Recently, as in this past month, I was hospitalized. Twice. My husband and I scrambled to make childcare arrangements while I tried to figure out what was wrong and get better. The first hospitalizations medications made me sick and I was re-hospitalized. This all turned out for the best; symptoms I’ve struggled to manage for 20 years were finally tested, diagnosed, and there’s treatment available. It’s called many names, but I’m going with Neurocardiogenic Syncope. Essentially, I often get dizzy and lightheaded when standing up, and, sometimes, I faint when I stand up. It took TWENTY YEARS for me to finally get a doctor to take me seriously, run tests, and get a true diagnosis. The anger I feel at having my symptoms ignored is a whole different post. I was just a sick mom trying to find answers. (I’m furious over it and changing primary doctors).
What Happens When You Have a Sick Mom?
My three children are ages 4 to 7, which is still very young and it was hard for them to understand why mommy wasn’t at home. They were scared. They were scared visiting me, they were scared at night because I wasn’t home, and I was scared too; scared for my health and scared that they were scared. When they visited me I had to “BE MOMMY” which meant put on a brave face, speak softly, calm their fears about the wires and tubes seeming to come out of me, and be patient with them. They didn’t want to hug me or come near me at first. I swallowed my own pain, and gently comforted them by explaining best I could, in their terms, what everything was. I carefully explained all the tubes and wires were helping mommy get better and that I would be home soon.
What was challenging was deciding how much to tell them, how to tell them, and how to best explain everything at their levels. I’m lucky in that they’re so close in age, that I was able to give one “universal” answer for all three of them. I didn’t feel the need to give each child an age appropriate explanation or answer. If they were spread farther apart, I may have needed to do that. However, fortunately, one answer worked for all of them. When they visited me I sucked it up and pretended to be as healthy as I could fake for them. This sounds harsh now that I write it, but it’s the truth. I faked it. I faked feeling fine to protect them. At that point I was pretty sure it wasn’t serious and I would continue getting better so it didn’t feel like a huge lie. Besides, I’m the mommy. It’s my job to comfort them.
This job was particularly scary for them and me because my own mother died in 2007, and so my children have always known that mommies can die. I’ve always been careful to refer to my mother’s death as being an “illness” and from “a really, really bad kind of cancer” so they wouldn’t be afraid I’d die or they’d die whenever we were sick. I believe this pre-planning helped. When they came to visit me I headed off any fears by explaining that grandma died from a really really big illness and that mommy (me) was only a little tiny bit sick mom. This explanation worked well and seemed to soothe fears.
Another truth is that their presence comforted me. Pretending to feel better, actually made me feel better for a while after their visits. Their hugs, kisses, cuddles, and nonchalance and and asking to watch cartoons buoyed my spirits and had healing effect. Knowing they were home, waiting for me, also helped me push my doctors to let me out of the hospital early, once all the tests were run. My husband wanted me to take my time and heal, but I knew I was ready to be home even if I wasn’t back to my normal self.
So, I was a sick mom and in the hospital and now I’m home. I noticed some clinginess at first and our first night home they were extra clingy and everyone needed extra hugs and cuddles. Over the following week we had a lot of helpers in our home.Friends and family offered support by babysitting, visiting, cleaning and cooking for our family. I truly believe this support was invaluable and I can never fully thank my family and friends for pulling through for us in those ways. The help, especially the help after I was home, helped me rest and recover and be out of bed, without having to worry about wasting energy on cleaning or cooking meals. I could rest out in the front room and hang out with my kids which got us back into a normal routine.
I learned several things from being a sick mom this past month; I learned how to ask for help, how to be bigger and stronger and brave enough for my children even when I was frightened and sick myself, and I learned that my children are more resilient than I give them credit for. The bounced back from me being sick and in the hospital far faster than I have. They’re still “being extra good” for me, my oldest even said he’d “give (me) a few weeks” of being extra good, but they’re OK. They’re more than good enough and doing well.
And, mommy, mommy is doing OK now too. I’m learned to live with my diagnosis, which involves a bit of grieving over having an incurable illness, but rejoicing that it’s not more serious and that there is treatment available for it. This Neurocardiogenic Syncope is something I’ve been living with for twenty years, and it’s hardly stopped me before. It’s not going to stop me now. However, my kids still need mommy and mommy has to take care of herself better. So, I will. I will be gentler with myself, better aware of my limits, and I’ll continue asking for help when I need it.