The Year of Living Anxiously

Yep, it’s been a while…and I’ve been, well, let’s just dive on in…

About a year ago, my son, an eight-year old shortstop, on a team full of eight-year baseball players hit a line drive up the middle, and as he’d done many times before, hustled safely to first, easily running through the bag. Then, my eight-year old shortstop turned to the coach and asked for a pinch runner. A. Pinch. Runner. My son played baseball constantly. In our living room. His bedroom. The playroom. The shower. Hell, he slept with his mitt. A pinch runner?

His coach called my husband over. I joined my son in the dugout. There was a small bit of swelling near his right eye. He had a headache. He was tired. But in spite of feeling not-so-great, he didn’t want to leave. If he couldn’t play, he’d watch the game, support his team. Patiently, I suggested he let his team win this one, rest up, and play in the next game—tomorrow.

Except he wouldn’t play for months.

Back at home, his eye continued to swell, now accompanied by some pain. Concerned, I took him to the local hospital where he was diagnosed with a simple eye infection. I was given a prescription for an antibiotic and assured he’d be good-to-go in a couple days. Baseball. Bikes. All the normal eight-year old stuff.

Except the antibiotic failed to work.

The swelling continued; the headache came back, along with a lot more pain. Now long past concern, my husband and I raced him to the city’s Children’s Hospital, where our son was rushed to the ER and plugged into a bunch of machines. IV antibiotics. CT scans. Emergency surgery.

Not an eye infection. My son was suffering with something called Puffy-Potts tumor, a rare bacterial infection in the sinus and it was pressing like a tumor against his optic nerve and his Dura membrane. Against his brain.

Doctors came in and out. Emergency. Neurology. Ophthalmology. Infectious. Intensive Care. And yet, throughout the week in the hospital, I stayed calm. Eerily calm. Processing information. Making decisions. Only when a volunteer stopped in to give my son a stuffed lizard did my calm desert me. “He’ll be okay,” she said. And I realized there was concern that my son might die.

But I reassembled my calm—what choice did I have?—and my son recovered. We spent the next months at home on antibiotics, limited activity, following up with more doctor appointments and scans. He was going to be fine. But strangely, I was no longer calm.

As I tried to return to normal, all my carefully managed emotions muscled their way back. Tears for no apparent reason, yes, but the feeling at the forefront of my brain? Guilt. Plain, old-fashioned, ugly guilt. Had this been my fault? Had I not been paying enough attention? Should I have been more suspicious of his headache? Or taken antibacterial wipes to that game—the one after which they’d eaten pizza at the field? Shit. Maybe he shouldn’t have been sleeping with that damn mitt. Or was it simpler? Had I been working too much?

Guilt.

Despite reassurances from doctors, my husband, my parents, brothers, friends…I couldn’t shake the guilt. Am I being careful enough? Am I watching enough? Am I hovering? Is he okay? Not okay? Literally making myself crazy. But shaking the guilt is tough. Even yesterday as we decorated for Halloween, the sun zeroed in on the scar on his forehead, practically laser-focused on the constant reminder of those days and months, and I felt the guilt.

But maybe that scar can be a reminder of my son’s incredible strength, too. And maybe—just maybe—he got some of that from me. Better to focus on that than the guilt. I’m working on it.

So, I’m sorry to have dropped off the face of the earth for a bit. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who reached out wondering where the hell I was, everyone who hung in there with me. I feel lucky to have so many friends, people who care. So, here’s to you, and to the next three-hundred and sixty-five days. Let’s make it The Year of Living Happily Ever After.

 

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