Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Object Permanence

I have a feeling that this will be a strange post. Bear with me.

After Henry's diagnosis, I had an unshakable feeling that I had been duped. His cancer had been there growing, for some time, and I hadn't known. Of course, no one knew. But I had (have?) a sense that someone knew...the universe perhaps?...while I did not. I have never struggled with the 'why' of his cancer (though that may be yet to come.) To me, his cancer just is, the way an earthquake just is.

Then, the universe turned into a pair of pants. I was at Old Navy, months before his diagnosis. I picked up a pair of powder blue sweats. Ugly, but a bargain. I thought, "Maybe he'll get just a few wears out of these, besides, what a bargain!"

He wore them a lot during his first round of chemo. They were soft, easy to get on and off, and comfy in bed. Still ugly, but who cared.

But I felt like they knew. Like at some strange quantum physics level, those pants already knew all the times he was going to wear them. I could remember picking them up from the bargain bin at Old Navy, fingering them, trying to decide whether to buy them or not. I could only imagine my horror if on that day I could see how they would be used. I didn't know. Did they?

This happened many more times. This new pair of shoes. I put them on for the first time the morning we took him to the hospital for dizziness. Neither I nor they came home for a week. Did they know, back when I ordered them off the internet with my free shipping coupon, that they would be sitting in the PICU while I sobbed? While I was told that there was a great probability that my child would die within a few years? While I held an emesis basin for him to vomit in over and over and over?

It's quieted down now, my conversation with the universe. But every so often, it pipes up again. These new shoes that I buy...will I be wearing them the day that the oncologist tells us his cancer is back? This watch, that I have worn every day since my husband gave it to me when I graduated from medical school, does it know what will happen? Will this sweater that I am knitting him come back to me tattered and torn from his playing in the woods in a year, just as he outgrows it, cancer-free?

If they know, they can't tell me.


Rob said...

Well done, Tara.

The emotional confusion we have in situations like this wants somewhere to land. We feel up in the air and don't quite know what is real and what matters. You are looking for an objective view on things, and what better thing to be objective than an object. It is safe, because there is no causality in the hands (or pockets, as it were) of the pants. You don't get angry at them, you just view them as your objective onlooker.

Some may simply respond that God is the objective onlooker, but that is not quite so simple (I say that as one who believes in God). Belief in God creates problems here because it means that knowledge was there when the power to stop it was there too. This is a big problem that takes a lot of explaining. This gives theologians a paycheck.

Still, we can all identify with the feeling that you express as you search for that objectivity.

Sometimes I think the weirder thoughts are actually the most profound.

I really liked this post.

Anonymous said...

Tara, you are an amazing writer. Your images ricochet in my mind and sometimes leave me breathless.
Thank you for letting the rest of us in on your struggle. You have to know you aren't alone and are loved.
Miss Susan

JeanMac said...

After I wiped away a tear or two, I saw him running toward you from the woods, cancer free, muddied face and boots, sweater torn.
We bloggers will hold that image for you to make it happen. Love sent your way, as usual.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Smak--

I am touched deeply by this post.

I don't know you, and you don't know me...but I am a surgeon and mother of a (relatively) mildly medically fragile 4 yr old daughter. So many of your posts touch me to the appear so HUMAN, like I would love to get to know you in real life. Thank you for your honesty.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if we all don't have those thoughts. I know I do, but most of us aren't brave enough to acknowledge them.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Smak,
You are truly an inspiration. Thanks for sharing with me.

Doctor David said...

Tara, that was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and fears with us.

badattitude said...

Your post has settled in my mind for days, very moving. I remember sort of a similiar thing for me too--back in 1994 I was in Santa Fe New Mexico and bought a pair of tiny infant slippers with cowboys on them--I was very much wanting to have a child and I imagined my baby wearing those slippers. Later in 1997 when I had my first son, he wore those slippers but only for about a week because he was a big baby! The onesie with the balloons on it became the meaningful article of clothing for me--he was wearing it the first day that I felt really bonded to him--
thanks for helping me remember that special time.
My prayers are with you and your family.

Jennifer said...

Not strange at all. I felt this same way after my son was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Charamander was his favorite Pokemon and I had just found the most wonderful Charamander bed friend..and at a great deal. I was thrilled with the find. Only days later Char went to the hospital with us and was my son’s constant friend for over 7 years. We learned to give shots by practicing on Char. He was hugged when we had to give finger prick after finger prick.

We never went anywhere without Char and I had to do some fancy needlework on him from time to time to keep him together from all of the love. I just always felt that somehow it was meant that I find that bed friend just when I did. It knew all along and somehow made sure I’d see him in the store that day. I am so thankful for the comfort it has supplied, all the tears it’s sopped up.

Sometimes even now, when things seem too calm, I wonder what else may know what's coming, if I can somehow tap into the “knowing” and prepare. No, not strange at all.

Femail doc said...

Spectacular post.