Under the Bridge

March 16, 2010 at 11:59 pm (Uncategorized)

I don’t know how I could hack it in Chronic Town without Andrew.

In addition to being a wonderful person whose very existence is good for the world, my six-year old, tall, sturdy and golden-haired boy helps me in ways in ways he will never know—and that I am just beginning to appreciate.

Today is an example. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. The sun was shining with enough force to seep through the heavy curtains. I had set three alarm clocks the night before—knowing it would be hard to get up. If the alarms were buzzing and bellowing for me to rise for a doctor’s appointment, I might have shut them all when I was still half-asleep and slept for as long as I could. I would have stayed in my nest of flannel sheets until the sun had moved enough to stop streaming in at me.

But I wasn’t going to the doctor. I was going to Andrew’s school to see his kindergarten reading group perform a simple skit of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. While I might avoid an appointment for my benefit, there was no way I was going to miss one of Andrew’s school events. It was bad enough that I was in the hospital last month during the school’s talent show. Although Andrew understands that I was quite ill, he was disappointed that I missed his dance performance. He had even mentioned to me a few days ago how excited he was that I was “finally” going to show up at his school.

It didn’t matter that I was tired—or that my headache and vertigo were more intense than usual. I also ignored the dull ache in my left arm. Yesterday I had a cherry-sized nodule excised and sent off for a biopsy. The surgeon said he was “99 percent certain” the lump was subcutaneous sarcoidosis—a new manifestation of the disease. It had been upsetting to discover that my sarcoidosis is still active, even though I’ve been taking powerful new medications. To make matters worse, I broke my self-imposed rule not to look up any medical condition on the Internet within one week of learning about it or of being diagnosed with it. In about three minutes, I found several frightening tidbits about my new form of sarcoidosis. The one that kept me brooding into the night was a single line in an article. It said that the subcutaneous form of sarcoidosis marks either the beginning of an intense but short case of the disease, or else the “final stage” of chronic, multi-organ sarcoidosis. Who knows if this is true? And did the author use the language “final stage” to politely say “precursor to death”? Do these innocuous-looking lumps mean I will die soon?

If it weren’t for the Three Billy Goats Gruff, I probably would have slept half the day and then worried about my upcoming demise until I could sleep some more. But I put my feet on the floor and kept on going for the rest of the day. Nothing would keep me from that school. It didn’t matter that the taxi I called an hour early to pick me up, didn’t arrive on time. Furious, I kicked off my orthopedic boot, cast aside my concerns about having a blind spell while driving, and tried to drive. But the car battery was dead because one of the doors had been left ajar. Doubly furious, I eyed my bicycle. It had a flat tire. I called the taxi service again and got the same line about the driver being on his way. I now had ten minutes until the play. I put my orthopedic boot back on, limped down the driveway, and waited for a car to come. And waited. And waited. Which is ridiculous, because we live on a really busy street. Finally, a vehicle approached. When it looked like the truck wasn’t going to stop, I moved threateningly towards the center of the road. It turned out to be our plumber. “Gosh, Rebecca,” he said, once I had climbed into the cab. “I thought you must be having an awful plumbing emergency.”

I made it to the classroom before the kids started. Andrew was impressive as Max, the eldest and biggest of the three goats. He’s become quite a reader, and it was fun to watch him work his way through the lines we had practiced at home. One of Andrew’s friends played the troll who lives under the bridge. Maybe it was because I grabbed a seat right behind the two boys, so I could hear their lines clearly. Or maybe it was because my thoughts had been occupied with matters metaphysical before my comedy of errors in getting to the school. But the dialogue between Max the goat and the troll seemed imbued with special meaning. The troll had kept the goats from the green pastures on the other side of his bridge for no reason other than ill-tempered authority. The troll certainly didn’t use the fields himself, since he spent all of his time lurking under the bridge and frightening poor ruminants. But the goats broke free from his reign of terror. My Andrew, speaking as the goat Max, gave the troll fair warning before “kicking him to tomorrow.”

Bruno Bettelheim made a scholarly career by using Freudian psychology to interpret fairy tales. However, in The Great Cat Massacre Robert Darnton soundly refuted Bettelheim’s model by showing how fairy tales did nothing more than express a magnified version of the pre-industrialized peasant worldview. My personal re-interpretation of the Three Billy Goats Gruff as a metaphor for health kicking disease to tomorrow, life kicking disease to tomorrow, and so on, is of significantly less interest than Bettelheim’s or Darnton’s. I won’t subject you to a line by line exegesis of how the story reveals that I will get well—even though a nasty troll of a disease is trying to keep me confined, to keep me away from the rest of my family, to keep me from appreciating the all life has to offer in those luscious green fields on the other side of the bridge. But justice, bravery, and teamwork will pay off. I’ll munch on the greenery, while sarcoidosis will be kicked to tomorrow.

After the skit was over, Jay and I stayed to have lunch with Andrew in the school cafeteria. I didn’t have time to brood about whether the lumps in my arm signal my demise because I was trying to talk with seven kindergarteners all at once. The voices of doom in my head were drowned by the drone of chatter around us. Jay dropped me off at home, so I didn’t have to throw myself into the street for the return trip. (He was in a meeting with his boss at exactly the time I needed to get from our house to the school. Or so he says.)

The play and my time with Andrew in the evening certainly didn’t make my health problems go away. My disease needs more than a change of perspective for that. But I was able to stop focusing on every sarcoidosis-related twinge in my body—from the pain in my head to the broken bones in my foot. I remembered that no one has a signed contract for a long life untroubled by disease. I am not the only one struggling with uncertainty and fear. But at least I’m not alone. Jay is steady and always by my side (the occasional ride to school notwithstanding). Andrew needs me and expects me to show up for his life. Maybe I can follow the example of Max the goat and kick my disease to tomorrow. For now I’ll take comfort that my family keeps me close. We’re working together to get to those fields, despite the troll still hiding underneath his bridge.

1 Comment

  1. Barb said,

    Rebecca… I wouldn’t believe everything you read. I love how you noticed the moment and the message for you. I am REALLY REALLY REALLY hoping the next time you are stuck for a ride you will call me. I took the whole day off yesterday and could have driven you and felt SO good that I could do something helpful… drat, and damn the taxi folk too. So very glad you got to the play… what fun!

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