For 518 days we have avoided the curious toddler from getting in to the slew of dangerous medical items passing in and out of our house. Vials of blood thinner, injection needles, liquid chemo, pills of steroids, all have passed through our home carefully and escaped the grasps of the toddler.
Until the other night.
Every night we prepare Beaudin’s chemo pills. Daily: 1.5 pills, 75mg, of Mercaptopourine, 6MP, and an additional 8 pills, 40mg, of Methotrexate on Tuesdays. Unless it’s a spinal tap Tuesday, once every 12 weeks, then we hold the oral 40mg of Methotrexate because one can only handle so much neurotoxin.
We prepare Beaudin’s pills (chemo and supplements) along with Jude’s vitamins and hand them off to the boys in colorful silicone cupcake molds. Normally, the boys take them, no problem. Actually one of the hidden sips of fresh air of this whole cancer gig is how well Beaudin can take pills. We have taken all sorts of vitamins and supplements since he was very young, so the sudden addition of chemo pills has been seamless.
However physically easy taking the pills are, I would say in the last month of so he has been flexing his muscle of personal autonomy in taking said chemo. For 17 months prior, he immediately took down whatever we put in front of him, but lately he dawdles. I find myself asking him once, twice, three times, to take the dang pills, knowing there is a grabby toddler in the shadows, and the pills aren’t vitamins, they’re poison.
And normally I stand next to him until the pills are in his mouth, but more recently I hand them off and walk away.
I suppose it’s for the same reasons that I am back to not washing my hands even a quarter of what I should, nor enforcing the “No Shoes Inside” rule that I have been desperate for both at diagnosis, and then anew with COVID-19. It’s wearing to be hyper-vigilant for so long, especially when the vigilance is for a threat that is invisible.
So, the other day I handed Beaudin his 9.5 pills of poison at the kitchen island where the three kids sat, eating dinner, and continued on cleaning-up from the day. I hovered around the countertops wiping them down, washing the pots, answering questions about how many actual species of spiders Colorado had, and the like. As I was clearing their plates I glanced at Beaudin’s cupcake mold.
3 pills. Missing. I could se it at a glance. I could spot 8 pills of Methotrexate and 1.5 pills of Mercaptopourine anywhere.
Fuck. fuck. FUCK! No. No. No! Oh shit. Fuck. Shit. Fuck.
Beaudin doesn’t taking the pills one by one. She got them. Without thinking I grabbed a washcloth and ran for Selah’s mouth.
“Selah! Did you take Beau’s medicine?”
“Mama, med-sin. ahhhhhhhh.” She threw back her head and opened wide her mouth. I could see the deep groves of her molars were stark white.
Oh shit. Fuck. Shit. Fuck.
I frantically put her in a, albeit loving, chokehold and began scrubbing out her mouth with the washcloth. The deep groves held much of the masticated chemo and I could see progress of white streaked chemo on the gray washcloth.
Was I getting it out?? How much had she taken? 3 pills? How much is that? How much do I give him??? Fuck. Shit. Fuck. Shit. Shit. Shit.
In that moment the only next step was to induce vomiting. Right? I was sure that was the only next step. I stuck my finger down her throat. This is the part I don’t want to tell you about. Because it feels like I should have skipped it. Who does that? But in the moment, when I realized my innocent baby had swallowed poison, it seemed like the exact right next step.
Selah started to cry, the scrubbing with the washcloth was one thing, but being gagged seemed quite another. I paused and looked her in the eyes.
“Selah, baby, that medicne can really hurt your tummy….I have to do this.”
With all of the trust in her body she replied through tears, “Ok, mama. Ok.”
God bless this child. For all the reasons that I love her, but for this moment. That she trusted me so completely that she let me resume trying.
Once she productively gagged, but pulled away before she could vomited, I realized that it wasn’t worth the trauma that would incur for me to be successful.
“Ok baby, all done.”
“Ya mama, all done. Med-sin hurt tummy. I sorry mama. I sorry.”
Ugh. Why is she apologizing?
“It’s ok baby, it’s ok.”
I grabbed a notepad and ran to the medicine cabinet to try and figure out how much she had ingested. I knew his prescriptions by heart, but in that moment I could not discern right from left. My hands shook as I frantically read the pill bottles.
Ok, daily he takes 1.5 of these, there is .5 left, so she ate one. One is 50 mg. Ok. 50 mg.
I scribbled it down.
Ok, Methotrexate, Methotrexate, Methotrexate, where is the fucking Methotrexate. Oh shit, in the trash, empty bottle. Ok. Ok. Ok.
I threw open the lid to the trash can and started rummaging through it.
Ok, Methotrexate, each pill is 5mg. He takes 8 pills. There are 6 left. Is that 6? No wait… 1,2,3,4,5,6. Ok yes, 6. Ok, so, how many did he have? He had 8, he always takes 8. For a year, 8. Is it 8? I think. Ya, ok 8. How many are there. 1,2,3,4,5,6. Ok there are 6 left. Ok how many did she get…..
“Sorry mama, sorry.” Selah bopped at my feet, picking up the pieces of trash I’d thrown about. “Trash. Trash…Throw way….sorry mama.”
“It’s ok, baby, it’s ok.” I said in the most sing-songy voice I could muster, I had inflicted enough trauma with my finger down her throat, I couldn’t think too long about that. Just keep swimming.
I played out the conversation with her playing the role of a rational adult, in my head: EVERY TIME! EVERY TIME! I tell you ‘DONT TOUCH BEAUS PILLS.’ I say, ‘NO, that’s Beaudin’s medicine.’ EVERY TIME, Selah! Every TIME I TELL YOU NOT TO TOUCH IT!!! And you fucking ate them!!!!
Ok, 8-6 is… what is 8-6…. ok 2, ya, 8-6 is 2. So 2 pills. Ok, he take 40mg, wait tha’ts for 8, there are 6, ok how many is 2. Fuck. fuck. Ok, 40mg divided by 8 pills…is……ugh 40/8….40/8!!!!. Ok 5mg. 5mg for a pill. Ok. There are 6 here which means she took how many? Wait, he takes 8, and they are 5mg each. And, ok, she took 2. She took 2, Ok, so 10mg.
I scribbled down “Methotrexate 10mg.”
“Sorry mama, sorry…It’s ok… It’s ok.” Selah sang around the kitchen as she cocked her head from side to side to accentuate the alternating voices.
I’ve meant to finish this post for a while now, but as I come back to it, I don’t have a sense of where to go from here. I could detail the call to poison control where I was reassured that everything would be fine. Or the call to the on-call oncologist at the hospital who I felt very stupid after speaking with. But I am not sure any of that matters in the telling of the story. After ordering the boys upstairs immediately following the incident, I had to go upstairs and do some repair work. Beaudin felt shame for not taking his chemo right away (which is a house rule, to avoid situations such as this), Jude was scared. Selah was dancing around saying she was “sorry, sorry, it’s ok.”
Of course Josh was gone for the night. Of all the nights! Why did I have to manage this alone?
Looking back: Because I could.
I did it. I had a scary, bad thing happen, and I handled it. Everyone came out the other side just fine. Those are the things I have to force myself to remember. My brain has the propensity to recall a situation with accuracy, but the vast majority of my mental energy while recalling it, is thinking of what might have been. What was the worst case scenario we avoided. This makes it quite difficult to file the memory accurately and even harder to exit fight or flight mode and heal from trauma.
5 years ago our dog was hit by a car right in front of us. (sharp left turn in the story line, but stick with me.) It’s a story for another day, but the say it was horrific and traumatic would be the understatement of the century. We rushed he to the animal hospital (and by rushed, I mean I drove like a full on maniac and we are lucky we didn’t die. full stop.), but she bled out in Josh’s arms, in our family van, in front of our two young boys, despite my careering.
For months, I could not stop thinking about the moment she jumped out of the car. The moment she was hit. The way I screamed at the kids to stay where they were. But you know what else I couldn’t stop thinking about. The vision I couldn’t stop playing out…. What if it had been Jude that jumped out?
What if? What if? What if? I could play out and recall, as clear as day, that Jude had jumped out of the car, not Lolly (r.i.p.)
After a solid dose of therapy, I’m talking weeks and some very effective EMDR (a type of therapy, get you some.) I was able to file away the trauma for what it was. Our family pup was killed in front of us. And it was sad.
Our children were safe.
One of the things my therapist taught me that I have used and shared many times since is the practice of speaking aloud what actually happened. Out loud, so that the systems in your brain, of which I am completely uneducated to explain fully, process the information correctly. Speak the truth so that you brain can process it, both by your words, but also by you hearing it. It must be aloud.
Jude did not jump out of the car.
Jude did not get hit by a car. He is not hurt.
Jude did not bleed out while I drove him to the hospital.
Jude is safe.
Lolly died and we are safe. My kids saw trauma and they are safe.
We are safe.
The other night after Selah took Beau’s chemo I laid in bed (Selah’s bed, naturally, because I was sure she would not be ok.) and thought about this practice. I thought I’d give it a shot.
“Selah took Beau’s chemo and is safe…Selah did not take too much…Selah is not going to overdose…Selah is safe,” I felt better with every phrase I spoke. Then without plan I added, “I am a good mom….Good moms make mistakes…I am not a bad mom that this happened…Selah is safe. You are safe.”
I immediately felt better, like a physical shift had moved the trauma a bit down the road. I decided sleeping in Selah’s room was overkill and got up quietly to leave. As I carefully opened the door I heard her sweet little voice, half-asleep in the dark.
“Selah safe. You a good mom.”