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How to Deal with Your Mother's Refusal for Health Treatment and Try for Consent

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

For the last six months, my mother has been coughing and struggling with her breathing.

The doctor prescribed the use of oxygen at night. At the first mention of oxygen therapy, my mother scoffed at her doctor's advice.

She was concerned about the noise from the oxygenator and the perceived discomfort from wearing the tubing and cannula which might make her ability to sleep more difficult. She reminded us of her daily trouble with sleep because of the consistent spasms she experienced each night from multiple sclerosis.

While I understood her concern, I, along with her doctor, urged her to reconsider her position. The doctor explained the importance of being treated with additional oxygen and implored her to tolerate the inconvenience of the noise and tubing because of the expected health benefits it could bring.

My mother was still not on board. In fact, she chose to ignore the conversation and look for her television remote to find her favorite program.

Later, I received a call from the doctor's office asking for approval to order the oxygenator. I gave them the approval knowing this would begin the challenge with my mother. I needed to somehow convince my mother to agree to oxygen therapy.

To gently sell the benefits, I initiated conversations with my mother about her need for oxygen, leading up the machine's arrival. Again, she argued for no oxygen.

The first challenge was underway. I suggested to my mother we would begin the use of the oxygen during the day in small increments of time. My thinking was if she would wear it daily, she would get used to the noise and the cannula in her nose, in order to transition into treatment at night.

She agreed to the daytime use in small increments of time! I had my first win!

I made the mistake of believing that the first trial would be a simple task.

The big day arrived, and I mentally trained for our first round in the verbal boxing ring. Before introducing the oxygenator my mother, I broke through my procrastination and studied a YouTube video to learn how to properly operate the medical device.

The bell rang and I was ready for our first verbal bout which occurred whenever I would cajole my mother into trying something for the first time. She was in the middle of watching her favorite television show when I announced, "Time to try the oxygen!"

I wheeled in the Devilbiss 5-liter oxygen concentrator, pulled out the long tube, and showed her how to ear the line so the cannula would fit in her nose. As I studied her face, I rolled on my heels, ready to bob and weave. I could tell my mother was nervous. Her anxiety increased and I was immediately on the defense.

Timidly, I placed the cannula into her nose and attempted to tighten it. To avoid a quick verbal jab from my "opponent", I took my time and allowed it fit loosely for optimum comfort. I started the tank and my mother admitted, to my relief, "It's not as loud as I thought it would be."

Okay, I thought. I made it through to the end of round one - the installation!

On to the second round - the adjustment process. She began inhaling deeply as if she was supposed to do the work. I reared back, ready for a jab. Then it came.

"It's not working," she complained. "I'm not feeling any air."

I explained that the process was different from her breathing treatments and that her breathing should simply be natural. But my jab was blocked! My explanation didn't work, and she was convinced it wasn't working. Sighing, I retreated to my proverbial corner. I'd lost round two.

Her complaints continued. "It's too loose. It's falling out!" Her agitation and anxiety increased another notch, and I took body shot after body shot. This went on for about three minutes. I was losing steam and needed a break.

After a few more verbal bouts about tightening the line, I insisted she remain calm and trust that it was working. For my mom, this was a very tall order. She had me against the ropes. I was emotionally worn out!

The bell rang and I took a couple of moments to calm myself. My coach from the Calm app whispered in my ear. "Just be cool. This is something new. She's afraid."

After a few deep breaths, I mustered enough energy to announce, "How about this? Today...we'll only wear this for five minutes. Just five minutes."

As the bell rang again to signal the next round, I remembered to keep my promise. Then in my best personal trainer impression, I said, "You only have two minutes left, .... one minute... done! She wore it for five minutes!!! I won this round!

I couldn't declare myself a heavyweight champ just yet. But I was taking it one day at a time.

Tomorrow's goal: ten minutes. The next day will be 15 minutes. The final goal: overnight.

My mother now knows what it's like to work with oxygen. Hopefully with each day, she will be more relaxed and able to wear it longer, with the eventual goal of use at night.

Here are five takeaways to keep in mind you want to convince your parent to comply with doctor's orders:

  1. Understand and address their concern. Ask them to try or do something in small chunks of time and build.

  2. Change your perspective! Understand that being stubborn is usually a mask for fear and a way to maintain perceived power and independence. It may be difficult for them to admit their needs are changing, and they need help.

  3. Manage your own emotions. While you may be unable to convince them to comply, you CAN change your own response to their choices. I'm still working on my ability to keep my anxiety and frustration to a minimum when my mother is obstinate. I take a breath and rely on m empathy to understand that her fear is likely driving her emotional response.

  4. Recognize and understand your role. My mother is my mother. I am not my mother's mother. Her wishes are to be respected event when you disagree with them.

  5. Remind yourself this is a marathon and not a sprint. If you're feeling frustrated and agitated, be sure to take a long walk to calm yourself down. Accept the small win. Live on to fight another day.

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