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Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about


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Kids, I’m going out, without you

Now this is a post I drafted a couple of years ago while on holiday with my family, camping in De Veluwe, a beautifully wooded area of The Netherlands. One afternoon, I escaped and loved it. So here are my thoughts on why I don’t want to be with my kids all the time. Taking time away from my kids has been my saving grace, in recovering from burnout and to staving off care-giver burnout. It’s how I stay sane and happy.

I love my family but I don’t always want to be with them.

Once you’ve had kids, it seems to be that all your friends have kids.

It’s not that all the people you know also had kids. Nope. It’s that somehow, over time, you lose touch with the childless friends and start hanging out with other mums.

Which I love. They get me and I’m very happy that I have found my mama tribe.

Yet there seems to be this pervasive sense in the world that once you’ve had kids, all you’re supposed to want is to spend all your time with your kids.

Well bugger that. I don’t.

I love my kids. AND I love my time away from my kids too.

I want to spend time with my friends. Working. Doing the shopping on my own (oh the horrors of toddlers and shopping!)

I want to be by myself.

So we’ve been camping for a week and started to feel antsy, that I just want to get away. Everyday I watched the kids leave our camping spot to join the activity team or to play on the bouncy castle (yes, this is camping heaven for kids and parents) a voice inside my heart whispered

I want to go off and do something too

So I sent J to go and be with the kids and I went off on my bicycle made for one.

It was wonderful.

I could go in any direction I wanted.I could slow down and admire the sunlight through the trees of the forest I was cycling through. With no-one asking me what’s wrong. No racing to catch up with the rest of the family.

So I stopped. I admired the sunlight. Dappled, that’s the word. Gentle shadows. Glimpses into the deepness of the woods. So many shades of green.

The smooth new path. The bumpy, cracked concrete where the roots are pushing up.

The silence.

Oh, the silence.

Soothing. I can breathe here. I feel unfettered. Loose. Flowing.

I love to be alone.

Kids, I don’t hate you, I don’t dislike you. I love you, more than you can imagine.

And I also love to be alone. A lot.

So just as you go and play, so will I play. In my way.

Alone.

 

 


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Oh Mic-Key you’re so fine

you’re so fine, you blow my mind, hey Mickey!

If you are old like me, you remember that song (just click on the link above if you want a trip down memory lane).

Today I wished that the healthy one, S, had a Mic-Key button. This is an enteral feeding c3729405c2e58cb4a2af914378c94e0ddevice that is basically a piece of tubing that you put into the stomach so that you can put food/medicine directly into the stomach.

F gets all her medicine through hers.

Yesterday S had minor surgery to repair her thumb – the top came off, nail and all, in an accident at school. She has lost the nail and hopefully it will grow back. In about 6 months. I wrote about it here

Her bravery carried her through the poking and prodding of the doctors, the gas to sedate, the local anaesthetic. It lasted until she came home and we tried to take her coat off.

All the fear, terror, and pain came together to overwhelm her.

THEN we tried to give her antibiotics. She is in very deal danger of developing an infection in the blood but of course she doesn’t understand that. She’s little.

And it tastes yucky. She’s scared of it. Transference perhaps? But actually who cares. I need to get the medicine in her.

And in her own words:

Can I have a Mickey like F has?

That would make both of our lives so much easier right now. How do you guys get your kids to take their medicine?

You’d think we’d be masters at this: we do give F medicine every hour that she is a awake (and through the night too). But we have never had to make her drink it. She has a Mickey button so we always use that.

Now the healthy one needs to have medicine and she’s fighting. And it’s tough.

So today I wished she had a Mickey too.

 

p.s. chocolate is not a great motivator for this little sugar addict – I mean seriously chocolate, how could you let me down like this? Lollipop, you’re up next.


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Difficulty eating, not picky eater.

“Oh, they’re a picky eater? Well, you’ve just got to be strict with them”

“Don’t spoil them”

“Let them go hungry. They will soon give in”

“When they see other kids eat, they’ll eat”

Some of the wonderful and pointless advice I have received over the years. And if you have a child who has difficulty with eating, then you’ll understand me when I say that there are two camps on the topic of kids and eating.

Camp 1

My kid had no problems and I think that’s because I’m a good parent. Do what I did and you won’t have a problem.

Or

My kid eats but I want them to eat more healthily. They ate the carrots yesterday but today they threw them on the floor. Oh my god, my kid has an eating problem!

We talk about this a lot and give advice to others whenever we can.

Camp 2

It’s nuts. Eating is something that all animals do naturally, without event thinking about it. But my kid has real issues with food and the process of eating. So how the heck do you teach an activity that is instinctive? Yeah, that’s what we are trying to figure out.

We get advice all the time but rarely get listened too.

And ok, there is a third camp. A camp of people who feed their kids, their kids eat, mostly, and they don’t worry about it too much. But they also tend to just get on with it and don’t give meaningless advice to others.

I’ve been in Camp 2 for the last 8 years. It’s been a long road. It’s tested my patience. I’ve questioned my parenting hundreds of times. I’ve let the whole thing go (my daughter had a feeding tube so what the heck) and I’ve worked at it like a demon. I wrote my side of the story on how to actually help your kids to eat in this post 8 ways to get your kids to eat

And in 3 words? Give It Time.

But today’s post is a celebration. A milestone has been achieved in our household.

F, my daughter with the incurable kidney disorder, the one who drank Maggi flavour enhancer, neat(!), for about 4 years, the one who didn’t eat more than crumb size bites until she was 5, the one who projectile vomited at the touch of a banana, the one who had to learn how to move food to the back of her throat so she could swallow it, well she ate a baked potato. With tuna mayonnaise. And a little bit of salt and butter.

A complete meal.

Not bits and bobs. Not a collection of random food stuffs. Not just a single item like tuna or a plain tortilla wrap dipped in ketchup (yes, that really was an acceptable meal for her for a long time).

A complete meal.

AND

She took a complete, normal sized bite. You know, the amount of food you can get on a teaspoon and that any other kid of 8 would eat. You know, where the food actually fills your mouth completely.

AND

She didn’t vomit or gag.

She just ate it. Said it was delicious. Then took another bite. And another bite. And another. Until it was finished.

I cried. I held my tears inside because, well, she would just think her mum was a freak. Can you imagine taking a bite of a baked potato and seeing your mum cry because of it? She’d call a doctor.

But inside I cried with joy.

She ate! a complete! meal!

I want to add exclamation marks everywhere because all the words are so exciting and so important!!!!!!!!!!!!

And you know what else? She loves spicy tuna maki. And eats the whole thing. Not just picking a few grains of rice out and drowning them in soy sauce (because really, that’s how she used to eat them). SHE EATS THE WHOLE THING

I know there are so many other battles still to face. So many other things she needs to learn how to do to look after herself, and I’m not even talking about her medical routine. But she can eat. She can finally do that one thing that so many of us take for granted. She can eat.

Woohoo!

For all of you who are facing this challenge, a child with difficulty eating, I just want to say:

Hang in there. You’re patience is just perfect. You’re impatience is natural and sometimes will give you the push your child needs to be challenged. And take time to celebrate the milestones. Because there are many along the way. The first bite. The first time the food stayed in. The first time they say “can I try that?” Enjoy them all.

Who would have thought that baked potato with tuna mayonnaise would make me cry with joy?

tuna

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The little white lies

On Tuesday I was talking to someone and mentioned I was at the hospital. People always get alarmed so I usually say “it’s just routine stuff”.

Because it’s not an emergency. These are planned visits.

But this was my “routine stuff” visit yesterday:

after months of therapy and hypnosis, take my 8 year old to have a procedure that she is absolutely terrified of.

That’s my routine.

It was difficult a day and here’s what I wrote.

But, you just can’t dump that on people. It’s just not ok to bring them down into this. This is not their life. So I play it down. I tell a white lie.

So what happened at the appointment? We didn’t get the Mickey button changed. Despite all the therapy and preparation, F’s anxiety was just too high.

So we’re going to see if we can do this with laughing gas, to put her under.

The thought of it makes something inside me itch. I don’t want to do things to her when she is “asleep”. That’s also how she feels. She told me she would be cross if we secretly did it, while she was under.

Putting aside my feelings, I was really clear to hear:

it’s not going to be done secretly. We either change the mickey when you are awake or when you are asleep from the gas. If you don’t want to be asleep, then you need to let us do it when you are awake.

But I struggle. I have always wanted her to be able to choose; that her treatment should always be administered with her consent. And not just that she says yes, but I dream that she says yes happily. But she’s frightened out of her mind. She wants to travel forward in time so that she can avoid the procedure entirely. She’s thinking of time travel and this is what she wants to do with it.

So creative.

So scared.

And I need to accept that she isn’t always going to willingly agree. Sometimes, we’re just going to have to do it anyway. We have to make the best choice for her. And she might resent me for it.

Here’s another white lie I tell:

I’m just doing what any parent would do

I tell myself this often. And while this gives credit to all the wonderful parents out there, it’s actually a way for me to minimise what I am actually doing. Parenting a chronically sick child is hard. So hard. It’s not the same as parenting. The stakes are always high. Every day. So actually I’m not just doing what any parent would do. I’m doing what other parents with chronically sick kids do. Parents with chronically sick kids, be proud. You are amazing. And yes, I am including myself.

Here’s a final white lie

that unconditional love comes from our children

That’s what we say right? That our kids will love us unconditionally. But I think that the unconditional love needs to come from us, the parents. It is our job to love them no matter what.

We parents need to love our children enough to do the right things for them, no matter how hard, even if we risk losing them. And when they resent us, stop speaking to us, dislike us, we love them anyway.


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Maybe I don’t get to keep this life

So just recently, I made my friend, who just finished her chemo for great cancer, cry.

And for good measure, I made myself cry too.

You see, we are working on a project together about compassion and hugs. Given our respective painful pasts with illness, we think there is too little in the world and we want there to be more.

She couldn’t see how others would relate to her so I told her what I saw (and yes, the tears are coming again).

She had a life, with her family and friends and then cancer came along, threatening it all. Because cancer can kill. We don’t really say that anymore but it’s true.

Death, that constant companion to us all but who we ignore like that really smelly fart in an elevator (we all know it’s there, it’s unpleasant but we all pretend it doesn’t exist).

A cancer diagnosis brings death back into the picture and we realise

Maybe I don’t get to keep this life that I have.

As much as it brings tears to my eyes to type this, and all of a sudden my nose is really snotty, I need to say this

we don’t know what we are going to have tomorrow. And we can’t do anything about the past. We can only change now. So whether you are doing the laundry, paying bills, or are on holiday

Enjoy it!

Find something you like in the activity you are doing, no matter how small, and focus on that. Grow it and enjoy it.


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Out of the mouths of babes

From the beginning we have been very open about Fs illness – with the family and with her.

Her condition is incurable and she will always have it. I have said that myself so many times that this incident really caught me by surprise.

J took the girls with him when he went to the hairdressers, While there, F needed her medicine (she gets it every hour) and the hairdresser was asking about it. And the really typical question came

“Can they fix it?”

F answered

“No. I’ll have this forever”.

J recounted this when he got home. And I felt a little stab in my heart when he repeated what F had said. It was like someone took a knife and just nicked me in the heart.

She was so matter of fact about it. For her it is what it is. And I’m immensely proud of her for her attitude.P1040632

Yet it just seems so painful to me when I think of my little 7 year old girl saying that she will have this illness forever.

Maybe it just makes it more real.

Maybe it’s because it puts the truth into the context of her life.

Whatever it is, I guess it just goes to show that acceptance of this illness doesn’t mean that it’s ok that she has it.


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Where’s the line?

This blog is supposed to be my story: what it’s really like, living with chronic illness.
It’s my view as a “patient” myself and my view as a parent to a chronically ill child.
When I write as a parent, where is the line between my story and Fs story?
When things happen to her, they affect the whole family, they happen to us too.

Yet, they happen to her first.
So am I telling her story or mine?

That’s the question on my mind lately. It’s also why I’ve not been blogging so much lately.
Did I drift away from my story to hers? Admittedly, it is so much easier to talk about her pain than my own. That may sound strange; a mother normally feels the pain of her children keenly. And that’s true: when she hurts, I hurt. But there is nothing more sharp than our own pain.
For while we feel bad when they fall and scape their knees, it is only when we fall and scrape our knees that we realise that it burns like a b*tch.

So where’s the line? Oh yeah, back there. Got it.