Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hives and Drives

Over the last few days, I have been piecing together much of what happened at the hospital last week. It's been frustrating, because at the time, I thought I was totally with it. However, in retrospect, I realize that the massive amounts of Benadryl and other drugs put me on a different planet and my memory is all messed up. For some reason, yesterday, my screwy memory really upset me.

For the most part, the drugs didn't completely erase my memory, although there are a few conversations I had and doctors that I met that my family has told me about that I honestly cannot remember. Mostly though, when my Mom, Brian, or Sean reminds me of something that happened in the hospital, I slowly remember it. At first, it was kind of funny to have such vague recollections of days of my life, but then it started to really weird me out.

My frustration didn't come out of no where. It began yesterday while I again was feeling the effects of Benadryl. Yesterday morning, Brian got up early with the kids so I could sleep late. It had been a tough night before, full of severe hot flashes and periods of being freezing cold. When I got up around 8:30, Brian was taking the kids to the rink for Teddy's hockey practice and he convinced me to stay behind. I felt really nauseous and hoped to work it off on the elliptical. But just after I got done with my 30 minutes of exercise, I felt terrible itching on my right arm, stemming from the spot of my main infusion. I looked down and noticed that my whole arm was breaking out in hives. I tried not to panic, but the room started spinning.

I was so scared that something worse was about to happen. I reminded myself of the mental power I found in the hospital a few days earlier. But it didn't really help. When I was in that hospital bed, I felt relatively safe. But yesterday morning, I felt vulnerable and very, very alone.

I didn't want to scare Brian when he had both kids, so I called my Mom. She told me to page Dr. Bunnell, and I immediately took my emergency stash of Benadryl. We debated whether or not I was overreacting, and I really didn't know. All I knew was that I was scared out of my mind and wanted someone there in case a more serious reaction was on its way. I called my neighbor to come sit with me, and I was so relieved when Amy arrived minutes later.

My hives receded quickly with the Benadryl, but my fright did not. I was so mad at myself that I couldn't muster up the strength I felt in the hospital. Thankfully, Amy successfully distracted me from what could have been a terrible panic attack, and I didn't have any further reaction. I'm sure one day Amy and I will laugh about how scared we were sitting on my sofa, but at the time, it just kind of felt like a shitty situation.

After I took the Benadryl, I was totally out of it again. That's when I started getting frustrated at my memory. For some reason I got thinking about earlier this week and I got really upset when I couldn't remember coming home from the hospital. I don't remember leaving Boston or what was going on when I arrived home. Brian and my Mom reminded me that my Mom drove me home early Thursday morning. I remember my Mom sitting in the recliner at the foot of my hospital bed Wednesday night. But then for a few minutes, I couldn't remember Thursday.

This was especially disconcerting because eventually I remembered that Thursday had been a really nice day. Brianne and my Mom had conspired to arrange for Brianne to take the day off from work to, well, babysit me, and we had such a nice day together. We worked on Brianne's baby registry and went through the baby stuff in our basement to see what Brianne and Seamus could use. I remember when Brian got home from school, I was sitting on the sofa and I fell asleep while we were all talking. When I woke up, I felt so bad that I hadn't even said goodbye to Brianne and I hadn't even realized that Brian had left to go pick the kids up from school. In the throes of my memory frustration yesterday, I sent my Mom the most random text to ask her if she went to work on Thursday. I just couldn't remember. She had, and then I recalled that she had a work dinner that night and didn't get home until really late.

Friday is much less blurry. I decided to get out of the house and join my Mom at a talk that she was giving to a group of physician recruiters at a conference in Boston. My Mom is an incredible, and I mean, incredible, presenter, and I sat there in amazement as she taught the audience how to turn "difficult conversations" into "learning conversations." I learned so much from my Mom's presentation, including that pretty much every time Brian and I get in a tiff, I say all of the wrong things. But mostly, I just sat there in absolute awe at my mother.

My Mom worked at Children's Hospital for over 15 years while we were growing up. I have such vivid memories of her taking Rachel and I into work with her -- of us going to the Coop to buy stationery and eating lunch at the Galleria. I remember going into the gift shop at the main hospital, xeroxing homemade math worksheets on her copy machine, and sitting at the table in her office while she talked on the phone. Somehow, in addition to her full-time job as a hospital attorney and human resources vice president, she also taught classes at Stonehill College and later, at Providence College. I remember tagging along to her classes several times. I couldn't help but notice how much her students adored her, just like all of her work colleagues did, and I couldn't believe that I got to be the one to drive home with her.

Speaking of drives home, my Mom has always had a pretty substantial one. She spent years commuting from Duxbury to Children's. Finally, my parents decided the commute was too much so they moved closer to Boston -- to Canton. But then my Mom took a job on the other side of the city -- in Winchester, and her commute grew again. On a regular day, it can take my Mom an hour and a half to get home from work, and with rain, snow, or an event at Gillette Stadium added to the mix, it can easily take two hours.

My Mom tries anything to keep herself sane in those ridiculous commutes. Much of the time, she catches up with me, Rachel, or Sean over her handsfree phone, although it shocks me that we don't make her more crazy during that time (or maybe we do, and she is just really good at hiding it). But somehow, my Mom still sounds happy to talk to me every time she's driving home from work. Whenever our schedules line up, my Mom will pick me up from my office and we drive home together. Those commutes are priceless to me, and the hour from Boston to Canton feels like five minutes.

In the craziness of my allergic-to-Taxotere issue, I kind of forgot that with the chemo comes lots of other crap. Last night, the hives returned on my arm, and I have absolutely no idea why. Other symptoms have had my mind racing into bad places, and I'm trying desperately to keep on thinking of my Allies as allies even though lately they have felt like something far less friendly. As I enter this tough-it-out phase, I'm reminded of my Mom, her commute, and her years and years of hard work. Because in my bad mood of yesterday, I realized that so often, the true test of someone's grit and determination doesn't come by the first time they achieve something, from their first successful year at a job, from the first presentation they give at a conference. Sure, those firsts are important, but the people that really impress me are people like my Mom, who tackle a challenge again and again; who commute back and forth, over and over; and who somehow do it all with grace, humor, and only a few sporadic swear words.

I'm sure every blog post I've ever written boils over with my pride for my Mom. Still, I can't even rightfully express the pride I felt for her this past Friday as I sat in the audience at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Because Friday, my Mom was the absolute definition of resilience. Of persistance. Of grit. It takes a special lady to sleep in an ICU with her daughter one night and present down the street at a conference a day later, and my Mom, well, she really is a special lady. I may not remember the drive home from the Brigham last week, but I remember all those other trips home we've had together, and for all of them, I am forever grateful.


  1. Tara, I know it's impossible to tell from a blog exactly what you mean by "tough it out," but don't forget that your MO, the on-call MO, and the chemo nurses all have a ton of knowledge and a lot of things in their arsenal to help you through this. Never be afraid to call them and see what they have to say. There are so many things they can give you for nausia, the mouth things, and most other symptoms, and they really do want you to let them know if the "starter set" of meds is doing the trick or if they need to step up some parts of it.

    Wishing you well with all this. I can tell how focused you are, and before you know it you'll be joining the ranks of us who have made it through!

    Kate K.

  2. Tara, try not to be so hard on yourself. I had an anaphylactic reaction a few years ago and went by ambulance to hospital. I was pumped with steroids and benadryland to this day I don't remember the ambulance ride to the hospital, the day after and some of what happened in the hospital. And I didn't have chemo on top of it. I think our brains shut out some of it. You are entitled to forget! I am do glad you have this treatment behind you, we are all praying for you. Rest up , you are almost to the finish
    Line! Barbara Theodore