Personal Dilemma -- need perspective

While talking with my mother on the phone last night she mentioned that she has suffered 50% kidney failure (official diagnosis yesterday). She was diagnosed with congenstive heart failure several years back and it seems she is now in the stage where organ failure is setting in. My mother and father NEVER mention mom’s health because they don’t want to worry their children, almost all of whom live in different states. So, the fact that she mentioned it makes me think it’s more serious than it is (whenever I ask her about her health, she says she’s fine and changes the subject). Ever since her CHF diagnosis, I’ve recognized my desire to take care of her when she becomes incapable of caring for herself. She’s not incapable yet, but last night’s phone call made me realize that the day will me here much sooner than I imagined.
My dilemma: I have this overwhelming urge to drop my med school pursuit and move to Texas to be with her. Family is so very important to me and I want to be with her to take care of her in this last stage of life. My husband is totally supportive of going to TX to care for my mother (he cared for his father at the time his father was dying and he is thankful he was able to do that).
I know that dropping everything now is not feasible; I’m going to take the MCAT in August and finish up my second bachelors in biochem during the 2005-2006 school year. I was hoping to interview next school year and matriculate in a med program Fall 2006. But I can’t help thinking that in 2006 or 2007 my mother will be in her worst health. I want to go to Tx instead of start a med program, but I can’t seem to give myself permission to stop pursing admission. I told myself to go ahead and apply and if don’t get in anywhere then go to TX (I’m also realistic enough to know that I am not the strongest candidate so my chances of getting into a program are average to slim – it’s possible, but I won’t get 7 acceptances!). Then I tell myself that if I do get into a program I should accept the admission since I’m not a primo candidate, but I would still want to go to TX – so, why waste time, energy, and money applying? Right now I’m sure of only three things (1) I want to be with my mother, (2) if I go to Tx it won’t be until I finish my degree in 2006, and (3)I want to be a doctor.
Any words of wisdom to help me stop obsessing over questions I can’t answer now? Advice on some options to consider? Have any of you postponed career/med school pursuits to care for an ill family member?

First let me tell you that you and your family (especially your mom) will be in my prayers as she continues to fight these health problems.
Second, I’m sure you will hear from others who have dealt with similar situations, like Mary Renard.
I think the first thing you need to do is have a real heart-to-heart with your mom. I know when my husband had a stroke and I was considering throwing in the towel, he explained to me that I had to continue. To give up at that stage would have resulted in mixed feelings as I faced a future without fulfilling my dreams and accomplishing my goals. And I am forever grateful that he supported and encouraged me through some of his own really difficult times.
The other thing you have to do is realize that if you are accepted and your mom’s health is continuing to deteriorate, you might be able to ask for a deferment for a year, giving you a chance to spend more time with your mom.
Most important of all, though, I think, is having a conversation with your mom and other family members, and a real serious talk with whatever greater power you believe in, as well as spending some serious time in introspection.
Keep a positive attitude while going through this difficult time. Remember, “Hard things are put in our way, not to stop us, but to call out our courage and strength.”

I am sorry for what you are facing. It’s a hard road, but there can be lots of moments of sweetness, too. Of course your experience will be unique.
I had to deal with this with both my parents, over a long course of time. They have since passed. As you know, the issues are very complicated, and each family member has to do what’s right for them, and the other members have to let go of that. I’m happy to give you my phone number offline.
In general, my sister & I have since thought that we could have realized that the situation was going to end badly --ie, we couldn’t FIX our parents, and the necessary funds to make it nicer or easier were not going to appear. All we could do was be there–but how much, how close–these were difficult questions to answer. We were also all in separate countries/US states. We struggled with DNR issues for a lot of years.
I feel you have to live your best life throughout. You can’t deny yourself, especially if long-term diseases are involved. There is a sweetness in giving back to one’s parents and in the different sort of closeness that builds in the family; but one must be careful that resentment doesn’t build if you give up too much. It’s a fine line.

Seconding Linda’s good advice–after the family conferences, you should speak in the open about some tough things with those who are potential caregivers (do you have siblings?). I realize this is probably too early to think comfortably about now, but I can give you a list later. I’m talking about stuff like powers of atty, health care insurance is understood by all, etc, everyone has a notarized packet of the important papers–and perhaps that other caregivers realize that you need to get through med school.

I would say, continue on your path knowing that you may need to pause at some point, divert your energies to your mother, and then resume your progress. The nice thing about the path to medical school is that there are a lot of places where you can build in a break if you need it. Say you end up needing to be with your mom a lot when you hoped to be taking the MCAT - well, the MCAT can be taken another time. You’re worrying about walking away from an acceptance - I hope to God that a med school admissions office would give you a deferral if you requested one in order to care for your mother in her last days. (and if they wouldn’t, I wouldn’t want to attend that medical school!)
Right now it just looks like this big glob of stuff that is going to hit you in the face over the next few years but the truth is that it happens in little steps and there will be time between those steps to reassess and figure out what might work next. You don’t need to have the whole itinerary planned out right now, just what you’re going to do next - and you’ve got that step figured out, you are going to finish your degree. That’s fine, and by the time you get that degree and take the MCAT things may be considerably more clear in regards to your mom’s prognosis.
So hard as it is, try not to worry about two steps down the path - just do your best with the current step, spend time with your mom as you’re able, and let the future worries sit out there in the future. You’ve got plenty to do in the present.
My mom was diagnosed with lymphoma right before I started medical school. At the time, her prognosis seemed quite grim and I fretted over whether I should defer my start in order to spend time with her. My Dean of Students assured me that I could always withdraw and re-enter school if that became necessary - and as soon as I knew I could do that, I also knew that I would NOT do it unless the situation changed considerably. Instead I determined that I’d better enter school AND graduate while my mom was around to see it.
We accomplished that. Mom was alive and well enough to host a big family celebration for me on my graduation day, and got to hear me talk excitedly about my early months as an intern. She died on January 1 of this year and I miss her terribly. I think I spent as much time with her these past few years as I could; I don’t regret either the balancing act I undertook much of the time, or pressing ahead to graduate as originally planned. Things happen in due course, on a schedule that we don’t understand or appreciate.

I was not the strongest candidate either. I also was restricted to a very tight geological region and a personal preference towards osteopathic med. Also, my grandfather, who was like a second father to me, was becoming very ill. He died two years into my med pursuit. My father has multiple conditions, which he has sustained for many years and they are paying their last toll on him.
Now that I have made it in, it made all the time away from my family credible. In a sense I do this to bring the love my family has given me and share it with those less fortunate as a doc.
As my grandfather’s impending death had loomed in the near future I contemplated withdrawing from this crazy pursuit. I had a friend tell me “Well, you can drop out now and in three years be 40 y/o and doing the same thing and thinking of your past grandfather, or you can stick with it and be 40 y/o thinking of your past grandfather and becoming a doctor” You need to weigh the matters at hand and decide what is best for you.
My family’s prayers are with you and your family…


Right now I’m sure of only three things (1) I want to be with my mother, (2) if I go to Tx it won’t be until I finish my degree in 2006, and (3)I want to be a doctor.

Read the order you placed things in. I think it tells a lot.

‘Thank you’ to everyone who responded to my post. After my mother’s call, I was obsessing over what to do. It occured to me to post my worry on Oldpremeds, then I thought ‘no, too personal,’ then changed my mind. I’m glad I posted.
I’m trying to fight an ‘either/or’ perspective on this issue: either I take care of my mother or I become a doctor. Everyone’s responses have been a wonderful help in showing me that both can be done; that all three of my priorities (mom, biochem degree, and med school) can be of equal importance but may receive more or less of my time and attention as required by the situation.
I truly appreciate everyone’s response. Thank you all.

What would happen if you were to take a year off from your bachelor’s program, then come back and complete it and apply to medical school?
Do you think you could go to Texas and take the Kaplan class and MCAT while you were down there? That would give you plenty of time to study for the MCAT and plenty of time to spend with mom - providing, of course, that the emotional toll of the latter wouldn’t totally disrupt your ability to do the former.
Good luck in your decision making process.

hi there. this may be a duplicate…i haven’t posted in a long time and i’m a little rusty. In case it is i’ll make my point quickly. I would advise that you find out exactly what ‘50%’ means. In the world of kidney’s 50 percent isn’t so bad. But, comombined with CHF that makes it worse. However, many people choose to have dialysis as a life prolonging option and it does help. Understand that in cardiac disease we often ‘settle’ for some degree of renal failure (or azotemia) to keep someone out of CHF. While they may not feel like 100 percent all the time have a degree of renal failure and acceptable (at least for the time being) cardiac function …that is not in CHF all the time is okay for some people. To keep her kidney’s in optimum shape otherwise i would suggest making sure any diabetes or blood pressure is in good control and sometimes even something like epogen therapy is helpful. Though all are co morbidities they play a significant role in renal function. Final words… I would encourage you before you make any decisions to have a talk with her doctor and if she has a neprhologist get his take. Good luck to you.