And Your Daughter?

Fast forward faster. Past the marionette months of drain bags, catheter tubes, and petulant fevers with an affinity for threes (a.m., one oh).

Your arms look overly naked. Your unadorned body now a stranger, unrecognizable without something to collect from or inject into. You still get momentary panics—Shit, I missed a dose—still craving the routine. 

You are, by all outward indications, better. You’re dancing with your daughter. You can pick her up again. You’d thought better would feel different. You’ll learn later that the body always outpaces the mind.

The music: I Don’t Want to Die in the Hospital. Her choice.

She’s about to turn three and giddy with desperation. She hurls herself at you, adamant, determined that this here and now is how we’ll remember age two: playful, alive, a tiny and shimmering fierceness. She’ll shake free memories of when your arms didn’t feel so foreign, when your muscles fell just so and you smelled like safety.

You have a rash. Probably nothing, they say, but atypical presentation is a hook, not a balm.

You’re probably fine, usually.

You feel your side, your scar, for the hardness that indicates a fluid collection, which in turn, tells you that the “I haven’t seen this in 30 years of medicine” is back. You do this discreetly, you think. You underestimate her, miss it when the smile slides from her face, shatters. You stifle a sneeze.

She’s clinging now, limp. The weight of sadness: 24 pounds.

You convince yourself you have MS, that there’s such a thing as a telltale MS rash.  

You spin faster, bathe her in the sun that slices through the blinds, to show her she can glow without you. Just in case. She already knows. It’s not what she wants. 

 

***

The physician’s assistant pulls up a stool. You checked (while your daughter slept on your chest)—there’s no MS rash. But there is definitely a rash spread across your lower back. You run down your health history for the PA and choke, like every other time, on tumor. You explain (apologize?) that it wasn’t actually cancer. She reaches over and slams a STOP button.

You didn’t know this existed.

She puts her pen down.

She lets you breathe and notice it.

She says, “You know about being sick.”

Your shoulders drop from your ears. Your eyes water. Your face opens, soft in a way you thought no longer possible, from a time before you knew anything like shame. You think of your mom and yourself at age three. The word for this moment, you believe, is safety.

All this time, you’d never considered sick. Only: these are things happening to my body.

There is a you that still sits in the silence of that moment, chilled feet dangling from a johnny in front of a PA whose name you forgot before it left her mouth. You’ll learn to climb back in there, occupy the angle and awkwardness of your frigid elbows, and recall the mercy of the strange and disentangled.