Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Corticosteroids & Me

It seems to me that every 3rd person has to take anti-inflammatory medication for some kind of condition or another, for some certain or uncertain amount of time.   As one who's been, in my now opinion, wildly lucky in the health department, I have a greater understanding of things experienced by the less lucky, and a greater appreciation for my own luck.  
I've been sick in my life, sure.  I've never been hospitalized though. I went to the ER once to get some antibiotics for Strep because it was a Saturday and i thought i was going to die before Monday came, because I am a mega-wuss.    I've never wounded myself to necessitate stitches. I've never broken a bone.  I've never had some medical mystery which is probably the worst thing ever because whatever we contract/develop in this life, we want it to have a name, right?   On the other side of recovery, when the ailment has taken a turn and we're on the mend, I feel like we all have a moment of quiet reverence for our bodies. I do. We get so used to feeling fine that we forget those things that keep us that way, and we take them for granted. As Sean once said, "there's nothing like not being in pain."    

So when we're stricken, we enter a bit of a state of shock, i think.  "!? Body.. what are you DOING? Why are you not working?!?"    I can't understand it, because I have taken it for granted, and I've lived a life of good health, with working organs, strong muscles and bones, and a sound mind. Sound'ish.    So i hurt, I ache, and then I heal, and I am humbled.  In a whisper, I vow to my self, "i will never let that happen again. I will take such good care of you."   And then I slip into my life of mediocre activity and relative good-eating. (but that's just because my body & brain double team me, my body telling me it is unhappy when i eat too much crap, and my brain telling me I'll be unhappy when I gain 40 lbs)  I actually listen sometimes. But still, i'm pretty lackadaisical. 

Because it's chronic and thus a constant reminder, the first ailment i've endured that had even a remote effect of good health self-awareness was when I developed this bizarre rash on my hands several years ago.  It was itchy and red, and then got bigger and grosser, and my skin was a disaster, and I had to keep my hands clenched in a fist so as not to scare the children.  I got some medicines and topical steroids which helped to heal but not prevent and the terrible cycle continued many many times, for many months into a year or more before I found a doc who gave me the best tip of my life, which was this.    Exzema on the palms is a pittance compared to what others have to deal with, but it was my awakening to my mortality, that even I, I could break down a little.  And I developed a relationship with my hands, and i made another vow to never take them for granted, to take good care of them. Fortunately, because i consciously use them so often, I have remained true to this vow for the most part.   It lets me know when I'm getting lazy in keeping my end of the deal, and I apologize and do my best to right myself. 

I didn't get pregnant on purpose. It wasn't planned.  But i had gotten to the point where it seemed unnecessary to use birth control because my body had apparently decided on its own that babies were for suckers and who needs 'em (my body is wiser beyond its years).  I never got some hard evidence as to why it would come to this conclusion, but the fact that something didn't happen on my command was another wake up call for me, and provided me with something else to not take for granted.  Humility is a lesson often (always?) learned against our will or at least not of our own doing.  It's dichotomous for the word itself is so tranquil to me yet the means by which it greets us renders an image in my head of it shaking me vigorously by the shoulders saying, "helloooo! *smack, smack smack!* you thought what? well guess what? yeah! that's right."   Some of us get smacked around. Some of us get run over by the humility truck, which backs up and gets us again just because.  Some of us were casually walking along, minding our own business, when humility jumped out from the shadows, stole all our money, bludgeoned us to near-death, and left us in the gutter.    I'm grateful for these lessons. I think we all are, in the end.  Even to the point that they are precious.  But they're rough. 

Back to corticosteroids.  When I contracted a fetus, my body was a superhero and I had what i believe to be a comparatively easy pregnancy.  No sickness, a bit of discomfort here and there. I swelled to outstanding lengths but i didn't even get any stretch marks.  You may have read about my delivery or non-delivery as some might call it.  Getting some meds, taking a nap, pushing for a few minutes.  I had the tiniest bit of pain post-delivery and that was about it.   Due to my previous stay at Humility Boot Camp, I took nothing for granted, not one more successful doctor's visit, not one solitary heartbeat.  Every day i woke up feeling like i'd just witnessed a miracle and i was left grappling with attempts to understand how it could even be, how this happened to every other person, that i and so many others, had grown from a cell to a body that functioned and worked with hardly a scratch.   Oh how I cherish that bit of understanding. 

But let's back up.  Into the 3rd trimester I developed a spot. A small red spot. On my tummy. It itched.  It was weird.  Was it a bite? Oh well.  *scratch*  It kind of itched a lot.  I got a few more.  What the what? Seemed to be some kind of rash. I googled it and learned there are several pregnancy rashes and it's a somewhat common thing. I thought, well, something had to happen. This is annoying but oh well.  It moved to my legs and, you know... i feel like i know itchiness.  There are varying levels. Maybe i don't know the worst kind but this was pretty bad itchiness.   My hands kept me up at night, and this "pregnancy pox" as i called it, did too.  I slept nary a wink 2 nights before i birthed.  So many links i read on Dr. Online pointed to this rash being possibly  directed by the placenta.. as pregnancy is an immunosuppressant, my body was allergic to the fetus and wanted to react, but the placenta was like, oh no you don't.. go show yourself elsewhere.  So i got a rash. And they said it would probably clear up when i had the baby because there would be no reason to attack.   I expected this rash to simmer down and go away after i had the baby.  And none too late, for it had gotten pretty unbearable.

Not so. 

My rash was a different kind of rash, we later found out. Apparently 1 in 50,000 get it. High five!  I won't go into the details of the horrific days following the delivery of Julian man, but my body unleashed a Fury that made Hell whimper and scamper into the corner.  "Pregnancy Pox" was re-christened  "Satan's Footprint"  and he stomped the crap out of me.  The rash exploded its vengeance all over my body except for my face and palms (<-- exzema said, "oh no you don't, this is our territory!")  It was so freakish, i'd never have dreamt it could happen to a human had it not happened to me.  I'd just been a participant in the miracle of life, had experienced that utopia immediately proceeding the expulsion of a baby, where for one flashing moment God, the universe, science, and all reason for everything become the clearest of clear, accord in perfect harmony,  and I look down and see the opposite of that, stamped all over me, and growing before my eyes.   Evil is evil, and scary and gross. But evil that's alive and growing is worse.   To see it on your skin isn't something anyone would ever want, i don't think. 

I have pictures. To me, they are repulsive and humbling, a reminder of a very confusing time of my life, where my body was the grounds of a great battle of Good vs. Evil, much like getting sick and then recovery.  I have scars, physical and psychological.  Typing this is even a bit cathartic for me.  I was given corticosteroids and had to wait out the fight.  While learning how to care for an infant.  As i look back to that time I am conflicted. It was a happy time, a surreal time, and a horrific time, something I'd never want to remember, and never want to forget.  What do you do when two Great Events of an opposite nature take place at the same time? How does the good one not get associated with the bad and become permanently tarnished?  I don't know if it's possible, and as i type this, I'm wondering if i would even want it that way.  There have been a handful of times in my life where i've been given the gift of Opposition, two things juxtaposed right up together.  I believe-- I have to believe-- that the good can win, that a purpose of the bad is to make the good even better.   On the medication, my body slowly simmered down. But while my confused skin calmed, I experienced an array of extremely unpleasant side effects, particularly in my mental faculties.  I was medication crazy and also hormonal crazy.  I didn't know which was which, what was due to what. But at the same time i watched my body heal. Slowly I approached the other side of recovery, dragging myself out of the trenches and, crawling on my elbows in the mud, made it to the other side.  And as i look back, having these things happen at a time when I had a new baby, my first baby, when your heart breaks because it's never before experienced anything so good, made it so much sweeter. Right?  This has to happen, in the great battles of Good vs. Evil. 

Corticosteroids, i have learned, are their own conflict.  They're wonderful, and terrible, and hard, and almost miraculous in their healing powers.   I hate them, but i revere & appreciate them, the same as I do my rash.  It's still there, in my skin, and even typing about it brings back some itch.  But it's ok, because that, along with the visible scars, are my reminder of things to be thankful for, to not take my good health for granted.  And when I see the cause of it looking up at me and laughing and singing and dimpling its cheeks, I say, you are so good... you are so good.  You are better than just plain old good.  Julian will always be a miracle to me. I will always see him that way.  

As I approach the first anniversary of an important life moment, the season and smells are stirring up those memories and feelings afresh, the miraculous and the traumatic, simultaneously.  The summer is hot and humid and my skin remembers, but I remember too, the other side. The side of the miracle of a newborn babe. I'll take those awful feelings along with the tender ones that break my heart because those feelings win. They will always win.   And they'll win every summer when memories of that original battle are reenacted, and I will experience victory after victory after victory.  And that has to be a glorious thing. 

Happy birthday, Julian babe.


Joel said...

Sometimes I think that these experiences not only to allow us to grow emotionally and spiritually, but also intellectually. We learn to find meaning in our heads and our hearts. When I got really sick (which was also shortly after we had our first baby, and also involved steroids—go Prednisone!) it was a great opportunity for some serious pondering.

Happy birthday, little J. That is a sweet hat you're rocking.

Ashley said...

This was beautiful. Minus 5 for saying "when I contracted a fetus," but it was still beautiful. :D

Your own journey and victory make it worth it, but seeing you go through it makes me appreciate life and health all that much more, so consider it a double victory.

Happy Birthday, little babe!

Alanna said...

I always think it's interesting-- especially with blogs, because they're such a random slice of someone's life-- when you suddenly get hit with that "Oh, wow, they're going through a really tough time and I had no idea" moment. I've had it happen way too many times. You'd think I'd learn that we ALL have trials we're dealing with and not to assume that other people have a happier/easier/more fun life than I am currently having. But I keep forgetting. Just like how we take our good health for granted until it's gone.

I remember commenting to Natalie about how fun a mutual friend's trip to Disneyland looked, and Natalie (who is much closer to her-- I'm kind of a satellite friend because of Natalie) remarked that the reason they'd gone to Disneyland was because they were so depressed because their recent round of in-vitro hadn't worked. Oh. Time to appreciate what I have and stop worrying about what I don't have. (On the plus side, things are working out for that girl now and she is six or seven months pregnant. That's why I'm allowed to share stories like this!)

So thanks for sharing a story that is about both the pain and the good. I certainly would never wish ill fortune on anyone, but there's something reassuring about knowing I'm not the only one who's life occasionally feels a little too life-y. This was a very different sort of post for you, but I really appreciated your writing it.

And I'm glad you're better now and that Julian is such a cutie!

Brooke said...

Jen, beautiful. Made me cry. And I think I may cry a bit longer.

Natalie R. said...

Wow, that must've been a really hard thing to go through. I'm glad Julian was there to make the trial worth it, and I wish him a (belated) happy birthday!

Every time I get sick, I'm amazed how awful it is not to feel well, and how quickly after getting better I forget that I'd been sick. Thanks for the reminder not to take good health for granted!