Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Word Up Wednesday: Fortitude

I just got a haircut. I usually get a haircut around this time of year. Not to say I don't cut my hair the rest of the year, but every year I tend to cut it very short. Right now. And inevitably, it makes me feel old and fat. And I look in the mirror and go "CRIPES ALIVE! WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?" And then I begin a period of self-loathing that includes feeling old, unintelligent, sloppy, washed up, and terribly bitter towards young published authors who did not waste half their lives toiling away writing boring technical manuals about air ionizers (yes) and instead had the fortitude to get up on it and start writing.

So this week's Word Up is going to have to be fortitude. It means courage; mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously. Sometimes I think it's not so much that I have fortitude, but that there's just no other option that I find acceptable.

When I was eight months preggers with my whippersnapper (who is now three), my husband had a lymph node in his neck that started to swell. It grew quite large and the doctors drew lots of blood and gorged themselves on tests and couldn't figure out what it was, so they put him on massive doses of antibiotics. My belly got bigger; his neck got bigger. Then one day, one of his eyes wouldn't move. Then, his tongue stopped moving. Both eye and tongue were paralyzed, and he lost an obscene amount of weight over the course of a few days.

They admitted him to the hospital and put him on IV. This was in August and it was hot, and I required like thirty pounds of fresh fruit a day. I would visit him in the hospital and then on my way home in the evening I would stop by the natural foods store and buy thirty more pounds of fruit for the next day. Nectarines, especially. Delicious. Meanwhile, the arsehat doctors found NOTHING despite doing every test imaginable.

"How can they not know?" people asked me.

"I don't know!" I said. "I can't believe it either!"

"Well, can't they...." (insert every suggestion known to mankind)

"No," I said, because I was exhausted from staying vigilant at the hospital all day, and it simply wasn't that easy to try some new test. That isn't how doctors work.

Then they inserted a feeding tube into his stomach, which was hideously awful. He came home, and now I was nine months preggers and had to feed the poor guy a can of vanilla flavored meal-in-a-drink several times a day through his tube. And he couldn't even taste the vanilla.

This is where you might think fortitude comes in, but really, I had no choice. Everyone said, "You're so good." And I went, "Why? This what you do." It wasn't like I was going to leave him.

Then, he got a fever. A bad one that gave him the chills all the time. And this fever lasted two weeks. We went back to the doctor and she's like Um, yeah, we're admitting you, Fever Boy. This was my worst fear realized. I was terrified that he would miss the birth. So in the hospital he goes, and the next morning I go into labor. A soft, gentle labor, contractions 20 minutes apart. I told my mother, who lives two hours away, "You might want to come down today, and pack extra clothes." So she did. And I went out and bought a #0 paint brush, because suddenly, I really, really needed it. To finish all that fine-detail paint work that I wasn't doing, obviously.

The contractions increased throughout the day. I was like "This is totally doable." And my doctor said she was on vacation for the next three days, and I said "No probs. I'll wait."

At 9:00 pm that night, right during the Grey's Anatomy season premier, the contractions were kind of painful. I ignored them; I had a Grey's Anatomy season premier to see. Then I went to bed and they became terribly painful and then my water broke. Actually, things took longer -- there was some pacing and showering, and some other stuff I don't remember. I do remember my mother driving us through Berkeley at 3 am and the traffic lights were on red blinky status and I said "JUST RUN THEM" because all the stopping was making me demented.

My poor husband had to listen to the birth over the phone from his hospital (different insurances), and my mother and mother-in-law both went down to the end of the delivery table so they could full view of everything I had on offer. Fortitude.

The whippersnapper was born and all was well, and my husband relaxed from his spa-like bed while I did all the work (fortitude), but he was give a day-release and allowed to come see me, which was very nice. Of course, he was feverish and all he could do was nod and smile.

He slowly got better. They released him from the hospital and pretended to run more tests and send his file to fancy clinics and the like. They removed the tube. He could eat again. His eyesight returned. He had two surgeries to remove the golf ball lymph node. He spent the first two months of the whippersnapper's life at home with me. They never found out what was wrong and concluded "auto-immune disorder."

When I think back on that time, I just feel ragey and roary and full of enough fortitude to share with you, if you need it (here, have some). It's kind of good to remember that fortitudy-time because now, at times like these short haircut ones, I need to remember that I am capable of it, no matter how old I am now or what I'm doing. (At least I'm not writing technical manuals about air ionizers anymore.)

My husband has not gotten sick like that since.


Julie Dao said...

That is one heck of a story, Sierra! Thank goodness for your lioness-ness. (That's a lot of ness-es)

Summer said...

Wow, what a story. And I love this:

"Everyone said, "You're so good." And I went, "Why? This what you do." It wasn't like I was going to leave him."

Of course I feel the same way about my husband. It seems sometimes that a lot more people in the world could use some fortitude, instead of turning tail at the first sign of trouble, but it's rarely easy, and it's rarely fun.

But sometimes it all works out.

Lt. Cccyxx said...

Wow, that is amazing - one of those times you look back on and say "how did I do that?". At the time, though, what other choice do you have? (as you said yourself)

I would like to know why "fortitude" is so often combined with "intestinal" (heard most often in the context of professional wrestling announcers when I was growing up). It strongly implies an ability to eat or drink lots of disgusting food without puking or getting sick, even as the real meaning is quite different.

Anyway, I've always wondered about that combination - "fortitude" by itself seems to do the trick.

JEM said...

This story is incredible and terrifying. It's so good to hear that both the whippersnapper and your husband came through with flying colors. You're right about fortitude; it's funny how we can withstand such (seemingly) insurmountable odds, but then the littlest thing like a manuscript critique can tear us to pieces. Oh, human nature.

Travener said...

Yikes. Fortitude indeed.

annerallen said...

What Travener said. You're a hero. But OMG, what a horrible thing your husband went through. And the medical profession doesn't even know what it was? They seem to be too busy inventing diseases to cure with their pricey drugs than to deal with what actually goes wrong with the human body. Whippersnapper should grow up to be one tough cookie, though, with that lineage.

Sierra Godfrey said...

You're all very kind.

Julie, thanks, I try to remember it.

Summer -- agree. Is rarely fun but it's what we signed up for. Plus, the good times hopefully outweigh those bad ones.

Lt -- I suspect "intestinal fortitude" is one of those cliche phrases like "voracious reader" that we just slip into feeling comfortable with. I say, resist if possible :)

JEM -- you're right about the manuscripts! Funny.

Anne -- It seems to me that doctors are busy with a huge massive caseload of patients so when a case like this comes along, they don't want to spend the time researching it or figuring it out, or they don't have the time or drive to do it. They told us that there are about a million cases every year in the US where they have no clue what it is or what triggered it.

Simon C. Larter said...

Gads. Even a nemesis can have nothing but admiration for this.

You may hold onto your fortitude. It may be ultimately useless, for your destruction is assured, but, in honor of this story and your evident formidableness, I shall declare a temporary truce. I will resume your destruction shortly.

In the meantime, I offer simple respect.

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Wow, Sierra, that is crazy. I can't imagine going through all that while dealing with a pregnancy and new baby. I was an absolute mess when I came home with my son (had some postpartum). If I had had to take care of him, me, and an ailing husband, I don't know if I would have had the fortitude not to just crumble beneath the weight of it all. Hats off to you for making it through.

Cynthia Reese said...

Gracious, what an ordeal. I'm reminded about the saying that it takes running uphill to make you think that walking on level ground is easy-peasy. But, oh, couldn't we omit the hard stuff and just be grateful that we skipped it??

KLM said...

Holy crap. That's positively Biblical levels of fortitude. You should have your own parable. I kept reading and thinking, "Oh, dear! I hope this all turns out OK for Sierra!"

There's nothing like having no other choice to really compel courage, now is there? Moms, we know this stuff. I find that the things I never wanted to deal with are the things I'm proudest about surviving. Like being able to function with no sleep for 6 and a half years straight.

Amber Tidd Murphy said...

You are the epitome of fortitudespice.

Jenna Wallace said...

Wow. And I was all bent out of shape when my husband broke his arm during my first pregnancy ('But it supposed to be all about ME!!!'). You are my hero.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Aha! Even the nemesis is softened by my story, even if I had to actually live it! Victory is mine!


Roni -- you would have done it too if you had to. Everything just sucked a lot more. I was very, very lucky not to have postpartum with all that. In fact, maybe I didn't BECAUSE I had all that. I don't know.

Kristen -- thank you...everything was so sudden though that it wasn't as torturous as living for 6 years with no sleep, which is the worst imaginable torture I can think of. I thought three years was bad enough.

Amberspice -- well. :)

Jenna -- It totally was all about me -- we still make jokes today about how he was taking a nap in a spa while I had to give birth. And he is under strict instructions to never again pull a stunt like that in the even we should have another child. (Still trying.)


This is one of those knock 'em dead at the dinner party stories--the story that trumps all stories! Cheers for your fortitude! I cannot imagine the strength of mind one has to have to go to the delivery room without one's husband--actually, worse, suffering the lack of certitude of knowing if he'd ever get to come out of his own hospital! Thanks for sharing this--your bravery and courage are inspiring!

Anastasia said...

I agree with your comment about this si what you do. Its part of love ;)

Meghan Ward said...

Great post, Sierra! I loved the word fortitude before even reading the post and then - wow! - what a story. So glad your husband recovered quickly, and what a shame he had to miss the birth.

Christine H said...

Wow, I was going to reply to the haircut thing and then you did this whole birth/illness story.

So now my haircut comment seems totally inadequate.

I'm so glad that your husband is better. How horrible for both of you. Those are the kinds of things you never, ever forget, but can look back on with a sort of smug pride that you didn't totally fall apart in the midst of it. Like battle scars of life.

DL Hammons said...

That was an awesome story and you are an amazing woman!! I bow to your inner-strength.

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