Yesterday was my birthday. My birthday experience yesterday was drastically different from last year’s experience. I’m still having trouble believing that a year has passed. Here’s one bit of advice: never let your doctor schedule you for a mammogram on your birthday. I turned 40 last year, and my physician thought that my 40th birthday was the perfect day to welcome me into the fold, so to speak, of 40 year-old women who get their boobs manhandled annually. This was not an auspicious start to my year. I ended up getting a less than ideal result, going in for a second, extra-fancy mammogram wherein the oncologist informed me that he didn’t like what he saw, and he did a biopsy on the spot. Welcome to 40! So, why would I schedule myself to see my neurologist on my 41st birthday? Because something is wrong with me. Clearly…
I really like my neurologist and her physician’s assistant. They are both great people. The appointment was at 9:30 AM, and this was just a med check appointment. After going over the same old things, Becky, the PA, drew a conclusion that I’ve been waiting for–I need to go to my primary care physician and get a work-up for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Well, finally! Someone connected the dots. I wasn’t going to do that for them. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a rather rare genetic disorder wherein the body’s connective tissue isn’t quite up to snuff. This is rather good because Grace has some issues that might be explained by EDS like difficulty swallowing as well as her gait issues. Hypotonia can be attributed to EDS. Grace’s swallowing study is on Monday, and I will mention the EDS to the staff at the hospital.
I did enjoy a very peaceful day yesterday. I was given some lovely gifts from some lovely friends. My favorite things are just time spent with people, and I even got that! A lunch date and a coffee date! AND my lovely friend bought me coffee with extra whipped cream because she knows how much I LERVE it!
I wanted to share something amusing about a gift I received. A year ago, Grace was admitted into an inpatient setting for the first time. She had just been diagnosed with a mood disorder and released from day treatment in a manic state. We didn’t know what to do with her. They were treating her with high doses of Zoloft. Three days after her release she became suicidal, and we found ourselves at the Behavioral Health ER. I remember feeling numb. My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder, and I remember telling my husband that I was never grateful for growing up with a person who was constantly threatening to commit suicide–until that day. I had some inner resources to draw on in those moments with Grace. This was familiar to me. I didn’t like it, but I knew how to handle myself. I didn’t panic. I just found my peace, compartmentalized my fear and panic to deal with later, and turned my attention to Grace. My husband had to stay home to care for our other daughters who were legitimately frightened so my business partner and friend joined me at the hospital. She knew Grace well, and she was insistent on being with us–“You can’t go through this alone!”
We waited with Grace until the psychiatrist-on-call could see her. Grace was admitted and sent up to the Children’s and Adolescents’ Behavioral Health Unit on the 7th floor wailing the entire time. I was vibrating. My friend was trying to distract Grace by talking about what they might do when she got out. Nothing comforted her. She was stuck in clinical depression. She was fixated on going home. She hated it there. We were put in a little room that appeared to be some sort of library. Someone locked us in. Grace heard the ‘click’ and the wailing grew louder. My friend looked at me and exhaled slowly. This was enormously stressful. A nurse came in to complete the intake. She had a thick Caribbean accent, and I could scarcely understand a word.
“So, till may vot iz dah rayzon daht Grayz iz hayre?”
“She was just discharged from the day treatment program attached to this facility. If you look….”
I speak French, and my friend’s first language is French. I thought perhaps we could even switch to a different language, but she insisted on speaking English. Grace’s wailing was so loud that I couldn’t hear the nurse’s questions nor could I understand her anyway, and I am pretty adept at parsing words! My friend decided to try to distract Grace by picking out a book from one of the shelves. I remember hearing her say, “Hey Grace! Let’s read this book. This looks good. Hmmm….The Complete Pig. What’s this about? Oh look, a book about pigs! Let’s see, oh, well, whadya know, it is a book entirely about pigs! I’m surprised a picture of my husband isn’t in here!”
Grace stopped crying. The nurse and I turned our heads around and stared at my friend. There was silence. My friend looked up from her perusal. “What?” The nurse just stared at the three of us with cold eyes. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I started laughing hysterically. I couldn’t answer her questions anymore. The entire situation seemed utterly absurd to me. My daughter was wailing and suicidal. My friend was reading The Complete Pig out loud, and I couldn’t understand the nurse’s questions.
When the intake was finally complete, the nurse led Grace to her room and away from us. I wanted to burst into tears, but I couldn’t cry in front of Grace. I had to stay positive–“You’ll be home in no time! We’ll visit you tomorrow!” I watched her walk away, her cries echoing down the hall. I heard another nurse say behind my friend and me as we approached the elevators to leave, “The two moms will be coming back tomorrow, I think…” I looked at my friend trying to stifle an outburst of laughter, “Two moms?”
A year later, Grace looks nothing like she did that night. We know that she doesn’t have a mood disorder. She’s on the schizophrenia spectrum. She’s properly medicated now. She hasn’t had any suicidal ideation since last February. Thank God for Lithium.
Yesterday, my friend gave me two presents. She laughed ominously as I opened the first gift. Lo, I held in my hand:
“You bought me The Complete Pig? Ohmigod…” I was instructed to open my second gift tout de suite!
“A pig mug and spoon?” My friend snorted and said that she was briefly overcome by a moment of girliness and needed to buy the pig mug. “You know, that book was a bitch to find. I think it’s out of print!” My friend isn’t a sentimental sort of person. She’s definitely an action above words girl. But, I knew exactly what she was trying to tell me with this gift. We have both been through hell and back since last August. Her daughter has been through quite a bit, too, and we’ve leaned on each other. For us, The Complete Pig is more than just some weird book that she read out loud in one of the more painful moments for Grace and myself. It represents friendship under pressure and in times of suffering. Loyalty. It says, “I’ve got your back, and I’ll even make you laugh when it seems that there is absolutely nothing left to laugh about. I’ll find it. And, you’ll make it through this moment, too, because you’re not alone. Grace isn’t alone either.” This is how we flourish in hard circumstances. We do so in the company of loyal, loving, and very imperfect friends.
I think everyone needs to read The Complete Pig: An Entertaining History of Pigs during a crisis. Better yet, have someone else read it to you. Pigs are social creatures. So are humans. Pigs are reminders that we were never meant to go it alone. We need each other in all times–good and bad–to be complete. Just like pigs.