Another Mother: A Story in Two Parts

I’ve been enjoying the writing prompts that are sent to me by a website I write for.
The Mighty are a wonderful platform for sharing stories that illuminate the lived experience of people with disabilities or invisible illness, or the stories of their caregivers and loved ones.  Their tagline reads
We believe in the power of stories,
the strength of communities
and the beauty of the human spirit.

Recently, they asked this:

Describe a time you saw your disability, illness and/or disease through the eyes of someone else.

I haven’t written this piece for them because it doesn’t really fit their format, there will be other things I can write for them.  This is fiction, but close to my reality at various times in my illness.

I noticed another motherPerched in the

See, their prompt got me thinking. It’s hard for me to see my illness through the eyes of someone else.  I don’t think other people have to feel any particular way about it.  But I wish with all my heart it was easier for others to understand it. I fully comprehend the perspective of well people, because I have been one. The sad fact is, that other people very rarely do see my illness.  Even when I am right in front of them talking to them about it.  So I began to think about who I was before.  I think ill people need to remember who we were before. It helps us to understand the gap between.  So this piece kind of evolved out of the idea of what might happen if the ‘other me’ met the ‘sick me’ at a school parents’ function.  What would each of us think? And how hard would we really try to understand each other?

 

other(1)It’s difficult. Attending these school parent functions.  You’d think it would get easier, the more you do.  But no! There’s what to wear and the fuss with hair and makeup.  There’s making sure the husband is home in time and the babysitter is up to speed with the kids’ routine. All the way to the function, we’re lamenting the fact that we never seem to get a babysitter so we can just go out and enjoy ourselves as a couple.  It’s always for work events or school functions.  Hardly ideal dates. We promise we’ll do that. But I wonder if we will. We’re always rushing about and there’s no time to pause and enjoy. It’s difficult, contemporary living. The juggle between work and life balance.

I know my husband will be off talking with a few of the other Dads within minutes of our arrival.  And so I locate my inner steel.  I’m wearing the right shoes, so I pull myself up taller, matching my heeled posture.  A glance around the room tells me I was right to prioritise the pedicure over the gym this morning. Although clearly, most of these women managed both. Polished, white teethed smiles flash across at me as I move over to a group of Mums I know.  We are still uneasy together, but I take a deep breath and remind myself that we are all in the same boat.  We greet each other cheerily and the conversation resumes about the teacher. She is all slender sophistication, that one. I spot her mingling with another group.  A father gazes at her with adoration in much the same manner as I have seen his son.  It’s sweet. I self consciously watch the diamonds flash on a finger wound around the stem of a wine glass.

Wine.  That’s what I need!  I smile back at the familiar faced group and make a quick detour to the bar.  Hubby catches my eye and nods a silent order. Fortified by familiar feel of the cool glasses in my hands I deliver his and make my way back towards the huddle of women I’d been chatting with.

On the way I notice another mother perched in the shadows along the side of the room. She looks a little pale and is a bit hunched over.  Uncomfortable in her own skin.  I feel for her, and I wonder if she is a bit socially awkward. Then I notice her cane. Oh, she must be that sick one.  I heard some of the mums talking about her once.  Her son is a playground troublemaker.  I remember making a mental note to avoid adding him to the birthday party list. Apart from looking a little unsure, she doesn’t really look sick. I couldn’t remember what it was that was actually wrong with her.  Something weird. Maybe she’s weird?  I thought. She doesn’t usually come to these things, I wonder why she is even here tonight, if she is not even going to mingle?  And then, in spite of myself, I am walking towards her, smiling and pulling up a chair alongside her.  I really hope I am not going to get stuck here for long.  I do find myself in these situations, don’t I?  My hubby always rolls his eyes at me when I do this.

Talking with her isn’t easy. She is struggling to smile and make small talk. Her husband looks our way and sends me a thankful smile. Oh no.  Now I am really stuck. But before too much longer, we have relaxed into a conversation.  We talk about our children and the upcoming school play. There is some laughter and commiserations about the hassles of dealing with babysitters. Hard to find good ones these days. I find myself looking at her intently. There is a shadow of someone else around her eyes. Did I once know her, before she became ill?  And even though I am internally telling myself not to,  I ask her about how she got sick.

She seems hesitant to talk about it, but I settle in to listen. She exhales and begins to tell me her story. I was much like you, she began.  And what she told me filled me with discomfort.  She got a bad virus (who hasn’t at some point been felled by a virus?) but for her it was the start of something much worse. Her heart stopped working properly. An abrupt change in her ability to stand, dizziness, nausea, the loss of other functions.  The list went on, she said, but she spared me the details. Everything, she said, that bodies do automatically.  I began to imagine what that kind of broken body must be like to live in. But I didn’t want to imagine it for long. I’m ashamed to say it, but hearing her story made me wonder if I could handle what she was going through. Six years she’s been sick for. Almost the entire length of her son’s life. I didn’t think I could.  My mind flashed through all the normal tasks of a normal day. No, there is no way I could manage being sick like she was.  I wondered, briefly, how she did it.  And then a desperation to be talking about anything else overcame me.

I thanked her for telling me all about it, I think I told her something like she was brave. I think I patted her hand.  She thanked me for coming over, looking across towards the huddled groups around the bar and graciously giving me an out. Thank goodness, I thought, as I asked her if I could get her a drink.  She asked for a water, so I went to get her one. When I returned her husband was back with her. She was looking paler.  He had leaned in close to hear what she was saying.  I unobtrusively put the water on the table near her knee and slunk away to my own husband’s side.  His hand slipped into mine and I squeezed his back. I doubted if I could explain to him how glad I was to have the ordinary troubles of hair, makeup and babysitters, the general ‘difficulty’ of going to a school function. Then someone asked me about the woman I had been talking to, the one, you know, with the boy who was often causing trouble.  I looked across to where she’d been sitting and she was gone.  And I told them that she was really nice.  Much like us.  Only dealing with a whole lot more than most of us understood.   I saw the smile flicker off the face of the asker.  The inward groan. I didn’t like seeing my thoughts etched out so plainly on someone else’s face.

And then I was drawn into a fun conversation, ordering another wine and moving on. I shook off my unease about the things she said, the alternate realities I’d rather not consider.  There was nothing I could do, was there? And she’d gone home. Really, there was no point in ruining a great night.  These school parent functions are great once you get into the swing of things.

I do think of her every now and then. When I am organising a party list, or doing mother help at school. It might cross my mind briefly when I am loading groceries into the back of my car. Or sometimes, when I am looking at my face in the mirror. And like the first time, the thoughts come and then they go. Because who am I to think I have anything useful to offer?  It’s difficult. It’s a juggle. And I move on.

____________________________________________________________________

otherIt’s difficult. Attending these school parent functions.  You’d think it would get easier, the more you do.  But no!  There’s all the pre-planning and resting up that I need to do for the ability to do one night out.  Extra medication.  Mental fortitude.  And there will be the payback afterwards.  Days crashed in bed. More wasted time while the tasks for the family mount and mount. I don’t get to many of these sorts of things, but I try to attend one or two a year.  And I love the drive there, hand on my hubby’s knee.  Feeling like we are on a real date, even just for the time in the car.  The beauty of the city lights reflected on rain soaked streets.  The privacy and togetherness of our car coccoon.  Just us.

I didn’t manage to do my hair or nails, those things seem to have gone by the wayside. I did manage makeup.  I check it in the passenger mirror.  The woman looking back at me is puffy faced, tired and pale. I wonder where my real self is hiding.  Somewhere on the other side of illness. I wonder if she is waiting for me there. If we will recognise one another.  But there is so much for my husband and I to chat about while we make our way through the traffic that I am soon distracted from my own reflection.  Any alone time together feels like we’ve rewound to the early days.  I look across at his profile and marvel at how I still feel this way after so long.  After so much water under the bridge.  He’s a good man, my man. I wish he didn’t have the dead weight of my illness to carry with him everywhere he goes.

When we arrive, the difficulty of walking from the carpark to the venue takes it out of me. I send my husband into the throng and perch in the shadows of the room, hoping that no one will talk to me.  Hoping that my hammering heart will slow to a calmer rhythm and the planes of the room stop warping and fading on the periphery of my vision.  Hoping the nausea will subside so I can form words without retching. I  want to be at home.  I wish I could fast forward to the end of the function.  Why am I even here, if I am not able to mingle?  I see that my hubby is having an animated chat with someone and it brings me relief. Maybe if he talks to five or so people, we’ll be able to consider the job done and go home. I wonder why I push myself to be part of a group of people who don’t actually want to know about me, about us. I don’t know.  But somehow, I know that I desperately want to be a part of this world, to know about them. I remember, in flashes of colour and animated laughter, what it felt like to be out with friends, drinking and talking about interesting things.  So often these days my only conversations are about illness.  With doctors, with other patients, with myself.

And then one of the mothers comes over to talk to me. She seems curious, and nice about it. It feels good to be able to explain why I am lurking in the shadows. I wonder if she can tell how much I long to stand and laugh in one of those sociable huddles. How I wish my son were more a part of things in the playground. And then, as fast as she arrived, she has gone.  I am jealous of the ease with which she sways across to the bar in her incredible shoes. I feel the old uncomfortable conflict of opening up. My hubby comes back,  he knows my best-before date has arrived. We make a move to go. I take a sip of the water she brought me and an unbidden sting in my eyes ushers me out the door.

I do think of her every now and then.  When my son is left off another party list, or I can’t volunteer to help with a school event.  Even when I am doing something as ordinary as filling in my online supermarket order. Or trying to find myself in the mirror. The thoughts come and then they go. Because who am I to think I have anything useful to offer?  It’s difficult. It’s a juggle. And I move on.

Q and A

Last month, I had to deliver a ten minute talk …about me.  My story.  It was part of the block weekend for the Leadership Programme I am doing.  The programme is about leadership in social change and it is challenging my thinking in lots of ways. I really prefer writing to talking (I know some of you will find that hard to believe!) and speech making isn’t really my cuppa tea.    But I started doodling, as you do. I doodled lots of question marks.  And then I made a real cuppa.

www.rachelfaithcox.com(11)

When I returned to my doodles, I stared at those question marks for a long time.  And it occurred to me that the best way to tell my story, was to do it using the defining questions of my life. There have been so many things I have wondered, but I pared them down to the bare minimum.
So! Here is what I came up with.

My Life, in Fourteen Questions:

I am a kiwi girl, born just after my parents completed bible college in Australia. My parents felt moved to work on the mission field in a third world country. So I was raised in Papua New Guinea, then I went to boarding school in Australia and soon after that, they went to China. These were the locations of my upbringing. In total, I attended 13 schools, four tertiary institutions and eventually moved back to New Zealand when I was 23 years old.

There were lots of things about my childhood that made me think.  And one of the first big questions I remember thinking, was:

"What makes us think our religion is more right than theirs?"

I liked to think about things as a kid.  And I started to notice other odd things about our world.  I noticed that when I was at the international school in PNG, there were more than forty nationalities of kids and everyone played together. Where we were from wasn’t even a factor in the forging of friendships.  But when I went home to New Zealand on furlough, people teased me for coming from a place where the women wore grass skirts and showed their boobs.
I was an outsider in my own country.
I began to think,

"Why do people have to be the same to be accepted?"

In my teens I became deeply philosophical, the way some teens do! The questions came thick and fast:

“What is the origin of thought?” “Are we inherently good… or evil?” “Is all this real, or just a figment of my imagination?” “Is life governed by fate, or are we self determined?” “Why are we here?” (and you kids from the seventies and eighties will relate to this one) 
“Are they gonna drop the bomb, or not?”
But these deep questions were all overwhelmed by a far more pressing issue:

“How do you pash?”

(Note to teenage self:  Mum’s historial romance novels were not the place to search for this information.  “She explored his mouth with her tongue” was a stylistic interpretation, not an instruction).

By this time, I’d been given the nickname Falling Tree because I was fainting a lot.
No… not because of boys (but there was plenty of swooning, too… I’m looking at you Morten Harket)!  I made it through my final year of high school and got into a competitive Journalism degree at a Sydney University.  I was ecstatic!

My well meaning Dad thought journalism would corrupt me, so I wasn’t allowed to do that course.  But a year later, when I reframed my University ambitions to encompass a career path ‘better suited for a woman’ I was allowed to go.  I embarked on a degree in Education and Teacher Librarianship.  Instead of writing words, I planned to surround myself with them.
But I wondered,

"Why does being a girl have anything to do with it?"

It took me seven years to get that degree (it was a bit boring).  Across that decade, I moved countries, got married, and divorced, and valiantly embarked on Project: Find a compatible Handsome Prince. There were quite a lot of frogs to kiss, so I used my knowledge of pashing with great determination.  Surely one of those frogs would be him…?!  And all of a sudden three wonderful things happened in a short space of time.  I found my man, we bought our first house and had Bee and Little Zed. All my dreams were coming true.

Then one day I got the flu, and I never recovered. Can you imagine that?  I was constantly dizzy and fainting a lot. But the faints were actually my heart stopping. I was fitted with a pacemaker to keep me ticking.

I asked a lot of questions during those early days of sickness, but the biggest one was

"How Long will this Last?"

No one knew.   Other parts of me starting going wrong: digestion, bladder and bowel function, temperature regulation, cognitive function, I couldn’t sweat properly, my pupils were not reacting properly to light, I had constant nausea and dizziness every time I moved to stand.  My blood pressure and heart rate were all over the place. I began to experience burning, tingling and numbness in my hands and feet, I struggled through daily chores. I had to quit teaching and we had to take in home stay students to cover my loss of income. The fatigue swamped me. My gait and mobility started to change. Every day was an exercise in pushing through. Pacing. Planning ahead.

I ended up in front of a neurologist who explained that I have a progressive form of autonomic nervous system dysfunction called Pan-dys-autonomia.  That covers all the automatic things your body does.  I know some of you here might relate to that. What made my problem odd was that I had it without a primary diagnosis. Dysautonomia is common in late stage MS and Parkinsons, aspects of autonomic dysfunction affect people with spinal cord injury too.  But the cause of mine was elusive. Six years of watching the progression, endless tests, treating the symptoms and fearing the decline and fall of my future led me to this desperate question:

“Can’t something be done?”

That question was met with averted eyes and shaking heads. Do what you can with your family now, I was told. Before you can’t anymore. I didn’t like that scenario. We embarked on a proactive memory-making schedule. A family holiday, the prioritising of togetherness. And I researched. My research led me to other patients overseas.  I listened to their stories, finally finding people who understood. I began to think deeply about the issues that face people like me.  People with ‘invisible’ illnesses, disability and accessibility issues that aren’t immediately evident. People with rare diseases or poorly understood diagnoses. I wanted to know what could be done for them, too. The injustices of all those lives lived beneath the radar began to burn my brain.
It led to this question:

“What can I do?”

I was offered some work writing for an overseas blog. And I remembered that I like to write.  So I started to write for more people, and even for myself. Blogging led me to ask many more questions, but for the first time I was beginning to see that it was leading me to answers too.  About me, about my purpose, and the beautiful, simple idea, that I could do what I do best.
I could write about it!

One day, I found a Youtube video by a specialist overseas who was treating patients like me, and getting results.  My general physician didn’t want to know. So I pushed and I fought and I learned to use my voice with sometimes, quite intimidating doctors! I kept writing for The Invisible and they began to respond. I wrote for me and began to take action. Until finally, I found a specialist who had read the same papers as me, who had seen the same video. He started me on a new treatment regime in January and it is so far looking really promising.
Fingers crossed!

And here I am, feeling better than I have in six years, embarking on the Be.Leadership Programme, and wondering

“Where will this lead?"

I know first hand that while we are all, to some degree,
defined by what our bodies can do and not do;
more powerfully, we are defined by
what we think,
by how we feel,
and by what we can do about that.

I think we have a responsibility to
help people understand
that our common humanity
is bigger than religion,
it is deeper than culture or race,
it is more practical than philosophy,
it’s broader than gender
and more timeless than life spans,
it’s our world’s biggest learning challenge
and it even transcends our physical abilities.

Those questions of mine have taken forty years to percolate. And I am just beginning to understand that they all point to the same thing.
That we, at the heart of things, have more in common than we don’t.

I am so grateful to have found an authentic way to connect my heart for social change, to society.

“How did I get so lucky, to have my heart awakened
to others and their suffering?”

Pema Chodron

Q and A
Q and A
Questions and Answers

Property

14006_10152927307200815_3285504296703097116_n

The sheets I lie on have HOSPITAL PROPERTY stamped all over them.  I wonder who else has slept on them, cried on them, died on them. The room itself is a perfect duplicate of every other ward I’ve spent time in at this hospital.  I could make my way to the bathroom with my eyes shut. The differences between wards always end up being the people. The patients, the staff, the tea lady.

Today I can hear great guffaws from the nurses’ station.  Brisk footsteps along the corridor.  A child trying out the acoustic echoes in the atrium outside my window.  The child is five floors down… the acoustics are impressive. Once there was a violinist who played down there.  He used to come and practise there, attracted by the same sound qualities that fascinate the yelling toddler.  The sound circles around the atrium and returns, fuller than before, echoes onto itself, folding, as though the sound itself could travel backward in time.

The nurse came in with towels this morning.  And a fresh gown. My room mate commented that it was the first time this week anyone had suggested a shower.  I showed her where the linen cupboard is, for next time she wants a rebellious, self-determined shower.  There are things you get to know when you are a frequent flyer.

I had my shower, sinking gratefully into the shower chair.  Wishing I had one at home.  I let the warm water cascade over my head for longer than usual.  Closing my eyes I thought about my home, my bed.  The peaceful quiet.  A song slid through my mind and remained there, playing on refrain for the rest of the morning.

“…in the easy silence that you make for me,
it’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me
it’s the peaceful quiet you create for me
and the way you keep the world,
at bay
for me”

Dixie Chicks

There’s no place like home.  I feel like a big old baby, lying here in this bed, wishing I could go home. I want the nurse to come in and murmur something motherly.  Something definitive.  A time frame, a decisive sentence.  Instead we all lie here, suspended from the rafters by invisible lines.  We are the puppets on long strings, the marionettes who lie jumbled in a heap, waiting to clatter to attention when the consultant arrives. He stands there at the end of the bed. Discussing you for a few moments with his humbled registrars, before sweeping off to the next jumbled pile of limb, heart and head.  As he leaves, my pieces clatter back onto the bed, out of order, out of sequence.  I want to put them all together with superglue and snip the strings.  I want to walk out of this marionette maison, better than when I came in.   The longer I stay the less my body wants to work as a whole.  My pieces and parts falling further away from each other, disconnected, fractured, dismembered, disarrayed.  How will I keep pulling myself together?

I know I am the glue.  My own determination is what holds me together.  But it dilutes with every hour I am here.  Starved of the peaceful quiet I so need; the words of comfort or reprieve.  I look down at my hospital gown. Hospital Property is printed all over the blue fabric. I am branded like the sheets.  I am morphing into the patient puppet.  Voiceless, quiet, does-as-told.  It’s too hard to fight against the system.  It’s too big, too entrenched.  I close my eyes tight against the day and the thoughts and the words.  Against the visitors to the bed beside me; loudly eating fried food.  The teenager’s parents, hovering over her, worried about her poor head. Cradling it in their arms and cooing soft sounds into her ears. I wish they would all go away.
I wish I could go away.

Instead I stay.
Property of the Hospital.

Imagine

I wonder if you could take five minutes to try something.
It’s just a short imagination exercise.

Can you imagine.._(1)

Can you imagine what it might be like, to get a terrible flu?  And how it would be if that terrible flu never, ever went away? After one week, the patience of your partner wears thin.  After all, there are kids to look after and he is working, he’s not a naturally great nurse, guys are like that… you’re sure your girlfriends will have stories to share about their men, too, when you’re better.  You’ve a job to get back to yourself, you can’t keep on waking up, saying you can’t and shutting your eyes against the day.

Then imagine that being sick carried on for a whole year.

Fifty two of those flu weeks, end on end on end. The family needs you, so even though you still feel like you felt for that first week in bed, you get up and carry on. Every time you move the dizziness sweeps over your world as your body struggles to find some equilibrium.  You are bone weary. You adapt your usual tasks so you can do them.  Sometimes you crawl. You lean against any surface you can.  You avoid bending, or standing quickly, because that might make you faint.  It beggars belief how many household tasks require bending.

You take on less hours at work, but quite frankly, your boss has had enough. You, who have always been a perfectionist, have become an unreliable employee, your sick days are mounting. You talk to them about what is going on, but the doctors haven’t been able to give you any answers.  Your boss, your colleagues, your friends and even your partner start to look at you as if you might be making it all up.  Surely if something was really wrong they’d know what was up with you?  Maybe you are not trying to get better?  Maybe you are psychologically broken, somehow? I mean, it must all be in your head, you look perfectly normal. You doubt yourself. You quit your job.  Your relationship is under pressure. The kids are acting out because you are struggling to do your parenting job too. The years stretch out. One, two, three.

You’ve been in and out of hospital more times than you can count.  It is now clear you are not manufacturing the things that are going wrong with your body.  They put in a pacemaker to make sure your heart keeps beating. But there is an endless litany of other things wrong, too.  You are afraid of dying, because sometimes, it feels like you are. There are moments in the emergency department when everyone is buzzing around you and there is nothing you can do but shrink your self into a tiny observational dot on the wall. It is too scary. Your partner doesn’t even come with you to the emergency department anymore, it’s better for the kids. You taxi in to emergency, always with a bag.  You know you will be admitted.  You don’t know for how long. In your many visits to the hospital a picture is slowly beginning to emerge. You start to research the things that are happening to your body.  Something keeps coming up on Google.  The Autonomic Nervous System.  You ask about it next time you are in.  Chins are scratched, thoughtful silences. Referrals.  Specialists.  A diagnosis.

You’ve been sick now for four years.  208 of those flu weeks, end on end.

Can you imagine what it might feel like to get a diagnosis?  You are relieved, so thankful to have a way to explain what is wrong with you.  Even to yourself.  There is a thing that you have!  Now that they know, they’ll be able to fix it, right?

And can you just imagine your distress when you discover that the diagnosis isn’t the end of the struggle… just the beginning?  You’ve been lurching through a long distance marathon with the flu, you are exhausted, always waiting for the reprieve, the finish line, the bit where you get to stop and recover. They tell you that what you have is rare and it will be hard to find someone here who understands it, let alone who has ideas for treatment.  You research more.  You join online forums, patient groups, you read everything you can. You print out and highlight medical journals and read them, searching terms on the internet, desperate to find a way out of the maze.  You put forward medication suggestions, based on your research.  Every single treatment you are on that is working has been suggested by you. Even in hospital, you have to educate the registrars who come to see you.  It makes you feel vulnerable. What if you are missing something important?  You don’t have a medical degree, you are nervous when you know more than they do about it. You email research to your doctors. The nice ones might look at it, the others might ignore it. Much like what they’ll do with you.

Then you find a group, online.  They all have what you have. There is sharing, and laughter and illness related humour (yes, it exists!).  There is compassion and kindness and expertise.  Resources and empathy and support. You are not alone. The relief is enormous. You’ve been fighting for help for six years now. You feel a different kind of worse every day. Once upon a time you used to dance. Sometimes you struggle to walk down the street and back again with your cane. Your life is light years away from the way you were before.  You don’t know if you will ever get back to the fork in the road where everything went wrong, so you can step back onto the trajectory you were destined for. If you are honest, you fear you won’t.

You’ve been sick now for six years. 312 of those flu weeks, end on end.

There are worse things, it’s true.  Some people like to remind people like you, that you’re lucky you don’t have cancer. You’re not sure how comparing illnesses is helpful.  It doesn’t change your suffering. Your cardiologist once talked about how people with your heart problems are ‘functionally disabled’ and literature from the States talks about you having the quality of life of someone with congestive heart failure.  But that’s not helpful either. Your reality is you don’t have YOUR quality of life, the one you relied on, based your decisions on, built your plans on.  I’m sure you’re grateful you’ve got your marbles. Glad that you can still walk short distances.  Thankful that you can hug your family. Maybe you’d just like to enjoy those things without feeling like crap.  Maybe you miss the connection between wanting to do something and being able to, just because you can.

What if all the things about your identity, the things you knew to be true, aspects of your personality, the things you do, the way you get around, your career, your parenting, your partnering.  What if all of those things were compromised, because you got something like the flu and it never, ever went away?

Thank you for sharing my journey, for 5 out of the three million, one hundred and fifty three thousand and six hundred minutes I have been sick. If you can imagine how this is, please be kind to the people you know with chronic illness.  It is a hard, hard road and we need your kindness.

Can you imagine?

 

Trapped

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 9.14.36 am
“I hope you don’t feel trapped”.  I say to my hubster, blowing the steam off my cup of tea.  It’s the quiet time of the evening.  We are alone in the living room, we’ve been talking about our days.  We’ve discussed future proofing the next new car purchase against the possibility of needing mobility wheels for me. We’ve talked some more about IVIG and our optimism about it, we’ve discussed side effects and risks.  We’ve mourned the end of our channelopathy hopes.  It’s not an uncommon intensity of night time conversation for us.

And then, I see him objectively, for a split second.  This lovely big guy, greying around the temples.  So tired.  So sad.

“That’s exactly how I feel,” he says.
I panic when I hear that.  I think I was hoping for him to say “of course not” or “-whatever!”.  But I can always rely on him to be direct.  It’s his talent to cut to the chase.  My heart hits the floor. In my head, our conversation escalates to custody proceedings in T minus two seconds.  He wants to leave but he can’t.  Oh no!  He’s with me out of obligation?  I should offer to leave him.  Give him his freedom.  No!  I love him!
He watches me spinning into divorce infinity inside my head and reaches out his hand.
“Rach.  It doesn’t mean I want to leave you.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love you.  Differentiate. You are not your illness.  I don’t feel trapped by you.  I feel trapped by what is happening to you; to us. And I am not going anywhere”.
I stare at him.
He is extraordinary.

Here’s to all the partners.  To all the people shouldering big burdens just because they love someone who is sick. Here’s to the parents, the caregivers, the kids and the circle of people who surround us.  We are not sick on our own.  We are sick and the consequences of our illnesses are shared with anyone who loves us.  We wish it wasn’t that way.
We wish you weren’t trapped too.

Here’s to the ones who love us.  The ones who aren’t going anywhere.
You are beautiful.

Thank you.

I Get By

 

http://modernvespa.com
http://modernvespa.com

I’m in the fast lane on State Highway 1, but I’m riding a vespa.  Trucks scream past me, massive utes and vans blare their horns.  People yell out their windows and spew their exhaust fumes into my face, a passing hand flicks a cigarette butt into the jetstream.  I’m cowering in my seat, exposed and afraid.  It’s too fast, I need to pull over. I turn to see what is coming up the inside lane, trying to judge the gap and make my move.  But the traffic barrels past, travelling at twice my speed, shaking me to the last rusty rivet. My motor sputters.

Like any one charged with the care of a family, my hands and heart are full. The ordinary demands of everyone’s schedules, housework, managing the meals (and the biggest task: preventing the wholesale character destruction of my brood). Well, it can be overwhelming.  Add to that; a relative in hospital, a sister come to stay for for a few weeks, an aunty in town for a flying visit, a brother-in-law popping in to drop off some long distance baking from my lovely sis and a birthday for one of our kids.  I know it is just chance that so much has happened all in one week, but that’s how it has been.  And I’m not too proud to admit despite the loveliness of all that family time, it’s been a wee bit much for me. Read.  Too much.

This morning I woke to find the Hubster in the throes of man-flu.  It’s actually tricky to be a half decent nurse when you are feeling like crap yourself.  I tried to shake it off but I was afflicted with acute sympathy deficit. I felt like saying “drink a cup of concrete and harden up!”.  Which is awful to admit in black and white glyphs.  Makes me feel like a horrible person. But if you too have a chronic illness, this will be a familiar feeling for you.  In a perfect world, he’d never get sick unless I am on form.  Welcome to status imperfectus.

Within five minutes of wrestling some sweetness into my morning monosyllables, it occurred to me that the birthday cake must be baked.  Because.  If not now, then when?  The days tasks scanned in front of my mind’s eye.  A rolodex of prioritised procedures and diarised doings. I lurched into the day. About twenty minutes into cake bake time, my friend Flo rang.  She’s a good sort that girl.  I don’t ever have to pretend with her, so there was no breezy “MornING!” after I hit the green button.  More of a strangulated gargle. 
“I’m on my way”
she said.

Vacuum.  Dishes.  Table.  Mess.  Flo’s magic wand.  She keeps up a steady stream of chat while she bustles about my kitchen, deftly putting things away into the illogical homes she knows so well. She is canvassing me for my list of to-do’s.  Checking to see if there is any outstanding purge-material that needs expunging while she’s at it.  My sister arrives and makes us all cuppas; we form a plan.  It is lofty.  Do the shop.  Post a parcel.  Fix the phone.  I’m already daunted, because more than one task will usually best me.  She decides she’d better drive.  I’m grateful.  My vespa’s not quite up to it.  This engine’s seen better days.

We are half way up that mountain of tasks when I have a spill.  An autonomic crisis.  My heart is racing but my body can’t regulate the internal hike in temperature.  My vision shrinks to a small space, caught somewhere between each heartbeat and under each laboured breath.  I can’t.  I am stopped. Panic rises and I realise my legs are not going to be doing a proper propulsion for the dash back to the car.

Flo takes charge.  She grabs my list and does my shop.  Thank goodness for Flo, we need that stuff for the birthday dinner.  She makes it happen. She props me up on a trolley and bustles us all up the travelator and back to the comfort of the car. Cold air on.  Vomit bags located. Home. Bed.  I hear Flo and my sister in the kitchen.  I smell dinner, she’s advance prepping and getting my sister up to speed.  They ice the cake.  I close my eyes.  Relieved, conflicted, awed.

The roadside assist vehicle pulls up alongside.  My vespa is winched on to the tray and I am invited into the cab.  I make it to my destination.  But only because.

I get by with a little help from my friends.