Role reversal

Over the past year, my mother has struggled with her health after she was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Debilitating, exhausting and without question, completely frightening, she has pushed through with remarkable grace and a determination that continues to awe and inspire.

Her health concerns, of course, have put a great deal of pressure on my father, who has tended to her needs 24/7 without complaint. No doubt, his support, along with that of my sister and all the medical professionals she has encountered, has helped her move forward.

It has been a difficult transition to watch, and yet, my mother continues her fight and has been successful in keeping relatively healthy.

Two weeks ago, however, a setback sent Mom back to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. For a little more than a week, she fought off a bacterial infection that was accelerated by her already weakened immune system.

But as she battled back, my father, who has generally had good health his entire life, became seriously ill.

As she prepared to depart Iowa City, Dad drove himself to the emergency room of the Jefferson County Health Center in Fairfield, where the medical staff immediately admitted him, discovering he had a bowel blockage.

I left Marshalltown quickly that day to go to Iowa City to retrieve my mother, and then from Iowa City to Fairfield to see what was happening with Dad.

After checking on Dad and staying with him for a couple of hours, I escorted Mom back home so she could rest, still weak from her own hospital visit.

We sat down for a while, and then I got up to make her a sandwich. She was too tired to go to the refrigerator and cupboards to retrieve all the items, so I put together a little something to keep her appetite at bay. At that moment, the image of her making me chicken noodle soup and a grilled cheese sandwich as a little boy flashed across my mind’s eye. It was a reversal of roles and perhaps, for the first time in my 48 years, I viewed my mother in a completely different light.

Going back to Fairfield on Father’s Day, with Dad still pained by the bowel obstruction and weak from not being able to eat, at one point during the visit, my mother gingerly stood up to comfort him, placing her hand on his forehead.

I’m not sure what prompted me to snap a photo with my cell phone, but that image, the one you see with this column, is one that will stay with me my entire life.

My parents, always full of spark, always on the go, but for this brief moment in time, both slowed by the realities of getting older. It was and is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

Fortunately, both are back home now; and both are continuing to get stronger as they recover from their illnesses.

But I worry that these two weeks is a foreshadowing of what may happen.

Don’t get me wrong, my sister and I are not ready to call the nursing home; and my parents are determined to stay as active and as healthy as they can as they maneuver through their retirement years.

But if and when that day comes, I hope that this reversal of roles will allow my sister and I to provide for them as they have for us during our formative years.

It’s the very least we can do.

Contact Jeff Hutton at 641-753-6611 or