I generally think of myself as the stony type. In the last 36 hours I have received a reminder of what it is to have a heart of flesh.
I'll give you the short version, and start with the ending (so far) so you don't have to read nervously ahead for the ending. She's alternately dozing and playing with a lender iPad in a hospital bed next to me. She is doing as well as can be expected. She is scheduled to get a dose of oxycodone in a little while.
She is seven. She is mine.
+ + +
Saturday we thought it was a stomach virus. When she woke crying at 5 AM yesterday morning, Sunday, I thought it was a urinary tract infection. Mark was an hour and a half drive away with our oldest at camp, so I took the two other boys with us to urgent care when it opened at 9. Not till almost 11 did the lab come back negative for UTI. By then she could barely walk. I hoisted her on my back to carry her to the car so we could get to the ER. Mark met us there, still reeking of campfire; I took the boys home for food and to pack overnight bags, and then to H's. I rejoined Mark in the ER, learned that her white blood cell count was high and that her C-reactive protein (an inflammation marker) was high. She was sent out for ultrasounds, and waited, and cried for water, and then when the u/s proved inconclusive she was sent for a CT scan, and waited.
At 5 PM, twelve hours after I resolved to take her in as soon as possible, we had the answer: the appendix. And an hour after that she was in surgery and we were waiting. And a couple of hours after that we had talked to the surgeon. The appendix had perforated and made a mess of her abdominal cavity. He described how he tilted the table around and washed her out.
"The solution to the pollution is dilution," he cracked dryly.
We must have not looked amused enough because he said "You've heard this before?"
"Yes," we said together, tiredly.
+ + +
At 11 pm I fell into bed at home, my pelvis and legs and feet one long ache, and slept. At three this morning I woke, thirsty, and stumbled downstairs to down a Gatorade. Back upstairs I couldn't lie down comfortably, what with the Gatorade sloshing around and the baby kicking me, so I sat up in bed to get a few deep breaths. They went in all right, but they came out all wrong, broken and wet, and I was done for. No one else was home, the boys in sleeping bags at our friend's house across town, Mark on the futon in her hospital room not many blocks away, and I did not have to be quiet.
This was a good thing, as it turned out.
+ + +
Something I knew but had forgotten, as it had been a long time since we had a frightening time with one of our children: In crisis, this mother's heart can handle almost anything. It barely suffers, while there are things to be done: bags to pack, foreheads to stroke, soup to be stirred, cars to be driven across town and back again; even sleep to be slept. It is when there is nothing left to do for anyone for a time that fear and worry descends blackly and wraps around and clenches.
+ + +
Earlier this week I wondered aloud to Mark if I knew what it was to be grateful, specifically.
I often wonder about whether it is possible to make oneself feel the right feelings. He thinks we can encourage them; I think so, to, but one needs some raw materials to work with, and I wonder sometimes if I don't have the right raw materials or if maybe I just don't nourish them enough.
Today I think it certain they are there. It is just that I spend quite a lot of time fooling myself into thinking I am in crisis mode, and must act and cannot waste time or effort or thought on them.
Nothing like a real crisis to shock you: what I thought was real wasn't anything like real at all.
+ + +
I don't think the heart metaphor is corny, by the way. Our feelings are largely corporal, after all; it may really be more of an endocrine thing, of course, but the circulatory system is involved, and anyway the point is taken. We can nurture them or fight them with the will, but they are largely body-things.
+ + +
This is just to say that, some time after that but long before dawn, I got up and put in a load of laundry so that I could bring a clean change of clothes for everyone the next day, and found my daughter's doll and her bathrobe and flip flops. And then I went back to bed and slept some more.
And to say that we will be here a while, because even though there are no current signs of anything going poorly considering what she has been through, it will be several days or a week before we can say she is out of the woods.
My challenge is to suppress the crisis-mode for now, because it is really waiting-mode.
And one way I am doing that is by reflecting on how much there is to keep you busy when you are actively mothering the suffering, and how much harder when rest and quiet comes.
You might not think the mother's heart works that way, but it turns out that it can.