Mam?í's Sick: Bring on the Tech

Everyday Internet and smartphone technology become lifelines of communication, comfort and compassion

By Abelardo de la Pe??a Jr.
Published on LatinoLA: July 19, 2011

Mam?í's Sick: Bring on the Tech

Although my mom is in her late 70s, she's got the energy of someone half her age. But she recently got sick during one of her and my dad's frequent trips to Mexico and was bedridden for two weeks. They both returned to the U.S. and she was quickly admitted to the hospital. After almost three weeks, she finally had surgery and as of this writing, is still in ICU, recovering slowly but surely.

This is a story of how technology helped make the situation more tolerable. I'm not talking about medical technology.

Since the beginning, we -- her children -- have kept in touch with my father and each other via cell phones and smart phones, IMs and emails. We in turn have kept our kids and grandkids in the loop using the same tech tools.

My brother here in the states was able to reschedule their flights back home online, so that they were able to get back the U.S. much sooner. Another brother, who was in Mexico with his family, was also in constant communication via text and cell.

Siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews updated our Facebook status to reflect the situation. The kind comments and words of encouragement and sympathy have been heartfelt and sincere.

Before her surgery, I'd visit and showed her pictures and videos of her great granddaughters on my iPhone and they'd bring a smile to her face. We've played music from our smartphones' ... her beloved Juan Gabriel and Trio Los Panchos ... and I'd sing her Javier Solis favorites from lyrics I download off the Internet (I'm pretty bad at remembering the words. My singing isn't much better, but it suffices).

The biggest challenge has been after the surgery: She was unable to speak due to her being hooked up to a ventilator. Although we could see the familiar spark in her eyes, she could only express herself via hand gestures, and they were hard to read.

My brother brought a white board so she could write down her thoughts, requests, questions, but her hand was too shaky and we could barely make out the words. I wrote out the alphabet and asked her to point to the individual letters so that she could spell them out, but that didn't work too well, either.

Finally, my sister was able to get a bit of what she was trying to tell us. No tech involved there, just a close familiarity with my mom's gestures, the ability to read her lips and eyes, but mostly an intimate knowledge of what was most important to her.

Overnight, I thought of how to help her communicate. I hadn't been on the computer much during all of this, but for finally it came to me: She could touch or point at the letters on my wife's iPad keyboard and her words would show up on the screen.

We gave it a try a couple days ago. I wish I could say that it was a resounding success, but with her still-shaky hand and the keyboard's ultra sensitivity to touch, we were able to complete two sentences. Not a whole lot, but there was a sense of triumph on both our parts. Then she gestured for me get back to singing.

She's off the ventilator now, which will make communication a lot easier. I'm sure she has a lot to say. And I can't wait for my brother to get her on his iPhone so she and I could share a little FaceTime and I could see her smile, otra vez.

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