I planned on writing an optimistic, generally thankful entry yesterday on the occasion of, well, you know, Thanksgiving. Of course I had planned a few wry asides concerning Thanksgiving dinner on Annika's liquid diet to keep it from descending into sappiness. But I just didn't have it in me.
You know how in fairy tales people's hair is always turning gray after a particularly horrifying experience It turns out that this does
really happen. I remember coming home after Annika's two transplants and our 10 months in the hospital riding the medical roller-coaster. I ran straight to my local drugstore and bought haircolor, for the first time checking the label to read about gray coverage. At the time I thought maybe it was just coincidence. After all, I was entering my 30's, and a few stray grays were to be expected, right?
But our first morning here at the Kohl's House, where we were discharged Wednesday evening, I looked in the mirror and damned if the front of my head was not overrun with 40 or so new gray hairs. (I can't report on the gray incursion on the back of my head as I always forget to bring a little mirror so that I can see what's going on back there on the other side.) Later that day I met another mom down in the Kohl's kitchen. Her 4-year-old son is here for a bone marrow/stem cell transplant to fight a very aggressive form of cancer. She told me that I looked incredibly familiar, which happens to me a lot because I have sort of regular, everywoman features. I told her that I was surprised she could recognize me, what with all the gray going on all of a sudden. "I know!" she exclaimed, nodding her very blonde head, "I went to get my hair colored a few weeks ago and the colorist was all like, 'Wow! You have really gone gray!' and I told him, 'Yeah, thanks, I'm already here, you don't have to convince me I need it! And, anyway, you'd be gray, too, buddy, in my shoes.' "
Still I was looking forward to Thanksgiving. We were out of the hospital at least, even if not actually at home. And, although our sole food supplies consisted of about 115 tea bags, 4 mini-bags of popcorn, and 8 yogurts and puddings for Anni, the chef/owner of Nacional 27
was bringing in food for Thanksgiving (yummy!). Annika was pleased with the amount of ice cream she was suddenly allowed to eat at all hours of the day. Plus, the neighbor girl, Sabrina, and her mom were coming up on the train for a visit. Annika was incredibly excited at the prospect of seeing Sabrina again, since she engages in a serious form of hero-worship at Sabrina's feet. She is a worldly 7, nearly 8, years old.
A few months ago I fell in love with another house. It was a 1920's stucco with arched windows and a red-tiled roof. It was within easy walking distance to Jörg's university and the shady bike trail that snakes through town. There was a lovely little park just down the street, with a gazebo and huge, old oak trees to picnic under. But I knew that moving was out of the question, as Annika's heart would be broken if we didn't live next door to Sabrina.
Sabrina is awfully fond of Annika and Frankie, too. One evening the girls were sitting around the table together enjoying an afternoon snack of all "C" foods (we're all about themes at our house). Sabrina looked around the table happily and declared, "It's just like we're all
I really appreciate Sabrina's mom, Robyn, letting her daughter develop such a close relationship with Annika. When we returned from our nightmarish first bleed in Dallas
, Sabrina spotted us and the two girls ran at top speed to each other, arms outstretched. Add some swelling orchestral music and maybe some dandelion fluff floating in the air, and you'd have a fitting scene from any number of inspirational movies. Sabrina hugged her and said, "Annika, I'm so sorry that you were bleeding from, you know..." She paused to poke at her own belly, "your spleen and stuff." So there were some basic medical inaccuracies (she actually bled from her varices in her esophagus, but it is true that the increased pressure in the spleen is involved in the process), but I was amazed that Robyn and Sean had gone into so much detail with her. But I'm sure that Sabrina didn't stop asking questions until she understood the whole matter. Plus I imagine it helps for her to understand how serious Annika's issues are.
A few weeks ago during our unseasonably warm fall weather Robyn (and most of our neighborhood) was overcome with something like spring cleaning fever. In delving into those dark corners of the little-used storage closets, she came across a box filled with birthday presents for Sabrina. They had moved into their house just after Sabrina's 6th birthday, and they had decided to leave some of the presents boxed up, rather than unwrapping them and then just having to box them up again right away for the move. Then, in all the excitement, the presents had been forgotten. When Robyn showed Sabrina the unearthed treasure, Sabrina decided that she would give those presents to Annika to keep her occupied during her upcoming hospital stay.
So Sabrina arrived at the Kohl's house with her arms full of Polly Pocket dolls and those tiny princess dolls with the rubber clothes that Annika loves so much. She also had lots of stickers, stamps, and fancy paper for art projects on those days that Annika can't leave her bed. There was a little mini boom box with that tinny electronic dance music that grooves Anni's little soul, small enough to fit right there in the bed with her. Annika's eyes were wide as Sabrina pulled out box after box. "And now every time you play with this stuff, you can remember me! And that I love you!"
"Cool," replied the overwhelmed Annika, at a rare loss for words.
No mere architectural beauty in an awesome location could ever lure us away from neighbors like that.
Obviously, we had a lot to be thankful for yesterday. I was excited, too, because I was going to head home in the afternoon to see my little Frankie, returning Friday night or Saturday morning while Jörg stayed here with Annika. Then my mom called in the morning to say that Frankie was throwing up and was clearly not feeling well. "I'll leave early, then!" I said, full of concern for my baby girl. When I hung up, Jörg said, "Of course you're not going! What? You're going to go home and get exposed to some nasty G.I. bug and then bring it back to Annika at the worst possible time? I'll go. You know I have to be back home to teach Monday, anyway."
And just like that the day went to crap. I wanted to be there to hold her after she threw up, to press cool washcloths to her forehead, and murmur comfort in her ear. Of course, Annika needs me here, too. But sick is sick is sick, and I felt bad that I couldn't even make it to Frankie when she was hurting. I knew that Frankie's little bug was unlikely to turn my hair gray with worry, but that didn't lessen that ache in my chest. And, of course, Jörg is good at giving those hugs and snuggles murmuring comforting words, too. But, still.
That night I pulled Anni's bag of I.V. nutrition out of our mini-fridge in the room. I mixed the lipids and the H.A. portion, filled the syringes with the supplements that are injected into the bag, strung the line through the pump, prepared and flushed her line before hooking her up for the night. It all felt awfully familiar, but I knew I had to pay careful attention throughout the complicated process. You don't want to make mistakes when you're getting ready to pump the stuff straight into her veins, through a line that dangles somewhere near her little heart. It didn't help my mood much, I can tell you.
A few hours later we were both asleep. In the middle of the night, I heard noises coming from Annika's bed. Instantly awake, I sat up ready to fix a problem with the pump or deal with some new problem. Instead, I realized the sound I heard was giggling. Annika was laughing in her sleep. Sighing, I closed my eyes again. Thankful, after all.