It isn’t about the hair

I’m planning another trip to go see my mom, and I’m scared. She’s already had some chemo now and her body isn’t liking it. Why should it? It’s poison. She’s having several of the classic effects of the therapy, and I have been warned about her hair falling out. Mom is not a vain woman, but losing your hair isn’t so much about vanity as losing a part of who you are. Also, it is the thing that scares me the most. I kept asking myself, why is this bothering me? I was with her the day of her surgery. I was saw her many staples and pulled blood clots out of a pump. I helped her get dressed and get clean, so why is this the thing that upsets me so much? Husband wanted to know why it was bothering me, too, and the only thing I could come up with at first was, “She’s going to look weird,” followed by a long pause.

And then I got a flashback to the last time I used that word negatively about someone I love.

Several years ago, I almost lost husband. Not in the sense of “Oops. Where’d he go?” but in the sense of “Doctor? What do you mean he could die?” He had been feeling sick for a few days, but nothing seemed serious. He had a stomach ache that became more painful than any stomach ache should and we were sent to the hospital. Everyone who saw him there swore that, even though the pain was on the wrong side, he was going to need an appendectomy. With many tests done, the doctors came in and said that his appendix was actually fine. They discovered, after many specialists looked at results of scans and photos of his insides, that he had a condition called diverticulitis, a bowel issue not uncommon in the elderly, but very rare in a healthy, fit, and fiber-conscious younger man. It is, in essence, having these little weak spots in your intestines and colon which can become holes caused by tiny bits of food that your stomach can’t digest, like seeds and nuts and popcorn kernels. The holes in his intestines and colon, microperforations they were called, were allowing seepage from his bowel into the cavity of his body and he was becoming septic. His body was completely infected and needed repair ASAP.

I will spare you (and him) the details of the days that followed, but because he was just 35 we were extremely lucky. The amazing medical staff was able to attack the infection in his body without needing to remove portions of his bowel at that time, which allowed for significant healing before a large portion of his digestive tract was removed a few months later.

The whole experience was a whirlwind. With a 3 year old at home and it being the first week of a new school year, I was stressed to the max trying to do everything well all at once. I gently and quietly cried only a few times but would quickly piece myself back together again and soldier on. An amazing friend, after asking about the state of Husband, then Daughter, then all the other necessary questions said to me, “Stop. How are you?” I began giving the perfunctory responses and was met with, “No. Stop and think. How are you? What do you need?” When asked what was really so hard about everything my odd response was to say that Husband just smelled so weird. His room, his breath, his skin, it all smelled off. Weird. The response from that amazing friend? “Oh. You can smell that he’s sick. Because he is, you know. He’s very sick.”

Cue my waterworks.

Yes. Yes, he was very, very sick. The smell was what told me. Up until the smell of it, I could convince myself that we were just going through some sort of motions. There was a hospital and doctors and everything was fine.He could have been there for a simple procedure, or a broken bone. The smell said differently.

Today, after a few moments of thoughtful silence in the car after Husband asked me about what I meant by “she’s going to look weird,” I amended my statement. “She’s going to look sick,” I said. Because she is, you know. She’s very sick. It’s ok for me to feel weird about it. It’s ok for me to be afraid. It’s ok for me to admit that my mom is sick, as long as I’m there to help. So, I will be there. I will do everything I can as often as I am needed. I will take care of her when she looks weird or smells weird or sounds weird. She’s my mom, and I will do for her what she did for me all those times for all those years while I was growing up: I will do whatever is in my power to heal her with love.

Originally published on Elephants in the Room