For most of my adult life, I’ve gotten by on laughs. I’ve written about it before; laughter is my Teflon™. I’m incredibly sarcastic; I’m self-deprecating to a fault, and I’ve learned to be funny when I’m complimented, uncomfortable, happy, sad, embarrassed, proud, in pain… Make a joke, and fill the space; that’s how I generally operate. It’s how many people see me; it’s what they expect from me. In fairness, I’ve consciously and unconsciously created the image, by being someone who is often “on.” Most of the time, my funny owns me; I don’t necessarily own it. It’s my Teflon™.
But things have been hard lately. I’m having trouble rolling with the punches… and the punches have been non-top and hard. Frankly, there’s been enough personal stuff to keep my funny on over-time, but it’s the physical that has shoved me off the ledge. If I was a religious person, I might be questioning God and why bad things happen to good people. I believe that I’m a good person, for the most part. I believe in the motto: Do no harm; I live by it; I write by it. I do my best. I’m certainly not perfect, who is? I’m a passionate person, so sometimes I lose my temper. I swear a lot. I’m sure I’ve hurt feelings, even when I didn’t intend to. I’ve surely hurt feelings intentionally. I know that not everyone likes me, but I try to be likeable. I think of myself as a (mostly) good person, and again, if I were religious I might be questioning higher powers and meaning of life right about now. Honestly, if truth be told I’ve caught myself doing that anyway.
Do I sound sarcastic? Do I sound like I’m making jokes anyway, or that my tongue is stuck in my cheek? I’m not; it’s not. This week I hit a wall; I’m spent. I lost my funny, and its left me feeling adrift. I know it’s temporary, but as the walls close in, nothing sounds funny to me right now and that’s one more punch I’m just not up for.
I’ve been in a perpetual shit storm since December, and my ability to joke it off or roll with other people’s jokes has dried up. I have an in immune disorder that wreaks havoc with my life. Usually, I just deal with it. There are ups and downs, but I roll. I get IV infusions every 3 weeks, to manage infections and symptoms. And for the most part, it’s just part of my life. I certainly have my bad days and good one, but this past December I fell into a maelstrom of challenges.
It started with a severe sinus infection in December, that lead to breathing problems and 6 days in the hospital. It was miserable! My veins were blowing left and right; I couldn’t breath; and there was no Christmas tree at home… 10 days before Christmas. When I came home, I was weak, using an oxygen tank, and unable to do all the things I love to do. It was Christmas but things were upside down. Miracles occurred and I maintained a fairly good attitude, despite it all. Recovery dragged into January and early February. It definitely sucked my humor, but I needed my Teflon™ and it kept me going. Just as I was bouncing back, getting stronger, there was another sinus infection– probably the same infection, just not healing. It sucked. It hurt. It drained my reserves; but I continued to joke it off. We went out with friends and had drinks, and I made jokes. We all laughed.
As we packed for spring break, my doctor suggested that perhaps I wasn’t well enough to go. There were a few days of anxiety about it, given what had happened in December. However, I argued that sun and salt water would do me good. I needed the vacation, and I wanted to get out of my box, and shake the bad juju which was plaguing me. I suspect that most people would have done the same thing. I packed plenty of Afrin™, antibiotics– a veritable medicine cabinet, just in case. On March 28th we left with good friends, on a vacation to Belize that we’d all been planning on and looking forward to for months! Four teenagers, and four parents, on a sailboat off the coast of Belize– sailing to small Cayes (islands), snorkeling, diving (something I’ve wanted to do all my life!), cave tubing, fishing, eating great food, drinking rum drinks, swimming and playing daily, and generally having an amazing time– it was a dream vacation, we were all looking forward to.
At least, it started out that way. The change of climate and jumping into crystal clear, turquoise water had my sinuses feeling better– not perfect, but better, in the first days. We had a Captain (D), a cook (S) and a naturalist (A) on board, and they went out of their way to make every thing we did special. However, on April Fool’s (one of my favorite holidays) I went into the galley (kitchen) to ask the chef, S, for some ketchup– I’d been planning a great prank, for days. S was new to boats and only 21 years old. For the record: I have two kids older than her. I went into the kitchen to put some dishes in the sink and ask for some ketchup. When she couldn’t hear me whispering my plan, I took a step forward, and suddenly the floor literally disappeared and I was falling. S had left the hatch open. The “hatch” is an (approximately) 12×18 inch, rectangular opening in the in the floor, from which food scraps are thrown down for the fish. On a catamaran, it goes through part of the boat and drops about 5′ to the water. It’s wasn’t big enough for me to fall through, so I dropped full force and stopped when I slammed my left arm and entire left side on the decking. The last thing I really remember is her face as I repeated the word “ketchup”… I blacked out for seconds and then I was just in horrific pain. I could hear her crying out: “Oh my God; I left the hatch open! I’m so sorry! etc,” over and over… My husband and good friend Rosemary were off the boat, with the Captain, but the others all came running, and gathering around me. I could hear my son, Little Man, asking me if I was ok, with panic in his voice. I heard the others trying to figure out what to do, but I couldn’t move without searing pain from my armpits down.
I remember telling them that this was not an April Fool’s joke, and then trying to reassure S, who was very upset. As a mother I felt an instant need to reassure her, even as I lay there. She was so worried and upset. The pain was so bad, and as the others tried to move me, and then get a pillow under my head, I just kept telling them not to touch me… as I
whimpered told S that I’d be ok. When I eventually could get up, I my side was bright red, there was bruising down my side, and a large hematoma on my palm and two fingers. My ribs were killing me and the area around my spleen was very tender. We got lots of ice and got me settled on the sofa… everything hurt.
When the Captain and others returned, it was explained that there was no real medical care in the area; if it was serious I’d need to fly outside of Belize. I was embarrassed. I was scared. A ruptured spleen requires immediate care, or you die. I felt self-conscious with everyone worrying, but I was worried about how bad things might be, and I could barely imagine doing anything… other than sit with ice. Without really thinking about it, I found myself falling into a pattern of trying to reassure everyone else that I was ok, cracking jokes (though it hurt to laugh) when I felt anything but. Honestly, there wasn’t much more to do. I’m allergic to pain medications, and despite lots of jokes, I didn’t want to drink much, because I already felt so off-balance. I couldn’t handle any further blurring of reality.
It has to be said: if this had happened at home, I would have been stuck on a sofa looking out at the usual– albeit, gorgeous usual, but what I see every day. In Belize, though it was hard to sit, stand, lay… I was in one of THE most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I was seeing more shades of blue than I knew existed; I could slip into the water (which was THE perfect temperature I’ve ever experienced in seawater) and float, which felt good; I could put on a mask and snorkel (carefully), to see an underwater world that blew us all away, and I was with dear friends, who all cared about me and were wonderfully supportive and kind. The staff too, went out of their ways to try and make me comfortable. It was really tough, but there were moments of amazing beauty and magic, each day we were there, despite the rest.
The trip home was miserable. Everything hurt, and it was hours and hours on planes and in cars. I have 4 broken ribs, and my spleen is bruised. I’ve had horrific hot flashes since the accident, probably an internal hematoma that’s resolving (I’m told)– talk about adding insult to injury! And did I mention, no pain medication. I’m allergic to everything but Tylenol.
When we got home, I just crashed. The energy of trying to be a good sport all week, and keeping up with the group (skipping diving, anything in a bouncy boat, or some things that I just wasn’t up for), but doing almost everything else, I just felt exhausted and drained. But this past Tuesday, the universe, the higher being, fate, whatever you call this crazy-ass shit storm… took another twist. I was making chicken, matzo ball soup for the second night of Passover, pulling out the sieve that fits in the soup pot, and held all the goodies that had cooked all day (chicken, carrot, turnip, celery, etc). The soup was at a rolling boil; I thought I was being careful… I was. But I was tired and my left side is weaker right now. All was fine, and then there was about a gallon of hot soup splashing on my chest, neck and arms. I didn’t even see it coming; suddenly it was just burning my skin. I threw myself at the sink instantly and turned the cold water sprayer on myself, as I tried to pull my scalding shirt off.
Another trauma. Another unbelievably painful assault on my body, and mind.
I’m a good cook; I’ve had burns before, but this was most of my chest, breasts, neck and upper arms. I can’t begin to describe the pain of that kind of burn. To his credit, Smart Guy suggested the hospital right away, but I was not myself… to say the least. Admittedly, I was near hysteria. I was in so much pain; I just couldn’t think clearly. I just knew that I didn’t want to deal with the hospital again. We got ice immediately, and then quickly found out (as Smart Guy looked up burns on-line) that ice is not what you do for serious burns. It can cause hypothermia. I was a mess almost from the start–I could not stop crying… ugly crying. The ice brought relief from the burning pain, but before I knew it I was shivering violently and my hands and feet were cold, and Smart Guy was anxious about hypothermia. Off to the ER we went. Doses of Valium did very little; I could not pull myself together and was crying, bargaining, begging, and wishing for anything that would make it stop. Insanely, I was embarrassed… at the hospital again, with more injuries. I found myself telling the doctors that I did not have Münchausen by Proxy. He assured me, kindly, that he was sure I didn’t. I was so grateful to the kind doctors and nurses, placing antibiotics and soft, cool clothes over the burns, as they reassured me.
The only thing I can take tolerate morphine, so they gave me a shot, while they tended to the burns. Thirty minutes after the shot, I began to feel some relief and while there was discussion about admitting me, I insisted on going home, armed with oral morphine for later. However, while I sat in the car waiting for Smart Guy to fill that prescription, a while later, I had a reaction to the morphine, which caused intense abdominal pains and vomiting. All of this, with broken ribs was just unreal. This lasted about two hours, and when it finally subsided, I was finally able to sleep for a few hours… Tylenol and Valium on board.
Enter the bong in this tale. Medical marijuana, it’s legal where I live and it was suggested, given my inability to tolerate anything else. I felt like a college student, giggling at the thought (then cringing because laughter hurts my ribs right now… another karmic slap in the face), unsure about how I’d feel trying it, and somewhat anxious about adding one more thing to the mix– not to mention the fact that I was hospitalized a few months ago, for serious lung issues. Hmm, not sounding ideal. A friend offered some “special brownies” to help, and all I could think was: Gee, I’ve already gained weight with all this sedentariness; that’s just what I need, a pan of brownies while I watch TV, which will inevitably lead to cravings for Doritos™!
There, that’s about all the humor I can manage.
Three days later, the areas of 1st degree burn look much better and are healing well. The 2nd degree burns are a bit weepy, starting to form scabs and are still very tender. It all burns, and looks ugly. I can’t stand a seat belt or anything other than very soft cotton– no straps or anything that binds. My teenage son finds my braless attempts at comfort awkward at best. He averts his eyes a lot, as he sweetly asks how I’m feeling. The burn area is bizarre to look at: you can see where liquid dripped and pooled, and there are distinct splash patterns and angry, red blotches where it burned deeper. I’ve stayed home for the most part, and have a particularly soft scarf to cover the area, when I went out for a while today. Mostly, I don’t feel particularly social.
Dealing with this much discomfort, with nothing but Tylenol for the past nearly 3 weeks, has been challenging at best. By mid-afternoon each day, my ability to cope runs thin and I am not the most pleasant person. Like I said, my funny has run out. I get why people joke with me; it’s the modus operandi with I’ve established, so people expect I’ll roll with humor. “Man, you need a team of doctors to go on vacation!” Ha ha. “What now (long drawn out now)?” Ha ha. “Wow, you really know how to make things interesting…” HA HA! I want to find it funny; I really do; but, I don’t. I don’t have my usual bag of quick quips to respond with; they stick in my throat. If I do joke, it’s a half-hearted effort to make things less awkward.
Vulnerability is a tough thing. As women, as mothers– perhaps most people, are wired to make things palatable, but I believe women deal with these things differently than most men. We want to put others at ease. I’ve spent much of my life trying to please and fix things, so this plays on all my personal weaknesses. Despite my reputation as an extrovert who likes the spotlight; I’m not as comfortable there anymore, and haven’t been for most of the past year or more. Dealing with this barrage of crises, heaped on top of day-to-day stuff, and some heavy family issues, it’s been harder and harder to regain my equilibrium and bounce. I can barely stand one more pitying comment or look, as well-intentioned as they are. I’ve shared the details way too many times, as people ask about the trip, or ask why I’m grimacing when I sit or laugh. Honestly, the details of the boat incident play over and over in my head, a trauma that left me truly shaken. Explaining it is reliving it. My brain is still working to put all of this in perspective and come to terms with what has now been months of issues.
So why write about it? Why replay it again? Because that’s what I do to figure things out; I write. I’ve written posts about our trip to Belize, but have been entirely unable to upload photos. It’s been driving me crazy, but I don’t want to post share those stories, until I can also share the images. So I’m writing this out. I’m not looking for pity, or reassuring assurances. Part of me just wants to curl up and stay in the security of my house for a long while… but I know that this can lead to depression pretty quickly. I’m trying to keep my head above water. I’m looking to find my groove again, and find the humor in all of this, but that may take a while.
If you have a good joke, not about me, share it. But please don’t try to make me feel better right now. That’s not what this is about. That may sound ungrateful or bitchy; it’s not mean to be. I’m just feeling fragile. I’m writing to help find the me that does bounce back… and I know I will. But for now, I’m just writing to figure some things out. For now, that’s what helps me move through this… well, and maybe some brownies. (Ok, see… writing, it pulls out my funny.)
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