The new normal.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I used to say quite often, “When things get back to normal…..” or “When things settle down a bit…..” I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t happen. Things and life are constantly changing and there is no returning to normal. There is only finding the new normal that comes with every change.
One year ago this evening marked a new normal for me and mine. After a ten-day HospitalStay in the local hospital, Mama was discharged. August 9 last year was on a Saturday. As the day wore on, I gave up the idea that they would even think about discharging her on a weekend. But then they surprised us and they did. A little after six p.m. we began our departure.
Mama had been admitted with a high fever that she hadn’t been able to fight off on her own. During those ten days, we heard scary words tossed around–leukemia, blood disorder, cancer, unknown disease, and such as that. In the end, we left with a double diagnosis of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS, formerly known as pre-leukemia) and Sweet’s Syndrome. And quite the collection of prescriptions. To be filled and taken immediately. And several follow-up appointments.
I helped Mama get into my Blazer, and we headed off. The sun shone through the front window as we headed west towards home. I had already called Mama’s usual pharmacy and they were closed. We decided to go to the Kroger Pharmacy that Mama had used previously as they didn’t close until 7.
We pulled into the drive thru lane as Mama was too weak and had no business wandering through a store. I didn’t want to leave her alone, and I thought the drive thru might be faster, as it was about ten minutes before closing. I rolled down my window in preparation, as there was only one car in the lane and it was already at the window. I could hear snippets of the conversation, and I can tell you it was not pharmaceutically related. I think they had met before. Which was fine, except the clock was ticking. The car in front of me finally pulled away. They must have already received their medicine before I got there, because I did not see any kind of exchange at all. It was 6:58. I pulled up to give them the prescriptions, having already filled out the necessary information. The clerk took them, glanced, and said, “Okay we will have these ready tomorrow after twelve.”
Excuse me, chatty clerk say what now?
“I’m sorry, but my Mama has just been discharged from the hospital and she MUST HAVE these medications tonight. In the next hour for one of them actually. So, ummmm, is there any way we can get these tonight?” Panic was starting to set in.
“I’m sorry, we close at 7 and we stop accepting prescriptions before that.” (I did not see this information posted anywhere.)
I was almost in tears at this point. Ten days of balancing home and hospital, hope and worry, patience and exhaustion–I didn’t have anymore to give. I guess the clerk saw it. She turned and talked to the pharmacist.
When she returned, she said, “Okay we’ll take them. I’ll need you to come inside and pick them up though.”
I was relieved, and after expressing my thanks, I parked the car. Mama assured me she would be okay. I hesitantly left her there and headed inside. While I waited the few minutes, I picked up some frozen French toast for Mama. She had enjoyed it at the hospital, so why not? When I picked up the medicines, I could have kissed that pharmacist. I am still very thankful for her making her life interruptible and stepping outside conventional lines to help the person behind the prescriptions.
I drove Mama home and could have collapsed then and there. Mama once again assured me she was okay. I did not want to leave her alone, as she had been needing help or at least supervision when she got up and out of her hospital bed during her time there. I finally decided that though it was only 8 p.m. I was too exhausted to drive myself the half hour home. We visited a little–Mama puttered around, putting things away and checking mail, and then had some French toast. Soon she went off to bed. I crawled into the twin bed in the room across from hers. I’m not sure I’d ever slept in there before, as it was once my sister’s and then my brother’s room. I slept like a log, and the next morning, after a fairly good night herself, Mama seemed a little stronger. A little more able to stay on her own. So I headed home.
This past week I have been reliving those days in the hospital with Mama. The nights spent with her fevers soaking the sheets when they broke–some nights two and three times. The friendly faces that were so kind and patient in their caring. The puzzled looks on the doctors’ faces, and the questions, over and over, as they sought answers that might perhaps clue them into what was wrong. The running home to shower and hug young’uns each day while a sibling, or my Aunt, or a friend came and visited with Mama. The walking over to my physical therapist’s office, which was located near the hospital, because Mama insisted I must continue with that. The tears cried in the car to and from the hospital but never where she could see them. The sight of this fireball, my Mama, always so strong, weakened by these diseases that had taken hold of her. Text messages from friends and family. And then the one from my friend about her mother, who had just been diagnosed with brain tumors. My heart broke. I read the message to Mama, and she closed her eyes and hung her head. Sometimes it’s all just too much to bear. This was one of those times.
My sweet friend, whose Mama had many of the same symptoms my Daddy did with his lymphoma, said goodbye to her dear Mama almost five months later. Six weeks after that, I said goodbye to mine. About a week ago, my friend shared with me that she is starting to mentally relive last year, all those hard days after the diagnosis. I know what she means. The thinking of where we were a year ago today has brought back a lot of pain and tears and yet, somewhere in the midst of it, gratitude…..for the pharmacist, for caring folks, friends, and family, for the six months we had with Mama after that, and for the precious, intimate moments with Mama in the hospital. I wouldn’t have been anywhere else in the world.
It’s a weird weekend. The one year mark today. And tomorrow marks six months since Mama left this world behind. Another one of those moments–almost too much to bear.
As I think back over this last year, there are two moments that stand out. Mama kept her spirits up and didn’t let me know she was afraid or worried, though I know she had to be. Her spirit was so strong through all of it. During her January/February HospitalStay there was a moment when she looked at me and wrinkled her face up with a smile around the ventilator that was helping her breathe. I knew what that meant, and it warmed my heart and filled my eyes with tears. It was her look that said, “I love you.” Even in pain and as she fought for her life, she expressed that precious love that I will always treasure. The other memory was about two days later I think. She was in a small room in the STINKU as I called it, and she had an abrasive, boisterous male nurse. He was loud and kept calling her “honey” and “sweetheart.” Oh please. *major eye roll* He had already done an exam of a rather personal nature (enough said) before I got there. He walked over to the pitiful excuse for a window that looked out onto nothing, and said, while pulling down the shade, “Let’s give Mama some privacy over here…..protect her dignity.” I looked over at Mama and her eyebrows raised as only hers could, and I swanee she was laughing around that blasted ventilator. I laughed out loud and said, “Yeah, I know, Mama, that’s pretty funny isn’t it?”
As I reminisce and trace the path of days gone by, that’s what stands out about Mama, especially in those last six months. Her love and her laughter. She filled my life with both…..and often. All my life. While I can’t get back to that normal, I can carry her love and the memory of her laughter with me into the new form of normal, each and every time it changes. I am never really without her. And for that, I am thankful.