I feel like I've been slowly recovering from amnesia. The other day Grace asked for a napkin, but I heard her say "nah-kin." That was how she said it as a toddler. I felt like I was waking up from a happy dream, the type where you can almost, but not quite remember what you had dreamt.
I joked a few times that living that long at the hospital was a form of sensory-deprivation-torture. In BMT isolation we couldn't have pillows or sheets from home, they were the thin hospital-ply until she was allowed to go to the "regular" cancer ward.
We weren't allowed to have many stuffed toys or even many toys at all, unless they could be easily wiped down every few days. She couldn't have fresh flowers or latex balloons. I did get her a giant mylar Unicorn balloon, but I think she was depressed. She didn't care. Nor did she care about the butterfly decals I brought to decorate her room with.
We couldn't have scents, like food, because it made her vomit. Some days we listened to music as she colored, but often she felt so sick that we didn't. I got used to the loss of sensory that connects us to our memories and to ourselves.
Yesterday I made salmon and sweet potatoes and again that fleeting, dream-like feeling covered me. I took me a while to realize I was remembering a happy time when I cooked that meal before. I hadn't realized it had been so long since I had that feeling of contentment. I had forgotten what a good memory felt like, but I hadn't noticed that I had forgotten.
Really, I've been depressed. It seems opposite of how it should be, and to be honest, I think knowing that makes me more depressed. I should be so happy Grace is home again. And I am. But I'm "should" even more. Christmas was the worst. I literally cried all day, hardly able to get out of bed. Knowing that I was depressed on Christmas made me more depressed. It was like a crushing weight that I couldn't escape no matter how hard I tried.
It wasn't until the next day when I sent out an S.O.S. text to several friends did the weight lift. God has shown me three times recently that I must reach out for help and stop pretending to be self sufficient. All three times I tried my best to solve my own problems, just like I've always done, but I've been learning in CR that I need support and apparently God is not going to allow me to survive until I learn that lesson. All three times the crushing weight of despair was immediately lifted, or the problem immediately resolved, when I gave in and texted my friends for help. Immediately as in practically before I finished hitting "send."
Looking back, and with their input and wisdom, I can see a little more rationally as to why I've been so depressed. Grace's brother was SO excited to see her and per their old play habits, he was bouncing and singing and being silly. She wanted to lay on the couch and she did NOT want to be touched. So they fought. All day. Every day. Feelings were hurt and I had two lonely kids who couldn't be in the same room together.
(Feel free to skip...it's insightful to cancer life but a little long and a tad whiny)
She's always angry to be there and because she's on steroids, she's always hungry. Somehow, no matter how hard I try, I never seem to pack enough food for these trips. So she's hungry and angry.
Also it feels much more critical, and is, since she's out of BMT compared to her other neutropenic periods. So I've called the doctors and nurses twelve out of the last fourteen days with fears about her pain and rashes. Luckily they're amazingly helpful, but it's always scary for me to have to call, and a lot of responsibility to decide to call. I worry constantly that I might miss some subtle symptom that could put her life in danger.
I have to be a nurse and pharmacist at home, though I have no formal training besides our favorite BMT nurse who helped me get ready before we were discharged. Every morning I spend five minutes flushing Grace's central line with saline and heparin and change the cover and caps on Sundays. I make sure her four liquid medicines, nine types of pills, and two creams are correctly dosed and administered six times a day, even though the doses change constantly. It can be very frightening for me because I know her survival is based on me doing a good job.
Grace's cancer is gone, and we hate cancer because it can kill her, but now she has no immune system, even less than when she had "regular" cancer neutropenia. And not having an immune system can not only kill her, but kill her quickly. Not having an immune system requires all kinds of work. We have to keep the house immaculate. All germs and dust and pollen must destroyed. We can't have many visitors, and even less children visitors. She wasn't allowed to pet her cat until recently, and even then she has to wash her hands after, no kisses. I have to keep the cat clean, her room clean, her sheets clean, her towels clean, her toothbrush clean...in addition to caring for a family of four again, instead of two.
She can't drink tap water, she's only allowed bottled. She can't go to restaurants or even eat restaurant food. She can't be in the sun at all, can't swim, can't go to karate, can't go to school, can't go to the park, can't go to other people's houses or any public places. She must take all her medicine, must let me cover her with lotion, must let me take her temperature, must show me each time she poops. As you can imagine, her life is out of her control and she blames me for most of it. I get it, she's seven. All the same it's tiring.
And emotionally this week was crushing. I had three friends whose children either relapsed again, or relapse is suspected, and each of those children have a critically low chance of survival. These kids and their moms are like family to me. And to top it off, I was trying to save all our neighbors and their children from cancer caused by the SSFL.
(Long part finished, if you care to read on)
So I slowly wore myself down and out without really realizing it. When you live inpatient for that long, it starts to almost feel normal. Waking up two to three times a night seemed like a miracle compared to living inpatient, so I didn't realize how tired I was, only that I wasn't as tired as before. I didn't realize how sad I was, only that I wasn't as sad as I was before. I didn't realize how numb I was, only that I felt more alive than before.
Slowly I've been waking out of my amnesia to find both good and bad are my reality, both good and bad are my memories, and sometimes I can't tell the good from the bad. I'm rejoicing at how much Grace has recovered but I can't imagine the future. I literally can't think past an hour from now. Everytime I try to imagine next week, or next month, or even next year, it feels like falling into amnesia in reverse. I can only see shadows.
Still I know I am improving because I actually want to heal. Actually I don't really. It's frightening to imagine a life outside this one. But at least I'm willing to walk that direction, into the light and wholeness of the healing only God can bring. I am willing to trust Him to heal me in a way that I'll still recognize myself.
In the meantime, treat me like my eighty-something year-old neighbor who had amnesia. Be patient with me if I don't make any sense. And if you find me in your home sorting your mail, or walking down the street with only my panties on, just kindly lead me home with sympathetic words and wait until my door is closed before laughing.
...I realized late last night that our neighbor had dementia, not amnesia, but I was too tired to care that I got it wrong.