When Abby spiked a fever of 102 this past Tuesday, I took her to the doctor where it was confirmed she had Influenza A. I asked the doctor if I could have been on the tail end of the same thing, without the fever. I’d had the same cold as Abby, a cold gifted to me by my grandson, Joe, who I’d been caring for, but last Friday morning I woke up much worse; with body aches, extreme fatigue, congestion, coughing, sniffling, and a mind-numbing fog that wouldn’t allow for any reading or writing. Had even my worst cold ever kept me from reading? By Saturday morning, I couldn’t do much more than move from couch to bathroom and back again. It can’t be the flu, I thought, I don’t have a fever. The doctor concurred with this conclusion when I brought Abby in, saying I would have had a high fever.
Turns out, that isn’t true. A search on the CDC (Center for Disease Control) website revealed that a person can have influenza without the fever, and as awful as I felt, I’m convinced I had exactly that, as one after the other, my children are succumbing to this illness. Dropping like flies. My daughter Rachel, exposed by a visit to our house on Sunday, reported on her cell phone from the chair in her living room on Wednesday, that she might, perhaps, be dying. Emily, age 16, wakes up with it on Thursday morning. Last night, my oldest son, who lives across the street, stopped by to borrow some medicine. I wonder about the son at college who also visited this past weekend; the son who was amused his mother had fallen asleep in the midst of their conversation. I feel like Typhoid Mary.
We don’t often get this ill. It was 12 years ago that our family came down with an influenza virus that everyone but me recovered from fairly quickly. I failed to stay in bed and rest like everyone else, and I paid the price. My illness quickly morphed into pneumonia. I will never forget the rattling chest and delirious fever that prompted David to take me to the doctor, nor will I soon forget my daughter Elizabeth taking over the care of her little sister, Katie, so that I could sleep the sleep of the gravely ill.
This is my first illness since the death of my husband. Tears poured down my cheeks and yes~ snot and mucous dripped from my nose as I prepared my own tea and toast Saturday morning. David would have been doing this for me. Too ill to read, or even write, I could do little more than ponder and pray the first two days of illness. Mostly ponder, unless you count “Please help me” a prayer. By Saturday night, having gone to bed a good hour before anyone else, I was alone upstairs, sobbing in bed; the events of the past ten months playing like a movie reel in my head. First, the wrenching loss of my beloved, and then the months after Jacob’s cancer recurrence and during his treatment when I’d felt incapable of caring for my other two grandchildren, a period of time when I wondered if I could even properly care for my own young child. Then there was the stress of piecing together babysitters and carting one babysitter from Earlville and back home again, and bearing that forlorn look on little Joe’s face every time I coordinated a “changing of the guard” when she had to leave early, before Ben got home from work. And, now, Jacob’s second recurrence, and the terrible words of the doctors; no cure. I cry for my daughter and my son-in-law. I cry for my beautiful Jacob. For a few hours, a day even, I wallowed in misery. I envy the normal life of others; the companionship they share with a spouse, the minor miseries of their everyday lives. I wish for the surgery, the sore back, the annoying boss, the rushed hurry of too many appointments. Alone in my room on Saturday night, sobs racked my aching body and I felt a rising panic. I almost call my son Dan, to ask him to take me to the hospital, not because my illness warrants it, but because there I could be allowed to fall apart completely. I could sob, rail out at the heavens and become hysterical, and a nice doctor in a white coat might give me a shot, put me in a hospital bed for observation, whisper conspiratorially to his colleagues; it is not surprising. It is to be expected. Look at what she has been through. Classic symptoms of a nervous breakdown. She needs some rest. My sobs subside as my writer’s mind wraps itself around this comforting scenario; I could rest. I could be given a shot and a hospital bed. My racing heart slows as I imagine curling up in a fetal position underneath crisp white hospital sheets that smell like bleach. I imagine concerned family members rushing to surround my children with love; bringing them food and checking in on them. Maybe even visiting me with properly concerned looks on their faces.
I don’t do it, of course. Instead, I fall asleep, tormented, still feeling sorry for myself. The next morning on the phone, I allow my daughter Elizabeth to talk despairingly about Jacob’s cancer, the treatment that might do nothing at all, her worries and her fears, and the upcoming birth of her baby that she is now convinced will be marred by some rare illness. I tell her about the previous night’s anxiety and she admits to wishing for the same many times during the past two years of her son’s cancer. I still don’t feel well; my coughs interrupt our conversation several times. I laugh at her fears and dispense platitudes; your baby is fine. I want you to look forward to the birth. Jacob is fine; he is handling this chemotherapy drug. We don’t know what it might do. Be glad he isn’t in the hospital. Enjoy him today. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Even as I make half-hearted attempts to buoy her spirits, I am being pulled down into the darkness of despair. I am too tired, emotionally and physically, to fight it. I get off the phone with Elizabeth, wearily hopeless. She is right. The doctor at Mayo used the same words as the doctors at the University of Iowa; “We aren’t looking at a cure.”
Monday morning I woke up feeling much better, and stronger. I was also inexplicably angry. How dare I give up hope for Jacob!
“I won’t let you talk about Jacob and your baby like that again,” I sternly informed my daughter on the phone. “You know who loves that, don’t you? That is what he wants us to feel like; hopeless and full of despair. Why are we forgetting the other two words the Mayo doctor used? She used the words ‘hope’ and ‘miracle.’ She admitted she’d seen miracles. Hold onto that. I can’t promise you Jacob will experience a miracle, but I can promise you that God is there with you all along. Jacob is a blessing and so is your baby. They are gifts from God.”
Today, despite the fact that I feel much better, I will not be watching my other two grandchildren while Elizabeth drives to Mayo with Jacob for the check-up that will measure how his little body is handling the clinical trial drug. We don’t want to expose them to the illness that is in my household. Their father will be with them today, and go to work tomorrow, instead. I will watch my grandchildren next Friday, and the Friday after that, and for as long as they need me, and I am able. This morning I am thankful for many things, not the least of which is my good health. I am thankful for my children, my family, and my friends. I am blessed to have friends like Tim, who brought me Amish honey when he heard I was ill, and Lydia, who brought homemade pizza and cinnamon sugar dessert bread in lieu of the cinnamon sugar toast she knew David would have been making me. I am reminded through an illness that I am exceedingly lucky and incredibly blessed to be able to stay home right now. My husband wanted nothing more than to be able to take care of his family. He never wanted me to worry or be anxious about money. Thanks to his provision, and to God going before me, I do not have to rush back to a job before I am completely well. I am able to fight an illness at home and care for my grandchildren when needed. I am thankful for this. I am thankful, too, for the gift of my grandchildren, especially for a grandson who has continued to fight a battle with cancer with a courage that inspires everyone who knows him.
What causes that horrible anxiety I experienced last Saturday evening? The debilitating worry? Does anxiety come from God? I will remind myself of those things I am thankful for, even as I contemplate the origin of anxiety.
Philippians 4:6 (NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“Don’t stop praying,” I lamely pleaded with my daughter on Sunday.
“What am I supposed to pray for now?” she asks in despair, contemplating the doctor’s words at Mayo.
“Pray for Jacob’s healing,” I answered cautiously, and I could hear the catch in her voice when she asked what she was supposed to do if the answer was no.
Now, having regained my physical strength and my faith, I maintain; we must pray for a miracle for our little Jacob, even while we give thanks to our God for the gift of having brought him into our lives in the first place.
In two days it will be ten months since I lost my husband David. I can’t help but still envy the normality in other’s lives. Oh, if all I had to worry about was an overextended schedule, a harried work situation, even a cornucopia of physical ailments. I ache with continued loneliness for the man who loved his family with all his might, the man who made his wife hot tea and cinnamon toast when she fell ill. I ache for the daughter who for several days some twelve years ago, carted her baby sister to and from the bedside of her feverish mother, and who today must cart her son to Mayo Clinic and back. My heart aches for Jacob’s father Ben, the man borne by another mother, whom I now call my son, a man who reminds me so much of my husband in his stoic outlook and soft heart.
And even while I might wish for normal, I vow to remember this; God is Light, and God is good, and good triumphs over evil every time. My God is more powerful than the one who brings despair. I can choose to cower under the crisp white sheets of fear, or I can fling off those sheets, stand up with a renewed vigor, look up at the gleaming sun and the bright blue sky and proclaim God’s glory with these words; “Bring it on! With God at our side, we can face this.”
Matthew 19:26 (NIV) Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”