Sitting, sopping wet, in the middle of the ocean, in your small row boat. Your feet are wet. Your fingers are wrinkled. You are cold, exhausted, and often frightened. There is no access to the weather channel. Your connections to the real world have all but vanished. You focus every ounce of your strength on keeping the boat afloat.
You try to maintain a sense of calm, but your insides are turning worse than after a serving of spoiled mayonnaise at a summer barbecue.
There are moments when you think. Hope. Pray. That it will settle down. There are moments when you dream of enough sunshine to shed your wet clothes and warm and dry yourself. There are moments when you can almost see what appears to be a friendly ship in the distance. And in those fleeting moments you even remember what it felt like to socialize, to chat, and to laugh – about every day life.
Your faith reminds you that Jesus is in the back of that boat. You know better than to let your insecurities wake Him. You know in your core that you are loved, and protected.
And then another wave crashes over the side. You can not put your hand on the oar. You lock eyes with your husband in front of you – always with you. You put a hand on your girl, sopping wet beside you. You strengthen your resolve.
I have been fading out of touch these last few months.
I love writing. It is my therapy and my release. It clears my mind and cleanses my soul. Except there is a balancing act to be had -tenuously protecting privacy while fulfilling what we believe is our calling to share a raw, honest view of our lives “Beating Cowdens.”It is hard to realize breaks in time. Things blend together so readily it is hard to discern where one event starts and another stops. There is only rarely a pause between medical appointments, some for the same issues, some for new ones, and others for maintenance. Some appointments are mine, and some belong to Meghan. All but a few require hours and hours of travel. It safe to say they cost us on average 5 hours a day. But, those 5 hours are not of my choosing. I can’t say, decide to get up at 5 – deal with the appointment and be ready to start the day at 10. That’s just not how it works. Most are scheduled somewhere between 10 and 3. That means by the time we get home, there isn’t much time to do anything. Or, we spend the day waiting to go – so there isn’t much to get done. There are no summer day trips planned. Making plans to catch up with friends is something we avoid – because we so often have to cancel. The cycle continues. There is just getting by. And some dreams that maybe we can get to the beach one day this summer…
Somewhere early this year Meghan started to be done with it all. This is not an easy place to be in by any means. She is a month shy of 14, and this is her journey for the REST of her life. Teenage years are nothing most of us would want to revisit. The extra complications of finding your way amidst a chronic sense of isolation (the knee precludes too much walking, it prevents basic sports games most of the time, it leaves the competitor side-lined too much, the allergies mean the food has to be different, the pain is unusual and constant and managed in some “unorthodox” ways, the number of times she has to say “no” because she has an appointment, an ER visit, or something else medical is astounding and limits the invitations, ETC., ETC…) coupled with an understandably defensive posture, and a desire to just BE, can make for some lonely times.
Her sleep patterns went off the charts some time in February. My sleeper just couldn’t fall asleep. She’d lay still for hours. Her pattern was restless and fitful. I watched my girl pull away from her swimming. I fought to push her. Even after her best meet ever in March – I could no longer get her up to a morning practice.
Meanwhile, I never made connections that are so clear now. In January we were released from the Interventional Radiologist who had completed the 5 embolizations over 6 years on the AVM in her right knee. He released us to the care of the orthopedist who had already performed an arthroscopic lateral release in 2015 to help shift her patella into place. It had begun to slide as a result of residual damage from small amounts of lingering blood in the knee. By early this year the warning signs had begun to develop that the knee was off.
A visit to the orthopedist in February confirmed what Meghan undoubtedly knew. He offered her the chance to try to intervene conservatively and put a brace on to hold the patella in place. Maybe it could “convince it” to move on its own…
She took it in stride, like always. We bought leggings to accommodate the giant addition to her thin frame. She dug in and pressed on.
While all this was going on the chronic congestion that had begun in November worsened. The ENT noted swelling, but called it allergies, the obvious choice this season. There was a nasal spray added, and a week of a decongestant.
Attendance in school started to be a struggle. There was fatigue. Low grade infections. There was pain. So much pain.
The chiropractor visits became more frequent. The leg length discrepancy made more noticeable by the limping to accommodate the brace on the shifted knee cap.
My surgery in March helped nothing. There was so much vocal rest required it tossed us all on edge more than normal.
Swim practice was lessening. Focusing on school was a chore. Sleep was becoming near impossible.
The breathing worsened. We justified the “worst allergy season ever.” Her voice started to feel the effects of this chronic congestion.
In April the inevitable was spoken. The knee would need a repeat of the 2015 arthroscopic lateral release. We wanted to schedule it immediately. The first available day was her the opening night of her school play, a play she had earned the lead in. The next opening was almost a month later on May 20th. We would have to wait.
The pain increased. The frustration increased. The sleep, and subsequently the desire to swim decreased.
The “Coaches Award” at the swim dinner made her feel honored. She respects her coach so much. But, she couldn’t reignite the fire.
The surgery in May went well, even though I had worried with the increased congestion that they could not put her under anesthesia. But, it was fine. She went through the 2 hours like a seasoned veteran. That made number 18.
Rehab was tough. The pain was significant. But, it faded gradually. Our favorite PT began to work her magic.
She got around on crutches, figured it out and made it work. Again. Always.
She got off the crutches exactly in time for 8th grade prom.
She was healing. Physically.
She made it back into the water. She swam the 18th of June, and the 19th too. She started to talk about it in a more positive way. The 20th was awards night for 8th grade.
My 8th grader was named Salutatorian for a graduating class of almost 400. She received several academic awards that night. I sat in the auditorium with the last few months, and years running through my mind. People knew some, but no one, not even I knew ALL of what it took to be her, every day. And here she was, not only doing it, but excelling at it. It was a good night.
Until she came home, and put up her feet. And there, on the side of her surgical leg was a 4cm x 6cm mass, with rapidly increasing swelling. Breathing, we strategized.
We took the crutches back out. I stayed up most of the night making sure there was no bleed on the knee. I sent her to school the next day to get her cap and gown and yearbook “like everyone else.”
Then we headed to the surgeon. His nurse practitioner sent us to the ER. They could not get their acts together and after 7 hours discharged her on crutches with a script for an MRI.
She was to be “minimal weight bearing as tolerated.” They wanted her back at the doctor that Friday. I finally spoke up and said no. She was going to her graduation Friday – NOT tainted by a medical appointment. We settled on Tuesday.
However, with no answer, she was to graduate on crutches. So, a friend suggested if she had to use them, she should “own” them. My husband spray painted them white.
Sunday we drove to Long Island for that MRI. The one I knew they would not do locally. 30 miles. 2 hours and 15 minutes home. We caught up with some friends that day. Good thing. We needed them so badly.
As she was in the MRI machine for her knee she told me something was “blocking” her nose inside her head. If you’re a Cowden’s Mom – you just went to tumor as fast as I did. My head spun.
Monday the ENT was able to ease that worry. He told us it was a mass of infection. That likely she had had a severe sinus infection for 8-10 weeks. He anticipated 14-28 days on biaxin to get after it. That was alongside a short course of oral prednisone. He nose was so inflamed there was almost no air passing.
A sinus infection usually has me out of commission in about 3 days. I just shake my head in awe sometimes.
Tuesday the 27th we trekked out to the surgeon again. The MRI showed the mass to be a huge fluid filled pocket. There is also fluid all through the knee joint. He looked, and looked. He has done many surgeries. He is skilled. He shook his head and finally told us he did not understand. He had “never” seen this before. And now we had to wait for her knee to tell us what to do next.
Cancel camp. No Drama Camp she had loved so much.
Postpone PT indefinitely.
No swim practice yet.
And there we were – facing another summer…
But somehow, all of this seemed to weave together. The perfect storm. The knee, the sinuses, the sleeplessness, the fatigue, the low-grade illnesses, the sinus infection…
Somewhere through all this we spent a few visits with a brilliant doctor who diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD. Like with the soldiers, or other trauma victims. “Secondary to significant medical trauma” she said.
It all made sense, except the “post.” There is nothing really “post” about this ongoing scenario.
That, and the Salutatorian thing. As impressed as I am – I am still in awe.
The journey continues, and we will above all things remain…