Well, keeping company with pain anyway. We're old acquaintances, but we usually have more of an understanding with each other than right now. And it's not me that's being unreasonable...
I've been with this unfortunate close friend since the weather turned cold months ago, just like it did for many seniors in New England. Most of the time, I don't notice it much and neither would anyone around me: the underlying back aches, stomach upsets, and occasional muscle spasms. Once in awhile, I acknowledge its presence with a grim "S'up?" and throw a couple Advil at it and move on. Until a couple weeks ago.
The day after our final bows to combined thousands of viewers in the Christmas Carol (and yes, I'm very thankful it wasn't a moment before then), my daughter Claire evidenced the dreaded stomach bug. Of course, I hoped--somehow--that maybe it was something she ate. Chocolate and goodies abound this time of year after all. And the next day, Monday, all were well. I kept wrapping and baking cookies.
The morning of Christmas Eve, I packed all four girls in the car to pick up family portraits we'd taken at Target and to get some more scotch tape. In a highly festive mood, I treated them all to munchkins and me to a coffee. Which turned out to be an absolutely awful idea.
After some unusual sounds from the back seat, I heard, "Oh Mommy... I'm so sorry for spitting the munchkin at you." A quick glance led to a quick park and a manic search for wipes, plastic bags, and changes of clothing. Since none of the latter were to be had, I ran into Target, grabbed the pics without a glance, rifled through the clearance rack, and found a $4.88 pair of bright purple sweatpants with fireworks on them... a pair Cecilia now, naturally, tries to wear every morning and to church on Sunday.
She was almost clean, short of an immediate bath at home. I had dissembled the car seat, had everything soiled sorted out in grocery shopping bags for the laundry. I was indulging in wipes and Purell myself when my sweet two year old, with a look of utter confusion, began to "spit" her treat out at me too.
"Oh. You cwean me? I sorry too..." And I was a thousand times sorrier.
We were sick for Christmas.
I've been lucky and spoiled my entire life when it comes to Christmas. No one has ever been ill for that holiday, aside from the occasional cold. One year, my dad had a slight fever. Another year, my mom broke her arm after the event. But Christmas itself, year in and year out, whether I'd been living down the street or in Austria the week before, always found us together in the same living room, with the same dreadful cassette tape of Harry Belafonte droning out songs, exchanging gifts and lots of laughter with my very amusing family. Here, you deserve to treat yourself to a listen :D
After repeating the same cleaning procedures in the cold, an hour later with two sleepy little ones and two sobered older ones, I was swiftly heading to washing machine and bath tub. And making calls saying: "We can't be there for Christmas."
It was sad. But given the events of this year, I was already sad. And this was certainly... distracting.
My hopes that this would prove a "kiddie" virus disappeared just before my husband was about to head to midnight mass. In that sweet moment when all are sleeping snug of their beds with visions of wellness dancing in their heads, while I was setting gifts under the sparkling tree, my poor spouse dashed--not to the car--but to the single and most occupied seat in the house.
Rather than waking up Christmas morning to mourn the fact that no newborn was there to experience her first wrapping paper, I had to dash to help my eldest, whose ticket had been pulled by the Norwalk virus. At 10:30 Christmas morning, I was holding her hand and brushing back her hair in the bathroom. It seemed to strike the older ones the hardest... which did not bode well.
In a daze, some gifts were open, thanks were mumbled. I still can't find some of the things we opened that day. Kids were laid out on couches with appropriate buckets and electrolyte-laden, well-labeled drinks. With the necessity of distraction apparent, we watched many Christmas movies. After a dinner of saltines, we sang carols together.
It was still Christmas. There was still joy at the birth of the Lord. Felicity toddled around with Baby Jesus from the nativity set, giving Him kisses and feeding him applesauce.
As the day progressed, aww I knew, but I hoped against hope. At one point I was walking the house with a bottle of bleach in one hand and a bag "just in case" for myself with the other. But just before dawn on the 26th, my number was up.
And stayed up for a long, long time.
My phobia about germs is due to this very virus. While for most it's an extremely unpleasant 24 hour event... Because of Crohn's, when I get this bug, it's an automatic trip to the ER for fluids. I can't stop puking without medical intervention. And darn it and the absurd co-pays, this time, the walk-in clinic wasn't enough. I was informed pleasantly by a guy in a lab coat, "Your white blood cell counts are concerning enough that we're calling an ambulance."
I still have the scar from where I pulled up without heed to my IV. After hours of all kinds of unpleasant depletions, I wasn't "all there" anymore. Looking blankly at the blood flowing impressively down my arm, I mumbled something like, "Nononono insurance expensive husband drive. You sure? Be okay..." And fell back on the cot to stare at the wall again.
I mostly remember that day a lot of pain, a lot of confusion, and the sheer misery of constant nausea. I remember it was hard to breathe through the mask, and that I suddenly was in the car. A distinct lack of any turtle doves or pear-tree perching partridges.
My husband had picked me up, and ignored my cogent arguments to "Want go home rest be kay ooooo errrrr ugh." I've never gotten morphine so fast upon entering a hospital. Hyperventalating works, so there's a tip. Declaring your pain level to be "over 7" is another. Dan knowing the doctor through work didn't hurt either.
A CT scan showed that my stomach and intestines had swollen to a grotesque degree due to a bizarre secondary infection. Which would explain all those pesky hot knives feelings.
I was admitted, and wheeled behind a curtain beside my new roommate for days of morphine. And days of listening to her shout obscenities at the staff and talk to her cat on the phone, demanding to go back on cocaine.
I can't say I enjoyed the rest. The hospital liked to give me morphine more than I liked to receive it. When I started to mention the RA in my increasingly annoyed back, they were most unimpressed. Anything anti-inflammatory would hurt my stomach, and that was the main concern. I needed more antibiotics. My white cell counts needed to go down, my red cell counts needed to go up. My GI specialists were in Bermuda. I just wanted to go home.
Despite my protests at contagion, my sweet mom and dad brought flowers, my awesome friends brought chocolate which I was happy to just hold and smell, and even brought a board game which they essentially let me win. They left encouraging notes on my board:
Another highlight was the sad and amusing night where an elderly gentlemen--who was obviously well-educated but unhappily senile--raced through the halls yelling, "You, sir, shall deliver my wallet back promptly or I will inform the police!" This was said while security were actually in hot pursuit, trying to keep him in his room with the least possible use of force, assuring him they would protect him from all his imagined fears. I joined some fellow johnny-clad patients to watch the proceedings in the hall. Ah, here's my one hospital selfie in johnny:
One fragile woman across the way hung onto her IV pole and looked on gleefully while I stopped watching: the elderly man forswore his hospital gown and continued, now streaking, eluding and swiping at authorities. She giggled: "It's the only entertainment we get, eh?"
Changing the topic, I asked what brought her here. In her early 40's, she also has Crohn's, and told me she comes every 10 weeks to the hospital now, after several surgeries. She has a "bag." Her daughter now has the disease, vomiting daily. Her daughter is 8.
Chatting in quiet voices in those wee hours of morning, I felt so very badly for her. And I felt so very lucky. I promised my prayers. I staggered back to my room, and pressed the button for my nurse, a British gentleman from Liverpool. Ostensibly for pain medicine, but also just to hear him talk. To hear anyone talk, anyone who was healthy, undrugged, and unafraid.
I was happy to receive the anointing of the sick. I thought of posting that on my Facebook status for all of 23 seconds and then realized how wildly dire that would sound. :)
I wanted to blog, but my laptop's screen had broken. I would hold my I-Whatever up in bed, try to make the image stop turning, and put it down because I was too dizzy.
It gradually improved. I was put back on solids after some days, and eventually it didn't feel like my insides were getting scraped raw after I swallowed. I got a new roommate: a wealthy elderly woman from Cumberland, getting treated for a bloodclot. We'd pull back the dividing curtain, sip apple juice and watch the news together, joking about our commodes, illness as the great equalizer.
Four days later, I got out of the hospital and got to see my kids' faces outside of Facetime. I had a catch-up Christmas with my parents through a daze of tramadol, and went back to bed, parking the new gifts by the door and not looking back.
I went to see a play on New Year's Eve, having postponed my ticket till my discharge. I was fine for the performance, but when I stood to leave the stage and seats spun round, switching places. While I've never been drunk, a condition both my stomach and my morals are in firm agreement on, I have a pretty good idea what that would feel like now. They guided me out past people dancing with faces painted in the streets, shouting 2014 greetings while beating tamborines and blowing whistles.
2014 had better be better. Folks, it's been surreal.
I'm better now, as I hope is demonstrated by the fact that I've finally, finally written to you again. I had to write out all this unpleasantness before I could tackle my annual Christmas letter. Hope it's not been too graphic. :S
While my GI system is better, if sore, my RA--not to be left out of the party--has been worse. For days after the hospital, I walked slightly bent and twisted to the left. An MRI showed erosions between my ribs and my spine which explains a whole lot about the weird pain that wakens me in the morning to labored breathing, my ribcage complaining about the task of expanding for air.
The good news are that my specialists are all finally back from vacation, and I'm starting to see them, get more tests, try more meds, drink mostly "bone broth," and take all manner of herbal supplements 20 minutes before, 32 minutes after, and in the middle of meals. I take a handful of capsules before bed, but usually have to take a vicodin or two to get the pain down to sleeping levels. And a zofran for the nausea the vicodin causes. And an extra tylenol for the migraine the zofran can bring on. Did I mention I hate pills? I hate pills. Of course, I'm going on Humira shots again soon, so I will like pills better then I'm sure.
Thank you for your prayers during this season of my keeping company with pain... while trying to do just enough cooking, dishes, and laundry that my family is fed and clothed till my husband gets home and I can seek ice and heat. As for the appearance of the house, dinner parties will wait for the time being, and the tree may well be up till March. Which is just fine with me. I need to catch up on this season of joy.
I could end with something totally obnoxious like "Y'all be grateful if you can move without pain." But you know, that sort of gratitude is just difficult, because we humans have a wonderful amnesia when we're out of pain, and very quickly embrace the comfort of normalcy. We weren't made for pain, after all.
I should know better than anyone, as I'm lucky enough--despite my diagnoses--to only go through these really bad spells once in a blue moon. Since I'm not able to be grateful enough for when I'm well, I'm really trying to spend time being grateful--ahead of time--for when I will feel better. Because it will come, this season will pass, and I will likely attempt tubing within the month, blissfully unaware of the weeks I spent being gimpy and grumbly around the house here. I look forward to doing all the things I was made to do by a God who sure can give us more than we can handle yet is, among many attributes, definitely fun-loving. And I'm grateful for that, right now.
Meanwhile, pray because I've been sitting for a while typing out all this bravery, and I'm about to begin the process of standing up. Oooh boy. See you sooner rather than later, you wonderful ole' Bloggesphere. ;)
I'm going to favor the New Century Version translation this time. I know, I know. If you must, here's the Douay-Rheims: "The Lord help him on his bed of sorrow : thou hast turned all his couch in his sickness." Not particularly desirous of mental images of a Divine up-turning of my already distressed furniture, I'm gonna go with this:
"The Lord will give them strength when they are sick, and make them well again." Psalm 41:3