Friday, September 30, 2016

Chickenpox (part 1, the background)

I've shied away from writing about this, because I get feedback from certain quarters that I tend to come across as whiny when I broach it.  However, humble and common though it may be, the experience of chickenpox squashed me and then caused me to learn and grow-- in ways that continue to this day.

No, it wasn't death, or cancer, or war or a terrible automobile accident.  Many people have experienced much worse things than my bout with the chickenpox.  Yet, the experiences that affect us are significant, in their own way, because of the changes they precipitate.  Depending on circumstances, a seven-year-old could be more deeply wounded by having his friend abandon him on a school playground than by losing his uncle to death.  The universal gravity of a situation, or the lack thereof, does not define its effect on an individual.

To avoid abruptly delving into a description of this event that seems pointless and plaintive, I will preface the story with a list of things I learned through it.  This goes against my instincts as a writer; I don't like to tell the ending first.  Still, I can understand that it is important for you to realize that there is a happy ending, that I did not get stuck in the sloughs of despair forever and all eternity.

(1)  I learned that Jesus is enough, and that He wants me to know that He is enough, and sometimes He needs to take away a lot of things that I hold dear in order to prove to me that He is enough.

(2)  I learned that Jesus can hold me together when I am losing my sanity.  Miraculously.

(3)  I learned that what I think I need is not necessarily what I really need, and I must trust Jesus to make the judgment calls concerning my needs.

(4)  I learned that life goes in seasons, and some seasons are rough--now and then we have a really harsh winter, or a paralyzingly dry and famine-ridden summer (I am speaking metaphorically)--but seasons come and go.  No season lasts forever.  I learned that if I hang on through a difficult season, it will eventually end, and a new season will begin.  This is something I totally failed to grasp before the chickenpox, but it brought me great hope for the future when I realized this truth.  After I figured it out, I thought, "Why didn't anybody tell me this?"  And then I thought, "Who can I help by passing this on?"

That is why I'm taking a stab at this memoir today, because I believe that there are flashes of hope and sparks of victory buried in the tale, stuff that might help someone else who happens to read it.

Here we go:

It actually started in the late winter of early 1992.  David was a fussy baby, and Shannon was a curious, energetic toddler.  I was overwhelmed.  I'd hit that point after pregnancy where my joints lost their pre-delivery looseness and started to spasm into the old back and neck problems that had plagued me since our car accident in 1988.  It's difficult to care for two very young children when blinding pain hits every time you lean down to pick one up.  Shawn was traveling a lot, family support was as distant and elusive as ever, and the dark, gray Syracuse winter dragged on with no sign of spring.

Then the nausea hit.  After it failed to abate over the course of time, I took a pregnancy test and yes.  Another pregnancy.  I tearfully considered my situation--my overwhelmedness, my utter exhaustion, my isolation--and I wept.  I simply had no idea how I was going to handle it, how I could possibly take care of the little lives that depended on me when I felt like I was, myself, dying.

The pregnancy was difficult.  It's just hard to be pregnant and nauseated while trying to care for a one-year-old and a two-year-old, with no family support and no breaks, ever.  It's particularly hard when your husband is a frequent business traveler.  The Lord heard a lot of complaining from me in those days, and I say this to my shame, but it is true.  Here are two good thoughts:  The Lord had grace for me, even while I despaired and watched the waves that crashed over the sides of my sinking boat instead of turning my face in trust to Jesus--the Lord had grace for me anyway.  Also, the pregnancy hormones made my joints loosen up, so the back pain was assuaged; at least the pain in my neck, if not the pain in my lower back.

The delivery was rough.  Laura was posterior with a facial presentation.  Afterwards, my midwife said, "That would have been a C-section if it had been anyone but tough old you."  I thought she was buttering me up, flattering me.  I did not think I was tough.  Granted, I almost bled to death, and yet I survived, so that demonstrates a certain toughness, I suppose.  I remember a geyser of black blood spurting up from between my legs on the delivery bed, and the midwife jamming her arm into me up to her elbow while screaming, "Methergine!  Somebody bring me methergine!"  Insanely, someone had swaddled Laura and tucked her into my arm at my side.  I was aware of a fear of dropping her but I couldn't move, couldn't speak.  There was the jamming pressure of a syringe of methergine being slammed into my thigh--I was so far beyond pain, nothing hurt anymore--and I thought, maybe they will listen to me now as I tried to speak, to tell them someone had to take my baby, keep my baby safe, don't let my baby fall.  Someone heard me and turned to Shawn who was huddled on a chair in the corner of the room with his head between his legs, unable to lend a hand.  I understood.  I thought, I need to sit down and put my head between my legs, too.  And then I realized that I was already lying flat on my back.  At that point I grayed out.

Later, I made a few scenes.  I was given a room to share with another new mom who had contracted an infection which kept her in the hospital for a few days.  Her mother was with her most of the time, but when her mother went home, around 11 p.m., she kept her TV on.  Around midnight, she still had it on.  I asked if she was planning to turn it off at some point.  "I will turn it down," she said.  But I could still hear it, and the screen flashed light into my eyes.  I'd been awake for over 40 hours at that point.  Frustrated, desperate, I left my bed and dragged myself to the nurses' station, limping and bedraggled, bloody, wrapped in the sheet from my bed.  I asked for a different room, tears running down my face.  "I have a one-year-old and a two-year-old at home," I told the nurse sitting behind the desk.  "I need to sleep now,  because once I go home I will never get to sleep again."  That nurse sneered at me, but her supervisor hissed, "Put this woman at the top of the list for a private room."  I went back to my room and tried to sleep, but the TV was relentless.  I ripped the sheets from my bed and carried them to a nurses' lounge I'd passed on my way to the nurses' station, earlier.  There, in the empty lounge, I nested myself among my wrinkled sheets on a cool vinyl sofa and turned out the light.  I fell into a blessed sleep in the quiet darkness.  A few hours later, a light woke me, and there was a stern-faced nurse with my tiny new baby, who needed feeding.  Dull fear surged in my stomach as I prepared to be reprimanded.  However, she was kind, a kindness that moved me to more tears.  Isn't it odd, how kindness sometimes makes you cry, when cruelty would not?

At home, I continued to hemorrhage, and the hemorrhaging was generally worst on Tuesdays.  So much blood.  I didn't know you could lose so much blood and keep going.

At the same time, Laura had thrush.  Neither Shannon nor David ever contracted thrush.  It was a new thing.  It required treatment for Laura, and treatment for me.  For me, after every time I fed the baby, I had to wash my nipples with soap and water, and then spread them with a gritty, caustic, anti-fungal paste.  Then, right before the next time I fed her, I had to wash off the gritty paste, do the feeding, wash again after the feeding, then apply anti-fungal paste again.  In our little cape-cod house, the upstairs bathroom sink faucet was broken and only delivered cold water.  During the days I could use warm water in the downstairs bathroom, but during the nights I gutted it out with the cold water upstairs-- these were chilly October nights-- multiple cold water washings ending with the application of the caustic paste, which was in a foil tube.  One night, in the dark, after I washed the second time, I grabbed the tube and applied the ointment.  It went on smooth, soothing, comforting.  For an instant it felt marvelous, until I realized that I'd mistakenly grabbed the cortisone cream they'd given me in case of hemorrhoids. So I had to go back, wash in cold water yet again, and apply the caustic anti-fungal paste instead.

For Laura, there was a medication.  Nystatin.  The directions on the bottle from the pharmacy said, "Give one teaspoon twice daily."  It made poor baby Laura convulse, folding violently forward--and projectile vomit, splattering volumes of curdled breast-milk across the floor, like a full glass of milk, spilled.  Alarmed, I read the pamphlet that came in the box with the medicine, and it said not ever to swallow the medicine, only to swish it in one's mouth and spit it out.  Well, obviously a newborn can't swish and spit, so I called the doctor's office and asked if I should just put some of the medicine onto a piece of gauze and swipe it around in her mouth.  The nurse told me, and I quote, "If the directions say to give one teaspoon, then you give one teaspoon."  I gave one more teaspoon.  I watched my child convulsively projectile vomit one more time.  I threw the medicine away and found some gentian violet at the drug store, with which I proceeded to treat the thrush on my own.  My faith in doctors was eroding.

When I visited my own doctor regarding my profuse bleeding that was not stopping, he gave me some little red pills and apologized, "You will have to take these every four hours," he said, "even during the night.  I'm sorry."  I wanted to laugh, except that it wasn't funny, but really, it was no problem.  Night was not very different from day.  I was up.  Two to three times with Laura, two to three more times with David.  No harm in being up for a pill.  No extra harm, anyway.

"You have to stay off your feet," the medical people kept telling me.  "You have to rest, so you can stop bleeding."  But how do you rest when you have a brand new baby, and a one-year-old, and (now, a few weeks later) a barely-just-three-year-old, and no help?  "I'm not vacuuming," I told them.  "Somebody has to change the diapers and make lunch."

So.  All of this, and I felt that nobody had ever had such a difficult lot in life as I.  Then one Sunday after church, Shannon, who was wearing a cute little sweater dress outfit, began to writhe and complain. "I don't like all these 'squito bites!" she cried.  Thinking it was the knit fabric of her outfit making her itch, I slipped it off her, and there she stood, in her little bare skin, all covered with spotty red chicken pox.

--to be continued--

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