town in 1948. They named their little store the B&E, which stood for "Buy and Eat." The name came to my Dad as they stood in an office at City Hall applying for a business license to operate the store.
They owned and operated the B&E for a total of 34 years. For eleven of those years, Mom ran the store primarily by herself after Dad died in 1970. Carmella worked twelve-hour days, six days a week, and half a day on Sunday, whether she felt good or not. She had a family to support. Her heart had started to give out under the enormous pressure, and her doctor assured her they could operate on her.
She went into Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pennsylvania. A team of expert doctors and trained nurses set out to rebuild her. There in the operating room they gave her a new mitral heart valve made of space age plastic. The doctors told her it would still be in one piece long after she was little more than ash and bones.
This little thing inside of her heart could now open and close like a butterfly valve, carrying fresh oxygenated blood to her vital organs. It was a major medical miracle. Carmella would live another day to fight the world around her. The little valve used to keep her awake at night when the house was quiet and she lay in her bed alone. I listened to it quit a few times myself as I pressed my ear against her tiny chest. Tick Tick Tick. Oh, how I wish I could hear it one more time.
She lived for another 22 years taking the drug Coumadin to keep her blood thin enough so it would not clog her artificial valve. She broke countless bones in her body just going through the normal motions of life. Once, while walking on the icy sidewalk next to her front door, she slipped and broke her leg in three pieces, laying her up for a year and a half.
My brother Fred quit college to come home and work at the grocery store because someone had to do it! Mom went to a chiropractor once to relieve herself of the blinding migraine headaches she had suffered silently with for years, never complaining about them. The chiropractor broke three of her ribs that day in his office.
Carmella Moon went home without saying a word to him about what he had done, and there in her bedroom alone, she pulled out the ace bandages she kept in her vanity drawer and wrapped herself up until she could make it into her regular doctor's office to be treated. One morning while in a hurry to get to work, she tripped in the tiny bathroom of her second story apartment on a gold metal wire magazine rack. She lay halfway between the bathroom and the hall with a broken jaw and bleeding profusely from the compound fracture in her face until, miracle of miracles, my cousins Ralph and Georgiann found her.
Now she drank a liquid diet through a straw. She claimed it was the best diet she had ever gone on. Carmella could always see the bright side of the cross she bore. We tried one of these dinners with her one night. My brother and I sat at the dining room table trying to eat the pureed dinner of roast beef, green beans, and potatoes with Parmesan cheese. Every dish in our house had Parmesan cheese in it somewhere.
"This is awful," my brother exclaimed as he rolled his eyes and tried not to look at it. "This is a family meal," my mother quipped back from her seat at the head of the table. "Ya," Fred said, "the family with lockjaw!" Oh how we laughed! "Stop, you’re hurting my jaw!" the little woman who sat across the table from me exclaimed. I'll never forget that moment as long as I live. It crossed my mind then, how lucky we were to have a woman like Carmella Moon to call Mom.
The days melted into weeks, then months and years. At the ripe age of 80 my mother needed another heart operation to continue her life. Instead of letting her slow down naturally and accept the inevitable, her doctor advised her that they could operate once more. Since she had such a fine, self-funded insurance policy, the company's name will not be mentioned here. We all said with her, "Why not?" What transpired over the course of the next year will be forever branded on my mind and heart.
The irresponsibility and blind greed of the present medical system in this country make me sick. How they could take an 80-year-old woman in my mother's condition and operate for profit is beyond me. In my opinion, which I will express to my last dying breath, I say to you, "They knew in their heart of hearts that this operation was too much for her!"
Instead of doing the right thing, which would have been to educate us about the true risk involved, the medical team forged ahead along with the insurance company, drawing up lengthy and complicated disclaimers and medical malpractice forms for Carmella to sign if she wished to continue living!
We couldn't wake her up, and she wasn't dead either. There in the intensive care unit she languished while my brother, my husband, and the rest of our family stood watching in explicit agony as the medical machine groaned into motion. Her lungs had failed, so here was the respirator hissing and spitting it's rhythmic cadence of artificial life, forcing air into her small, fragile lungs through the plastic tube shoved down her throat.
Soon they would give her a tracheotomy so the hose of the respirator could be attached there instead. This would be more "comfortable." Her little kidneys had gone into renal failure, so here was the dialysis machine sucking all the blood from her small veins and forcing it back through a shunt they had implanted permanently in her arm’s artery after it had made its way through the machine plugged into the wall outlet. Still we could not wake her up, but she was still there.
Whenever my brother or I spoke to her she made the tiniest movement. A microscopic nod detected only by my brother and me. The medical staff thought we were nuts because whenever there was one of the many doctors, nurses, or technicians in the room, nothing could be detected from the tiny form lying in the bed surrounded by machines and sterile linens.
They wanted us to pull the plug now. "Mom can you hear us?" Fred whispered in his mother’s ear. His eyes were becoming darker now and the stress lines made his whole face and forehead look taut and stretched. He blamed himself for her predicament. If only it would become more than a passing thought. If only it would become his cross to bear. So we said no to unplugging Mom from the wall outlet. We just couldn't let go. Then one morning she woke up!
The day Carmela Moon woke up everyone working in the hospital knew a real miracle had now taken place at Hamot Medical Center. One by one they walked past the room peering in to look at the little Italian lady sitting in a chair, out of bed, with the respirator pumping on behind her back, and what was she doing? She was playing cards with her family!
The little woman who woke up was childlike and innocent and I don't think she had a sin left in her soul. She was washed clean and pure in my mind’s eye. I thank God for the time I had with my Mom after that. Day after day and night after night I sat, and slept, in a chair next to her bed. I was her "watchdog," and what little sense of normality that could be carved out of this new medical existence would be watched by me, her witness.
We spent a whole year in that part of the hospital. She couldn't go home until she was off the respirator. Trying over and over again she failed. Then one day that prayer was also answered and she was free of the machine. Now the trachea and the dialysis remained. Soon her kidneys returned and voila! She was off dialysis and the permanent shunt in her arm was removed. Now Carmella could finally go to medical rehab, and we left the hospital to go across the street to Health South.
Once there it started all over again – the medical machine: new nurses, new aides, new therapists, new everything. Carmella wanted to go home and we wanted to take her there, but we could not afford the private home care necessary to facilitate such a move. Then our insurance carrier forced a move back to New York to an inferior and less expensive rehabilitation facility.
Every decision made in for-profit health care is wrapped up and shrouded by one thing and one thing alone: how much will it cost them? My mother's health had come so close to allowing her to return home one more time to the life she so desperately wanted to live. Her life was sold short by an insurance company and by money-grubbing little accountants sitting in offices somewhere holding the power of life and death over Carmella Moon's head. They are blind to the outcome of their decisions to this day.
Carmela Moon died of pneumonia in our local hospital just two weeks after being moved to a facility that was ill-equipped for her complicated medical condition. Oh yes, they tried, but trying was not enough for my Mom, and she was so tired and we were so tired along with her. The medical machine that had swallowed her up had finally spit her out.
My mother whispers in my ear as I sit here, fretting over my grammar and sentence structure, trying to tell you this story: "Jeannie, Please don't let this happen to anyone else."