Celebrating Strength and Resilience: A Tribute to My Mother on International Women’s Day

By Patrish Lionel

As we approach International Women’s Day, I find myself reflecting on the incredible journey of resilience and strength that my mother, Mary Lionel or Eugenia as she is affectionately known, embarked upon in the face of unprecedented challenges. In 2021, amidst the global turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, my mother faced her own battle with the virus, a battle that tested her spirit and resolve like never before.

For six and a half arduous weeks, my mother fought bravely at the Victoria/Respiratory Hospital (most of which was spent on a ventilator), confronting the relentless onslaught of the virus with unwavering determination. It was a trying time for our family as we grappled with fear and uncertainty, as the updates every day were “she is sedated and is on the ventilator” and even at one time it was “her prognosis is poor” and “she is in severe respiratory distress” but through it all, my mother remained a beacon of courage and hope, inspiring us with her unwavering faith and resilience.

However, just when we thought the worst was behind us (when she was transferred from the Respiratory hospital to the OKEU Hospital), another challenge emerged. It was discovered that my mother had a tracheo-esophageal fistula (a hole/tear in the esophagus and trachea – apparently from “prolonged use of the ventilator”), a complex and potentially life-threatening condition that required urgent surgical intervention. This condition rendered her unable to eat orally, as any food which went down her esophagus would enter her lungs through the hole in her trachea which led to numerous infections. Consequently, she had to be fed via a nasogastric tube and then subsequently a PEG-tube which was placed in her stomach.

After a total of three and a half months combined at the two hospitals, she was sent home to await surgery. Though the PEG-tube assisted temporarily with feeding, there were still numerous occasions where she would throw up after eating which still led to infections as the food would enter her lungs when travelling up the passageway. This caused lots of painful, depressing and sleepless nights and hospital/doctor visits along with tremendous weight loss. The road ahead seemed daunting, fraught with uncertainty and peril, but my mother refused to succumb to despair. Instead, she faced the daunting prospect of surgery with remarkable grace and fortitude, determined to overcome whatever obstacles lay in her path.

In the quest to find the best possible care for my mother, I reached out to numerous international hospitals (including France, New York, England, Columbia and India), when neighbouring hospitals could not accept her case. Despite facing multiple rejections and setbacks, (many who had been dealing with their own influx of patients due to the pandemic) I refused to lose hope, clinging to the belief that somewhere, somehow, a glimmer of hope awaited us.

And then, like a ray of sunshine piercing through the darkness, a hospital in Cuba responded to my request and extended its hand of friendship and solidarity, offering my mother the lifeline she so desperately needed. With hearts full of gratitude and hope, a year and a half later from the onset of her diagnosis, in July 2022, we embarked on a six-week journey to a foreign land, placing our trust in the hands of compassionate strangers who welcomed us with open arms.

The days leading up to the surgery were filled with anticipation and apprehension, but amidst the tumult, my mother remained a pillar of strength, her unwavering faith serving as a source of solace and inspiration to us all. And when the day finally arrived, she faced the operating room with a quiet resolve, her spirit unbroken, her determination unshakeable. This was admirable and even strange considering she has never liked needles, far less surgery.

The surgery was a success despite its complexity and one minor complication (which was resolved after a few therapy sessions). The head surgeon remarked that this was the most difficult case and largest tracheo-esophageal fistula he had ever worked on, and it could have only been God guiding him in that operating room for those five hours. And of course, he was right, for it could have only been God who had kept her alive from Saint Lucia and continued to watch over her in Cuba (there were several times in Saint Lucia I could count where my mother almost slipped away from us but miraculously steered the course). As my mother emerged from the depths of anaesthesia (having again surprised the medical team by foregoing a trip to the ICU), a sense of profound relief washed over me, mingled with overwhelming gratitude for the countless individuals who had played a role, however small, in her miraculous recovery.

Fast forward to 2024, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I find myself filled with a profound sense of awe and admiration for the woman who has touched my life and many others in ways too numerous to count. My mother, with her boundless strength and indomitable spirit, has taught me the true meaning of courage and resilience, inspiring me to face life’s challenges with grace and fortitude.

On this special day, I pay tribute to my mother (whom I have now given the name Miracle Mary), and to all the women around the world who embody the spirit of resilience and determination. May we never forget the countless sacrifices they have made, the countless battles they have fought, and the countless dreams they have dared to pursue. On this day, and every day, let us honour their courage, celebrate their strength, and stand in awe of their enduring resilience.

Happy International Women’s Day to my mother, my hero, and to all the extra-ordinary women who grace our lives with their presence and inspire us to reach for the stars. You are the embodiment of strength, the epitome of resilience, and the living testament to the power of the human spirit. Thank you for being the beacon of hope that lights our way, guiding us through life’s darkest storms and reminding us that, in the end, love will always prevail.

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