Then and Before

The breaking point for me came over Christmas; it was December 21 and our house was filled with the colors and fragrances of the season. My nieces and nephews soulful eyes gave away their anticipation and wonder of the season, sipping nana’s homemade hot chocolate with extra marshmallows offered by their papa. I wish I could add an abundance of good cheer to the mix as that would’ve been the perfect backdrop to the coziness of a Christmas tree, sparkling embers from the fireplace and the reason for the season. Apart from keeping it together for the kids, we were all worried and I was uncomfortably the center of that worry.

My parents and I had watched my fingers grow from normal sized to enormous red, bruised sausage looking appendages. I could not bend them, the skin was cracking, and my legs, heavy with edema had the same burgundy bruises dotting my shins; we knew what that meant. I called GI #4, who instructed that my parents, without delay, rush me to the ER. I actually listened.

We sat in the ER for four hours – my stellar parents having navigated downtown, big city rush hour traffic. I could barely sit, my hands hurt and I was to the point of desperation. Long story short, I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with another bout of Erythema Nodosum, a painful skin disorder, related to Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease, where red or burgundy, sore nodules appear on extremities, plus a super bad flare. My round the clock, care giving parents, ready to collapse from exhaustion, left me in the care of well trained, caring staff; the good Lord knows they needed a break.

Those few days before Christmas found me reminiscing and filling my misery of days with vintage Miracle on 34th Street and other Christmas favorites, along with lots of Key Lime yogurt (which only exacerbated my condition as I didn’t realize I was lactose sensitive). When I was not being entertained visually, I would look out the window of my room, at the gray staunchness of the surrounding buildings, thinking about how this time of year was either the best time ever, or the worst, for the people on the outside and the inside.

Before Crohn’s and Colitis, I was quite different; I had bought a one-way ticket to Europe and assured my parents they owned half my heart, but I had to find myself. They supported me and off we went towards the airport, not knowing when we would see each other again.

I recalled the person I was then, versus the person I had become, lying in that hospital bed, barely able to recognize myself, physically and mentally. I recalled, how years earlier, I was on another continent, preparing to spend Christmas with my dear friend Mark, his brother Garry, my newly adopted parents Steve and Margo, and their cat Charlie.

This warm, welcoming family treated me as their own, opening their home and hearts. We ate, we laughed, they introduced me to the wonders of deep fried Mars bars, deep fried pizza and prawn-flavored crisps. I met more of my new family, enjoyed hot tea and shortbread with Steve’s parents and came to realize how much I was enjoying living in the moment! We feasted on Christmas day dinner with our late friend, Madge, who had prepared a spread of delicious, festive fare, paired with the best red wine I’d ever tasted. For dessert, she graciously served her homemade Trifle, I’m pretty sure I had 3 helpings. Traditional food, superb friends, undeniable great memories, including playing with Madge’s German Shepherd’s.

With good humor my cohorts cajoled me about not having sure footing while traipsing around in European snow. Southern girls are not always well versed on how to navigate this white, slippery phenomenon, which rarely occurs in our part of the world. Armed with waterproof, thick-soled leather boots, I forged through mountains of snow (not really) and learned that car bumpers have more than one purpose. Never did I dream that years later, I would be feasting on those very memories to catapult me into keeping my head above water.

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