Thursday, March 14, 2013

In sickness and in health

Big news hit my small Southern Illinois town when I was just 5-years-old.  McDonald's came to town!  I remember my Mom and I watching from afar as the giant golden arches dangled down and locked into its rooftop perch with the assistance of a huge crane positioned hundreds of feet above our blue Pontiac.  It was a big year, the fast food giant had landed, I began half day kindergarten and I experienced my first migraine.   

It was not totally unexpected, with a known family history that snakes through my mom, my uncle, my maternal grandfather, my great grandma and climbs on up the family tree from there, it was somewhat inevitable.  My migraine that day set the course for what I would commonly come to expect with my headaches throughout my tweens, teens and early twenties.  There would always be  light, sound and smell sensitivity and more often than not, there would be vomiting.  The throbbing would many times elicit tears and excruciating pain that would sideline me for at least one to two days.  My mom would always tuck me in a bed with crisp cold sheets, pull the shades to make my room as dark as a cave, and sit gingerly on the side of the bed stroking my forehead.  At times I couldn't stand even the slight pressure of her hand on my face and instead she would spend the evening running back and forth to the bathroom with steaming hot cloths for my forehead.

The comfort my mom would give was exclusive to her style.  She was the only one who knew how to do it 'just right' - her presence elicited an immediate calmness that instantly would lower my heart rate and anxiety.  If a migraine would strike me at school and she was called away from her teaching job to pick me up, the instant she walked into the school nurses office, her presence would make me feel better.  I knew I was her only focus and she would immediately rush to my side and place her cool hand on my forehead, an unspoken gesture signaling that she understood my pain.

When Scott and I began dating, he learned quickly that migraine headaches were something that plagued me.  As our relationship deepened and he came to see my many vulnerabilities, he began to witness how debilitating the headaches could be.  He saw a few times in high school how lovingly my mom would care for me and it became a model for how he would stand beside me in the years to come. 

The miracle of headache treatment came just before we got married in the form of a muscular injection.  When it first became available, I was very hesitant to give myself the Imitrex shot when I was in the midst of a full attack - as much as I would want relief, I would be shaky and nauseous.  Scott would step in and give me the injection and I would begin to feel relief in less than 30 minutes.  Gone were the days of hiding in the darkness with steaming cloths on my head. The injection offered a chance to redeem a day that might have begun with throbbing temples.  It was a new beginning and the medicines have only improved through the years. 

When each of our children were born I prayed that they would not be plagued with the headaches that have sent me to bed more times than I like to admit.  We've been so lucky to have dodged the migraines for all three kids, until last week.  I knew that things were not quite right with Abby when she came home from school.  She complained of a headache and before long she was curled up in her bed complaining that she felt nauseous and wanted everything pitch dark.  I was taken back to my first migraine years earlier and I began doing a quick math problem in my head.  The years that I have left to show Abby how she deserves to be taken care of when she is sick are fewer than the years she still has at home with me.

What a sobering thought.  My time with her under my roof is running out.  The awareness jolted me out of my desire to curl up on the couch with an hour of HGTV and led me to do what I'd experienced my mom doing years before.  I caressed her forehead and held her close.  I rubbed her back and reminded her how much I loved her.  I held with her until she fell asleep and I realized that one of the things I treasure most about my husband is his ability to care for me "in sickness and in health" just like my mom used to.  If I never show Abby what it's like to be cared for physically in sickness how will she ever be able to live out those vows in her marriage? 

This week I got more blood test results back on my liver disease.  As much as I hope and pray that it will go away, it hasn't.  Over the past four and a half years that I've had this diagnosis the calls from the nurse with the "numbers" have had the power to dictate the outcome of my days.  A great report can  leave me joyful and relieved and a report of further decline of my liver function can send me into a downward spiral.  The more I understand this about myself the better I'm able to control it.  However, the one constant that I never question is that despite the fluctuation of numbers, I will have a husband standing beside me through it all....and I feel blessed to be able to show my daughter how to love in sickness and in health so that she can understand how to give and receive it in her marriage someday.

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