I realized I had done myself a complete disservice at 5:30 a.m. on Shabbat morning, as I laid shivering on the bathmat of our bathroom floor. I had been vomiting for a half an hour already and I was too weak to get myself back into bed. It had been a rough night with the kids and five sleepless nights in the hospital coupled with the grueling regiment of high-dose methotrexate had taken its toll.
But I am strong, that’s what everyone says.
I vomit into a Kirkland garbage bag and feel the contents of my stomach burn through my throat. Upright, I close my eyes and sway back and forth hoping the motion will help with the nausea. My husband, beyond exhausted himself, keeps asking me to move off the cold bathroom floor and into my bed. I beg him for my pramine (anti-nausea meds), a cup of pomegranate juice with Normalax (laxative), and my bottle of Purelle. My seven year old is awake and tries to come see me, but my wise husband shields her from the scene. While he’s in the kitchen preparing the Normalax juice, she sneaks into the room and watches me through the crack of the door. With eyes closed, I have no idea she is there as I continue to shuckle back and forth on the bathmat. Later, she will ask me questions about why I was shaking and why I couldn’t get up off the floor.
In the hospital, I was focused and determined to get out in time for Shabbat and Shavuot. If that meant that I set my alarm every seven hours to make sure that the nurses hooked me up to the bag of Lukovoren, then that was what I was going to do. I alerted the nurses when my fluids were finished; every time the IVAC beeped because of air in the tube or low battery, I didn’t hesitate to push my IV pole over to the nurses station to ask for some help.
But I got this, right? I’m strong, at least that’s what every says.
Alone behind the curtain of my hospital room, I stopped sleeping at night when things started to go missing. I woke up at 1:30 a.m. one morning during the 24 hour chemo phase to find a strange man standing in front of the doorway of my room. I gasped and it startled him; he asked me if everything was okay in the room. He made his voice sound authoritative and so I responded that it was and he walked away. I closed my eyes again and when I woke up an hour later, the chair next to my bed was missing. This happened a second time, only this time I knew who came into my curtained off area to take a chair. I didn’t bother saying anything to my new roommate, she had just been diagnosed with lymphoma and was frightened. Her voice shook as she said the prayer before chemotherapy. But even with a steady night rotation of people who came to help me with bed time, staying from 8:00 – 11:00ish when I would either fake being asleep or actually just pass out from complete exhaustion – I felt too vulnerable to sleep at night. The lack of sleep was plunging me deeper into a depression.
According to my doctor, I’m from the Kibbutz. I imagine videos of 1940’s Israel, where women worked in the fields all day, helped cooked meals for the entire Kibbutz, and took turns doing guard duty. Like my own Grandmother, many of those women lost most of their families in the Holocaust; those women were the epitome of strength.
My parents arrived Shabbat morning to help, and the little ones met them at the door to give them the full report. Mommy has been vomiting! Mommy is swaying back and forth on the bathroom floor and she can’t get up! The Normalax kicks in and I am forced to find the strength to get up off the bathroom floor. After my first bowel movement in five days, I wash my hands and shuffle out of the bathroom. I use the walls for support and somehow manage to make it back into my chair. My Mom quickly covers me with two blankets. Gaby heads back to bed to catch up on much needed sleep and I’m thankful that my eldest daughter is still asleep. My Mom brings me a cup of water and my hands won’t stop shaking. I spill the water all over myself and the blankets as I tried to bring the cup to my mouth. I notice my son’s eyes go wide as he watches me; my daughter rushes over to try to help steady my hand so I can drink. Relieved that my parents are here to help, I close my eyes and drift in and out. Later, my oldest will sit at the dining room table and chat with me. They have all noticed that my hair is growing back and they are excited. I mention to her that maybe one day, she won’t even remember that I was sick. With a voice filled with melancholy she disagrees. She tells me that she will always remember the year she was nine when her Mommy had cancer.
The hematologists do rounds on Tuesday. I sit in my bed on the 7th floor of Shaare Tzedek Medical Center and wait for the crowd to gather at the end of my bed. I am strong, so they spend no more than two minutes with me. The strongest pain medicine I’ve been given is Acamol.
On Friday night, unaware of what’s to come in only a couple of hours, I watched Gaby and the kids eat dinner from my chair in the living room. After I was released from the hospital and back home, I managed to cook a little bit for Shabbat and Chag while spending time with Gaby and the kids. Amazing friends dropped off meals and treats, flowers and well wishes. I rode the high of being home well into the weekend, happily covering my eyes to light candles. I never made it to the dinner table though, collapsing from exhaustion in my chair in the living room.
But after he was finished with his soup, my four year old climbed into my lap. I spread my blanket over his little body and he laid his head on to my shoulder. Within seconds, he was fast asleep. I cradled his warm, sleeping body and felt the tension release as his shoulders went slack and he sank further into a peaceful slumber.
On my own, I am not strong. Surrounded by Gaby and the kids, I turn into a fighter.
Regardless of whatever physical state I might be in right now, thank g-d I am home, and that has made a world of difference.