Southern Legitimacy Statement: Driving south down 17, I know when I’m finally home. The distinctive smell that continues to get stronger. It can be overwhelming, and certainly repulsive to some at first, but over time it becomes an oddly welcoming smell. Pluff mud. It cannot be escaped in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, especially at low tide. Welcome home. Open doors, boiled peanuts, churches on every corner, and miles and miles of untouched beauty. This is what home means to me. Pluff mud and all.
Making Light of a Thing
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Ridiculously hot July morning. Here’s the routine for a super busy life.
Monday. Alarm sounds. 5am. Wake up. Shut off alarm without pressing snooze even though it’s very tempting. Get out of bed. Glance in the mirror at my ever-growing-larger 20-week pregnant belly. Ugh. I realize it’s time to throw in the towel and start wearing maternity clothes. Can’t quite button my PJs. Cringe.
Same mundane every day routine. But not today. Today is different, and my world is going to change in the most unusual way. I just don’t know it yet.
Monday. Alarm sounds. Wake up. Shut off alarm. I think it’s 5am but I can’t quite focus on the clock. I know! I slept with my contacts in! It happens. Eyes get dry and blurry. But this is not the case. I close my left eye-I’m fine! I can see that it’s 5am. Okay, there has to be an explanation! I close my right eye this time. I can’t see the clock! I know! A sinus infection. Has to be it.
I get out of bed and waste 12 perfectly good super expensive disposable contacts, just to make sure. Nope. Not the issue. I’m sticking with the sinus infection theory.
Time to get a quick shower before waking up my three-year-old son and heading off to daycare then work. The bottle of Pantene is in my hands. I pull it in close to my face. I can’t read any of the words. It’s all a jumble of blurriness! Eww. And I get shampoo in my mouth. Fantastic.
I get out of the shower, dry off, and continue to attempt finishing my morning routine. Lucky day! My husband is taking our son to daycare today. Good grief. I can’t juggle another ball of stress today!
I wait, very impatiently, until my OB office opens at 8:30am. I figure I should call them since I’m pregnant and not sure what’s going on. While I’m waiting, of course I surf the web to diagnose myself, like any good hypochondriac would do. Everything I research ultimately arrives at the same diagnosis. Nope. Gotta be something else.
Finally! 8:30! I call the OB office immediately. A “very calm and way too perky for this early in the morning” girl answers. I briefly tell her what’s going on, and then she puts me on hold for what seems like five hours. It was probably only two minutes, but it feels way longer.
“Way too chipper and patient for a Monday morning” girl returns to the phone and informs me that Dr. Warner would like to see me immediately. Luckily, the OB office is a mile away.
I hop into the super messy white mini-van and make the one mile, even though it feels like 5000 miles, drive to the OB office. Why is it that the bigger the vehicle, the messier it is? I drive with my left eye closed so that I can see the road. I hope I don’t get pulled over for erratic driving at 8:30 in the morning.
I safely arrive, walk into the OB office, and Dr. Warner is ready to see me right away. That’s never good. I usually wait at least twenty minutes or so. A cold shiver encompasses my body, in a very “scared of the outcome of this” kind of way.
Dr. Warner does the norm. She feels my belly. Takes my temp. Blood pressure. Baby’s heartbeat. All good. But the uncertainty on her face is not providing me with any reassurance.
Dr. Warner then walks to the other corner of the small exam room and picks up the phone on the counter. She turns toward the wall and makes a call, but I can’t articulate the words that are coming out as she whispers.
She hangs up the phone, still faced away from me. She slowly turns around and looks at me. She explains that she was speaking with Dr. Cooper at the hospital, and that Dr. Cooper would like to see me right now at the Emergency Room. The ER? What’s wrong with me?
Coldness again comes over me. Pure fear. Dr. Warner does not explain much, but her face shows the look of concern as she manages to produce a half-smile, as if to say, “I think this is bad but I’m not going to tell you”.
I leave the office, jump back into the super sticky white mini-van that has a lovely carpet of old goldfish crackers and kind of smells like sour milk. I head across the parking lot to the hospital ER. Long drive, I know. Any confidence I have in my situation is quickly fading.
Okay, I can do this. Maybe it’s just a bad sinus infection and Dr. Warner isn’t comfortable handling it since she’s an OB. That’s it! I don’t have a regular Doctor, so she has to send me to the ER. It’s all making sense now.
I park, hopefully between the lines, and walk to the front of the hospital. I see a younger lady holding a wheelchair out in front of her and smiling at me. I smile back politely. Oh, she’s waiting for me, I realize. She knows my name and tells me that Dr. Cooper is expecting me in room number one.
The younger lady rolls me into room number one, which is actually just a very not-private-at-all curtained-off stall. The Doctor arrives almost immediately. He wants to perform some lab work and some tests.
First thing. I stand outside of curtain number one and stare down the long hallway at what I can only presume is an eye chart. Dr. Cooper covers my left eye. My vision is obviously not perfect, even with contacts in, but I can read most of the letters on the chart. Except those stubborn few bottom lines that no one can read. I definitely think I’m fine!
He proceeds with covering up my right eye this time, and asks me to read the same chart. Okay, this is scary. I can’t even read the giant E, even though I know it’s a giant E! It’s always a giant E on the top. Now it’s just a blurry blob.
Dr. Cooper looks very concerned, and says he has several more tests he would like to complete to rule some things out. Yay. Fun. He then tells me that I should call my husband. Uh-oh. So many conditions are running through my brain. Unfortunately, working in the field of medicine for many years has made me a super hypochondriac. Of course, I always conjure up the worst-case scenario. Cancer? Bad eye infection? Worm infestation? Trust me, that worm thing actually happened, but that’s a story for another time.
I call my husband, and even though his job, also in healthcare, is half an hour away, he’s at the hospital way faster than I think he will be. He must have been driving 100 miles per hour down 526. I need the support. Glad he’s here.
Apparently, I will be getting an MRI of my brain. Now my mind is super overactive in ideas of what could be going on. My brain? What if it’s a tumor?
I gown up, lie down on a cot and am pushed into the MRI room. This is when I learn that mascara contains flakes of metal so it will need to be removed. Side note-this is why I no longer wear makeup. Or antiperspirant. Or nail polish.
I am wheeled out of the MRI room to remove my makeup, then wheeled right back in. Can this please be done already? I’m supposed to have an injection of dye so
they can see my brain better, but I can’t because I’m pregnant. The machine is so loud! And my entire face is screwed into in a shield that looks like it’s straight out of The Silence of the Lambs. Creepy.
After the hammering noise in my skull somewhat subsides, I am wheeled out of the MRI room again, back behind curtain number one. I am tired. I put my clothes back on, including my
room again, back behind curtain number one. I am tired. I put my clothes back on, including my normal-person jeans that I can’t even button anymore. We wait. And wait. What is taking so long?
Finally, the Doctor arrives in room number one, with a grim look on his face. Am I dying? He proceeds to show us the MRI report and images, and explains that it’s progressive enough to not need any further tests today for a definitive diagnosis. Apparently, my brain is scattered with a very large number of lesions. Lesions? Okay, I need more info.
Dr. Cooper then tells me that I have MS. Multiple Sclerosis. Not what I want to hear. My world shrinks to the size of a peanut. What did this mean for my life? The worry really starts to set in. My mom has MS. Her dad had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Way too close to home. All of my internet research. Yep. That was it. It all pointed to Optic Neuritis due to Multiple Sclerosis. I cry. My husband holds me. This is difficult to digest.
I begin injections the following week, which I am told are perfectly safe during pregnancy. I don’t believe that one hundred percent, but I feel like there are no other options. The Neurologist tells me that I will be in a wheelchair in less than a decade if I don’t start injections now. He’s no longer my Neurologist, by the way. Apparently, he failed the class in medical school about comforting patients.
There you have it. My world is completely changed. Luckily, most of my vision returns to my left eye in about a month. Five months later, my baby girl is born via c-section. Because of the risk of some weird genetic flaw, we make sure my tubes are tied, sautered, burned-whatever needed to be done to ensure that we would not chance passing this along any further. In all honesty, I am done with having babies, anyway. One boy, one girl. I am good!
To add more fuel to the fire, I need a root canal. Desperately! My OB’s husband happens to be my dentist, but they won’t let me leave the hospital! Prison! Or probably an insurance thing. Whatever the reason, I am not happy. Gratefully, my Anesthesiologist morphines me up to help with the pain. For the surgery AND the throbbing tooth. All is good at the moment. Later, when I’m somewhat lucid, my husband tells me that the Anesthesiologist said, “I can’t fix her tooth, but I can make her forget that she has teeth”. Funny. Apparently, he is an outside of the box thinker.
My three-year-old son comes to visit his new baby sister with a pretty pink giraffe in hand to give her. As any young child would do, before anything else, he has to point out my “pee bag”. Thanks, buddy. Exactly what mommy needs right now. Don’t want to meet the baby. Don’t want to see mom. It’s all about the pee bag. And he still brings it up a decade later! Geez.
My son is now 13, and my daughter is 10. Goes way too fast. I can’t say that anything has gotten better on the health front, but there are always so many things to be thankful for. Every day, if you look for one good thing to replace one bad thing, I’m almost positive you will find it. And it doesn’t have to be an amazingly awesome good thing. It could be like, “Yay! My pen didn’t run out of ink today!”. Totally counts.
If my whirlwind experience never happened, I am certain I would not be the person I am today. There is always a bright side to everything, even the not-so-great stuff, if you learn to accept things for what they are, look for the good, and try to make light of things. It made me reassess my whole life, my whole world, and make some changes.
We live in North Carolina now. Pink giraffe lives with us, too. Life is good.