Her chances of developing leukemia were slim. But people with polycythemia vera are at a significant risk of suffering strokes. This outcome she ignored. In her worldview, leukemia was dramatic and terribly sad; stroke, not so much. Her doctor told her what she needed to do to avoid stroke. It was a simple, time-honored practice: to submit to having her blood drawn once per week. This would prevent the build-up of red blood cells that would predispose to stroke.
When I laid these truths out in front of her, she did what she was best at: she denied. She insisted that my facts were wrong. What's more, she spluttered, red-faced with irritation, There is no way I am going to sit in a room with other people all getting their blood drawn behind curtains. Like vampires. I didn't bother to correct her misapprehension about vampires. In the simile as properly applied, the patients weren't vampires, only the victims of same. But she was already worked up, and I had to pick my battles, as ever.
Look, Mom, I reasoned, vapors of exasperation wafting up and around the kitchen table to supplant the smoke that once hung there, You've always affirmed that what you feared most and wanted least was to end up a vegetable. Like your father. Remember? That's what a stroke might do to you. Having your blood drawn once a week is such a simple preventative measure.
She shook her head. Not going to happen, she did but didn't say.
And so it went. Of course she suffered a major stroke some months later, and within the year she'd died, her legs filled with hundreds of blood clots each. The doctor who opened them up to have a look must have grimaced before resigning himself to sewing them back up and telling us that saving her legs, thus her life, was a hopeless proposition.
During that final year I was so often tempted to shake her post-stroke self, this amalgam of stranger and mother, and shriek, I told you so! But it would have helped no one. In response she would have offered me a stroke-addled grin and winked, gestures that might equally have signified, Don't you think I know that? or If I smile loopily enough, maybe you'll bring me a vanilla milkshake?
The prevention that weighed an ounce in my hand weighed a pound in hers, and I've had to learn that nothing I might have said or done could have balanced the scale.