Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Maternal Instincts

Jamie and I do not have children. We are, however, aunt and uncle to seven nieces and four nephews, all of whom we absolutely adore. I am fond of saying that I love all of my kids — and I love giving them back. My ego does not permit the patience, nor the absolute sacrifice, that is required to be a parent. I already had planned to write about this today, but after last night, it seems particularly appropriate. I also had planned to incorporate the gist of a relevant e-mail correspondence with my dear friend B, so I went into my inbox to find the message thread. After reading, I think it will speak for itself:
time: early March, three weeks post-op; events referred to: chemotherapy, originally scheduled for eight weeks post-op; persons referred to: H, our goddaughter and niece, daughter of my older sister Christine; Dr. B, our oncologist Jamie is getting stronger every day and adjusting well to ostomy. Incisions are healing well & stoma is healthy. We start "aggressive" chemo — not sure if there is simply an "assertive" option, or even "friendly" or "shy" — on April 9. Tomorrow afternoon we have a teaching session with nurses. I'll be honest with you, this part scares the hell out of me. Two weeks ago, when we went to meet with oncologist to discuss chemo protocol, I kept getting the hot spits and that gray feeling right before you pass out. Every time the doctor said "toxic" and "kill" and "nausea" and "difficult" get the picture. The analogy may sound weird, but stick with me: what kept me upright is I kept repeating to myself, "No one else can take care of this baby." I never used to believe mothers when they said that changing diapers, taking care of sick children, was "different when it was your own," but when H came along (18 years ago, GAH!!), I finally knew what they meant. Whenever I had her to myself, nothing fazed me; some instinct kicked in and I knew she was helpless and relying on me and that no one else could take care of that baby. But you know what I mean — you're a mother. A wonderful mother, who as I recall, was afraid to hold babies until she had her own ;-). Anyway, so far, there's been far worse to care for around here than I ever encountered with H, and I haven't had to talk myself through anything yet, so I'm certain I can face chemo and anything it throws at us, too. I'm just grateful he's here and there is something called chemo to help us fight whatever there is in there to fight. But I'm also not afraid to say it: It really does scare the hell out of me.
Back to the present. It is early June, and we have just completed our first round of chemo, which didn’t begin until May 26. It continued to scare the hell out of me until they put the first needle in his arm. Since that moment, I have handled everything it has thrown at us, and yesterday we went in for a routine blood draw and check-in with Dr. B. Jamie’s blood pressure was good, his temperature normal, and he’s even gained back four of the seven pounds he dropped in the first week on the drip. His white cell count, though, is low. How low, I don’t know. Low enough for Dr. B to write a prescription for antibiotics. Just in case. If Jamie’s temperature were to rise above 100.5 during our scheduled week-long break, we were to start the seven-day course. Since we started chemo, we check Jamie’s temperature daily. It has never been above 99.3, only registering above normal once in 15 days. Dr. B advised we get the prescription filled. Just in case. Yesterday afternoon, I left a lethargic and mildly nauseated (and medicated) man drowsing while I went to market. I returned just a little over an hour later to find Jamie under covers, his skin bright red and hot like sunburn literally from his head to his toes. I popped the digital thermometer into a very grumpy mouth under eyes and brows that I know how to read only too well. They were saying, You are overreacting. It is Columbia, SC, in June. Of course I’m freakin’ hot, but I will wait for the beep so I can prove to you how overcautious you are. Yes, his looks really can say all that. In fact, that was a pretty short statement for them. BEEP. No prideful announcement of “Ninety. Eight. Point. Six.” Rather, a matter-of-fact “One hundred and two” came out. Jamie’s temperature peaked at 102.5 at midnight, falling to 100 at 7 a.m. and 99.5 at 9 a.m. We have our just-in-case antibiotics and 20 hours after the first dose, they seem to be taking effect. I am a caregiver to an adult who may be sometimes cranky, but is a much better patient than I ever would have predicted. He can communicate what he is feeling, where it hurts and whether or not what I am doing is helping. I cannot imagine the same scenario happening with a child, especially an infant or toddler, and my possessing any level of calm. Mom, Christine, Caryn (my younger sister) — and you, too, B — I already knew what wonderful mothers you all are. I never will know the full measure of just how difficult it is. I am in awe of what you do.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you're coming very close to it right now. Taking care of Jaime. A mother at times is a nursemaid, taking care of someone they dearly love, putting them first, being strong for them, and you are doing that.
    Stay strong, but also... cry when you need to. Consider it a stress relief.


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