Sunday, September 25, 2011

#94 -The Red Blouse

Addison's disease, in my particular case, was very difficult to diagnose. At the time I began to deteriorate on a steady, rapidly downhill basis in 2001, I had been a strong 33 year old woman who even bench-pressed over 180 pounds at the YMCA several times per week. Talk about body was the epitome of strong.

Fortunately, I had simply been born into a family with strong muscles. My father, all throughout his youth and for most of my life, had that bulky weight-lifting build. Some people are born that way. Others must work at it with gusto to enjoy a little budding muscle, but that wasn't how my family genetics worked. I could lift a finger-nail file and my muscle would get a superior work-out.

So, it wasn't conceivable to all of the doctors that I was seeing during my deterioration that something could REALLY be wrong. Yes, they could see that my vitals were off. Too many times, I was brushed off. My excessively low blood pressure was blamed as a chronic condition. My low sodium levels were attributed to a sodium wasting condition that the doctors would tell me to remedy by adding more salt to every plate of food I would eat. The rapid heart-rate could not be explained, so it was ignored. That patchy skin on my hands and face with the orangy tan I sported, without being outdoors consistently, was not a consideration because, again, I was a young woman and surely this was "normal" for being young. I appeared too young, too strong and too "healthy" for anything serious to be lurking with my health. If only the doctors would have truly listened to me...they would have had an edge, but those who don't listen cannot provide wisdom.

Every time I was admitted to the hospital, they'd hook me up to IV fluids, give me potassium (I had potassium wasting instead of accumulation as an outdoors Texas gal) and I'd feel better, my vitals would drastically improve, therefore, I didn't need medical attention any longer...nothing was wrong. Every doctor assumed that I was just dehydrated. But, within six hours of being discharged, I'd be at home in a rapid decline and barely able to walk across a room once again. It was disheartening.

Yes, I went to every specialist imaginable. Even a "Dr. House" type of diagnostician who indeed ran every test you could think of running and they would always see that there were weird puzzle pieces but no doctor was able to put them all together. It took me coding at a local hospital to actually get the doctor's mental mechanics to work a bit faster for a proper diagnosis.

But, by that time, I'd had extreme muscle wasting. My organs were in danger of failing, so close to failing that I went into cardio-pulmonary failure during the code blue. My body had been living in such an extremely weakened state for so long that a "recovery" would be a far off and away achievement.

Even after the miracle drugs Florinef and Hydrocortisone were given to me and I was finally able to walk by myself again, I still had severe ups and downs for another year. I would be in and out of the hospital with great difficulty at being stabilized. And since I had been so very sick as to be coding, I was not convinced that I would truly recover. I'd seen the ugly truths of being seriously ill. I'd laid in bed gasping for air after waking with collapsed lungs. I'd lay in bed unable to respond to those around me because my blood pressure was so low that it could barely be registered. I'd feel my heart nearly thump a hole out of my chest.

If your body is battling a catastrophic illness and your muscles will not work, your organs do not function normally and you cannot make your heart beat normally or your blood pressure can hardly be normalized, then you realize that little in this life is under your control. If you do not have your health or if you have not been able to equalize your medical condition, then everything else is out of reach.

Everything in my life became altered because of my illness. My job, my body, my way of thinking, my home, my daily life...all of it changed. I was still very sick. For months I had been too ill to do much of anything, so one of my responses to being ill found me deciding to quit buying clothes. Since I'd come so close to death on numerous occasions and was still riding a scary medically unstable roller coaster, I did not feel confident enough to buy anything because it might end up sitting in my closet expense my family had to pay for as I lie unable to get my money's worth out of the article of clothing. It didn't make sense for me to buy new clothes. I'm a very practical person and buying clothes when I could barely get out of bed didn't make sense. So, I quit buying myself anything.

This was a huge personal part of my own trauma with being seriously ill. I no longer found myself valuable enough to spend money on because I might be gone the next week and I didn't want that money to be "wasted" on me and my unstable existence. I guess I was too leery to hold out excessive hope. After all, I'd gone so far down in my health to point of coding...I'd become too ill to even give much thought to such insignificant matters as clothing. I had other details on my mind, such as breathing, keeping my blood pressure regulated, making sure my vitals didn't dip dangerously low before I was given a chance to, I quit buying clothes.

For one year straight after I became very ill. I literally didn't buy myself one thing. Actually, the week I began my downhill plunge into Addison's darkness, I had received my last delivery of catalog ordered clothes from Victoria's Secret...clothes, not lingerie. There was a pair of capri jeans, a couple of nice tanks and a few other things that I would never wear. Once I began my steroid treatment, I gained 10 pounds pretty fast and that meant that my size changed drastically enough so that I'd never be able to fit into that last set of ordered clothes I'd paid to have delivered before my diagnosis. Immediately, I could see that my body was now unpredictable; I found it easier to just quit buying any clothes whatsoever.

For one solid year I didn't make a purchase and as that one year mark came to an end, I began to feel stronger. My condition was under a semblance of control and I really needed a new blouse to wear for my still very rare outings. Just one blouse. Hesitantly, I began to allow myself to take a look at a few blouses in the department store. It wasn't easy. I often felt as if I would somehow jinx myself with buying something to wear. For so long, I had not allowed myself to buy anything that I began to have obsessive-compulsive thoughts that my decision to not buy clothes was linked to my survival...and if you've gone through something serious with your health, you do begin to question your every decision and its power to affect your life as you know it.

But, one day, I came across this 100% red silk blouse with gold embroidery and I fell in love. Going into the dressing room, I tried on the blouse and it was perfect. I took the plunge and bought it. There was no way I could have left that blouse in the store. This blouse wasn't inexpensive, but it symbolized my triumphant return. I splurged because I'd gone for so long without spending a penny on myself. This blouse signified my strengthening belief that I just might make it long-term. Maybe I would be around long enough for any new clothes to again become old and worn. Truly, that was a returned dream come true.

I wore the blouse to a couple of functions, then the blouse suddenly disappeared one day. Actually, I'd been devastated to discover that I'd developed another serious medical condition, a cardiac issue that would require two very risky surgeries. Again, I became very ill after these surgeries with a collapsed lung; I had to have my first ribs removed from my body; I experienced severe internal bleeding into my chest wall and too many other battles to name. It seemed as if I was being attacked from the left and right, from front to back, with my health, my personal life, my home life...everything was under siege. Again, I was hanging by a thread while feeling very alone in the world.

The beautiful red blouse was a fading happy memory. Still, I would sometimes find myself over the coming months and years in a search for the blouse and it was nowhere to be found. I didn't know how this blouse with such meaning could suddenly disappear, but I didn't have the energy to keep focusing on its disappearance, its search and the devastation of not being able to find it. Why did I care? After all, this was only a silly blouse! But, what did the blouse's disappearance mean? Was I again losing my chance to be healthy?

That blouse had been my outward celebration of feeling stable enough in my health to look forward to the future again, then its disappearance became the bane of my existence as it paralleled my desperation while my health suddenly took another spiraling downturn. Darn that blouse!

Through the years, I forced myself to repeatedly attempt to give up the remembrances of that silk blouse. Still, I'd find myself wondering where the heck it could have gone.

Since then, we sold the house we were living in during that blouse purchase and we've bought another much larger house. In fact, our house now is three times larger than the one we lived in when I had purchased that red blouse with the gold embroidery. Still, I've never forgotten it.

Then, last week, my husband and I were going through some old boxes in the garage. We found one box that had some old sewing supplies of mine. I had loved sewing when I fell ill...I'd sewn my entire life. My great-grandmother, Lola, was a professional seamstress and owned a shop in Madisonville, Texas. Sewing is in my blood.

My youngest daughter, Stefie, sat next to me last week in the living room as I was going through this box full of old sewing supplies and I pulled out one newly discovered treasure after another...a bundle of fabric never used, a package of elastic, more fabric scraps that really needed to be ditched, a package of sequins left over from the time I sewed the girls their Halloween outfits and at the bottom of the box was a plastic sack with red material in it, I held the sack, pulled out the material and there before me was The Red Blouse!

I couldn't believe it. I sat there with tears filling my eyes. After all this time, after nine years, this blouse had again found its way into my life. My heart was pounding and I was inspecting the blouse carefully to make sure there wasn't any damage. It was perfect, but wrinkled. Then, I vaguely remembered putting it in with my sewing supplies with the intent to study the embroidery on it, but I had fallen sick again with cardiac issues, so the entire effort was chunked from my mind.

Stefie really didn't understand the significance of this blouse, so I tried to explain, but I don't know if a person could ever explain such a highly personal story. My words would never be adequate to express all that this blouse had meant to me during such a volatile time in my life...a time when I finally felt there was hope for a real future.

Washing the blouse, I let it dry, then hung it in my closet prominently so I could see it every time I walked in. It was as beautiful as I remembered. But, it looked awfully small. Unfortunately, the past nine years has found me to be physically softer with a bit more weight on me from the time I'd bought this little red jewel. After all, I'm not in my powerful 30's any more, I'm now approaching my mid-40's, but I'm still feeling rather fabulous to be honest.

Still, I let a few days pass by as I would enter the closet and give the blouse a dreamy stare. One day, I couldn't resist, I tried it on. Yes, it "fit" but it was definitely too tight. Whoa-Mama-Tight, definitely not suitable for wearing in public unless I lost ten-fifteen pounds. And believe me, to get the chance to wear that blouse again, to savor its deep meaning as that silk hugs my'd be worth it.

But, another lesson I've learned through these passing years as my blouse hibernated has been to let things go. I no longer cycle backwards in a fruitless effort to regain whatever it is that I feel I might have lost. Instead, I've learned the hard way to keep moving forward, even if that means leaving parts of me behind. Sometimes, we cannot move forward if we keep circling backwards in wasted efforts to be the person we once were...once upon a time. Forget trying to find that historic part of you and start embracing who you are right now!

I could cry all day long for the old Lana I once enjoyed with such vigor, but she is outta here. However, I've got the new Lana to savor and I happen to like her very much, thank you. Instead of pining away for all that coulda-shoulda-woulda been, I'm appreciating what I have at this moment. Actually, I have a lot to be thankful for and it's a beautiful life that I am able to enjoy, even with challenges.

However, The Red Blouse will always hold a special place in my heart and soul. Moving forward will never change what the past has meant to me with that blouse. But, once the blouse had been "lost," I learned to move forward without my physical symbol of healing. In spite of difficulties and new challenges, I moved onward...trying to learn repeated lessons about the dangers and hindrances that come with trying to cling to old things, old ideals, and old hopes. I realize hard body is getting older and clinging to the past does not make us younger, it does not help us to regain our youth, it does not erase the disease or medical hurdle...moving forward is the mentally healthy path to being the best you can be right now WITH WHAT YOU HAVE TO WORK WITH. There is beauty in that ability and that knowledge. Take stock of it. Keep trying.

So, The Red Blouse might not fit me right now. It might not reflect the person I am right now, and that's okay. I have fond, beautiful memories of that blouse and maybe its sudden resurfacing has reinforced the fact that I can keep moving forward, in spite of the strong temptation to look back with useless longing or trying to force myself to be something I once enjoyed. No, I can accept the truth that the blouse might be rediscovered, but it now has no proper place in my life. In that respect, The Red Blouse is still perfect for me because it's again getting the chance to symbolize my growing strength and my ability to accept life for what it has to offer at the moment. And, I like this moment.

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