Moms make the toughest patients
May 13th, 2012
08:01 AM ET

Moms make the toughest patients

Anthony Youn, M.D., is a plastic surgeon in metro Detroit. He is the author of “In Stitches,” a humorous memoir about growing up Asian American and becoming a doctor.

I’ve always taken my mom for granted. A lot of us do.

I never realized just how strong and selfless she is.

Then tragedy struck.

In many ways, my mother is the stereotypical Asian mom. Forty-five years ago she immigrated to the United States with my father, a physician. A classic homemaker, she spent her days raising my brother, sister, and me. In the evenings, after my dad returned home for work, she would take care of him.

Growing up, my mom was my protector. When kids would call me racist names and threaten to beat me up, it was my mother who came to my rescue. This 5'1” Korean immigrant, who spoke broken English, would stand up to the biggest bullies in my elementary school.

Several years ago I received a call from my father. My mom had exercised in the early evening and then began to feel short of breath. My dad rushed her to the emergency room. By the time they got there, she could hardly breathe.

The doctors diagnosed her with sudden onset heart failure - one of the valves of her heart had stopped functioning, causing a backup of fluid into her lungs.

My mom was literally drowning from the inside out.

I rushed to the hospital that evening and saw her. She was awake but struggling to breathe. Upon seeing me, she smiled.

“Oh, Tony, you shouldn’t have come here. You’re so busy with residency. Go home and get some rest,” she said, waving me off.

I spent the next several hours by her side. The next day, she was scheduled to undergo open heart surgery to repair her faulty valve.

In the moments before her operation, my brother, sister, father, and I stood next to her gurney. I smiled at her through teary eyes. My mom, seeing our concern, tried to reassure us.

“I’ll be fine. I’m in God’s hands now. Go eat some breakfast. You’re probably all so hungry!”

After several moments of silence and small talk, she was wheeled into the OR.

The operation was a success.

After surgery my mother was transferred to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, while still on the ventilator. We went to visit her.

“She’s doing great,” her nurse told us. “She’s a real trooper. Most patients don’t tolerate having a breathing tube down their throat while awake. But your mom is handling it like a pro.”

The nurse was right. Even with the breathing tube in, my mother looked calm and peaceful. We all walked up to her.

“Mom,” I said softly. She opened her eyes. “Are you ok?”

She nodded.

“Make sure you stay still and don’t pull out your breathing tube. It’s important to keep it in place until you’re ready to breathe on your own.”

She nodded again and smiled at me.

As a surgeon, I’ve taken care of hundreds of patients on ventilators. The majority of them need large amounts of sedatives to prevent them from pulling out their breathing tube. It’s an incredibly uncomfortable feeling to have this tube extending down your throat.

Yet my mom handled it better than any patient I’ve ever seen.

Do you know who the toughest patients are? Ask any doctor or nurse. It’s not construction workers. Not tattooed bikers. Not even professional athletes.

It’s moms.

Moms go through more physical and emotional pain than most men can imagine. As a father, I now understand the connection between a mother and her child. It’s stronger than just about anything else in the world.

I am thankful for the doctors who saved my mom’s life. I am thankful for the hospital staff who cared for her. But most of all, I’m thankful for my mom.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. australiansceptics

    What a beautiful commentary on motherhood. Your mom must be so proud of you and you are a testament to her parenting. Keep up the great work and always care about the moms in the same way as your mom cared for you!

    May 13, 2012 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Julie Maegdlin

    What a touching story. Motherhood is the toughest, and sweetest job in the world. Thank you for honoring your mom as you have. Please tell your wife Happy Mother's Day from a fellow mom 🙂

    May 13, 2012 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Carla

    You said it -and you realize how they feel after you also become a parent! Your mom must be so happy. 🙂

    May 13, 2012 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Anika

    Such a beautiful story, loved reading it. It made my day. May God bless your mom and may God bless you too.

    May 14, 2012 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. WHHuang

    🙂 very inspiring. We need more doctors like you who sees right through humanity

    May 14, 2012 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Spirit

    I almost cried. My mom is almost exactly the same way.

    May 14, 2012 at 15:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Softship

    Wonderful story – but as someone who has had to suffer through "breathing tube down their throat while awake":
    Why in the world do doctors do that to patients? I now have written orders not to have that done to me.
    There is no reason not to do a tracheostomy. The scar I have (from being trached twice) is nothing compared to the misery of having the freakin' tube down my throat for days while I was awake. If patients try to pull those things out, there's a reason!

    May 14, 2012 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sunny

    You never realize who you can be, what you can be or how strong you can be until you become a mother. My children helped me become the person I am today. Beautiful article! Warm wishes and prayers to Dr. Youn and his mom! We need more articles like this!

    May 16, 2012 at 06:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Forrest

    Beautiful story. The strength of your mother, and your love for her is very touching.

    May 25, 2012 at 01:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Doctor

    I am an internal medicine resident ,I would say that there is nothing harder in the world for a physician then having one of his family members gets sick ,simply because we know to some extent what will be course of the disease and what are the possible complications ,so live we in continueous fear and stress.
    I have been through before ,and unfortunately my mother did not survive , and she could not see me getting into my residency , I hurt everytime when I see a patient who remindes me with my mother , and It was a big lesson to me to know how family feels when they have someone ill and how be compassionate with the patient and his/her family in my practice.

    May 26, 2012 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply

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