For the most part, I don’t feel reduced or ashamed because I have multiple sclerosis. If anything, I kind of feel like a survivor. Most days I think, “I’m okay, I got this!” And even though the rest of the world may not know or understand the small heroic efforts that make up my days, I feel competent and able enough to care for my family and myself. That is until recently, when my confidence was shaken and I was stopped in my tracks by all things - a childproof medicine bottle.
Let me go back. Saturday stunk. My husband left at around 4 a.m. for a bike race that was a few hours away. No sooner had his car pulled out of the driveway, that my little daughter Zoe runs for the bathroom to vomit. I run to the bathroom and hold her hair. All I could think of was, “She’s on fire!” I hold her hair back until she is done. I sing her songs she’s much too old for now, but she still longs for them in moments like this, and then it stopped. I brought her to the couch and read to her until she was almost to that place between here and dreams. I felt her again and she was still burning, I realized it was time for medicine. Her face was flushed and I could see her heart beating through her chest. She looked so small.
I went into the kitchen and pulled out the bottle, and shocker, there’s a childproof cap on it. For over 30 minutes I tried to open that bottle. No luck. If will and focus alone could do it, I would have won. But my weakened MS grip would not allow it. When I realized that I am no longer able to open a simple bottle of medicine to help my child, THAT is the moment that I felt overwhelmingly and deeply ashamed of my MS. And I was alone, with no help. To be a useful mother, you need to feel strong and able to take care of your kids’ needs at any time. At moments like this, I recognize that MS has robbed me.
We have just moved to a new neighborhood. I can’t lie, my neighbors have been kind, but they all live in very important houses, they drive important cars to their important jobs. It just never feels like me. There’s a wall between us that I can’t seem to scale, and for that reason I do not ask them for assistance, or carpools or favors like other moms sometimes do. But this was about my child being sick. My husband was gone. I had no choice but to swallow my pride and scale that wall on this day.
I saw my neighbor across the street coming back from a workout. I yelled for her frantically, I asked her to please wait as I hurried back in to get the bottle. She had already started crossing to my yard. I smelled like vomit. I was in jammies. My hair looked like a mop, tied into a messy bun on my head. I felt ashamed to have to even ask her, and I looked down at my feet when I spoke. She opened it, effortlessly.
Then she did the unthinkable; she asked me for a hug. I was mortified. Had she seen me? More significantly, had she smelled me? I’m fairly certain I had vomit in my hair. But I’m a hugger and I was moved by the request, so I went in for the hug. No make-up, vomit and all. As I got closer, I could see, she didn’t have make up on either. She was sweaty from her workout. She did not care. She’s never looked more beautiful to me than at that moment. I don’t know that any woman ever has.
I went inside and gave my daughter her medicine and then I cried. I was grateful for her compassion, and I realized that maybe it wasn’t my MS after all. No make-up. Vomit and sweat. No fancy cars or big houses or even MS between us. It was like I saw her for the first time and for the first time I let someone see me. No differences between us, except that she could open a child-proof bottle and I could not. I couldn’t have been happier for that difference.