Chris and I have spent the last four years dealing with crisis after crisis. There is a certain rhythm that you fall into; an alarm always primed to go off.
And then you start to forget.
When treatment is your constant companion, you become accustomed to a certain way of life. I had a PICC line installed in my right arm a few weeks ago. It is my third or fourth. I can't honestly remember how many I've had put in. It hangs about two inches off the side of my arm with the insertion point covered by gauze and tegaderm. The sight of it is not alarming to me, because I'm used to seeing them. In me and other people. I don't think twice about it.
Because the access point of the catheter literally dangles from my bicep, I wear a burn sleeve to keep it out of the way. The sleeve is a white tube of elastic mesh that keeps the mechanism under control. Because I live in the eternal swamp of the South, I also tend to favor wearing short-sleeved shirts, which do little to hide the burn sleeve and the strange blue bump underneath. Because I forget.
People stare and I can see many wondering. It's especially obvious in class. I wonder if I should make an announcement explaining the gadget, or dismiss the looks as my own paranoia.
I've forgotten how the steroids and increased tacrolimus make me shake and vibrate. Both hands have an obvious tremor that I don't try to hide. It would be useless.
I'm amazed at how much I've forgotten in the last four years. Moments that I was sure would stay with me are gone until I am reminded by Chris or a question from a friend. Forgetting isn't something that I strive for. It has simply happened.
Those teary, frightening moments of absolute resolve have been replaced by something I think most cancer patients strive for. Normalcy. Those once irritating, idiosyncratic moments of repetition have become a respite for me. I no longer mind doing those things that once seemed like moments lost, never to be recaptured. Standing in line at the post office for 20 minutes? Bring it on. 30 minutes waiting in line for a prescription? Annoying, but so pleasingly normal.
When you have spent months in the hospital and entire days on end at clinic, you wish for these things. You miss normal.
Why am I writing about this? Chris asked me a question yesterday that brought it all into focus.
"What do you want to do for your birthday?"
Without missing a beat, I ran down Tuesday's schedule: I had a paper to finish, Highway Construction class, and a Construction Student Association meeting that evening. Five years ago, I would have longed to take the day off. I was so pleased to be able to list the activities planned for Tuesday that I might have smiled.
I'm relearning what it's like to be normal and I won't be forgetting the feeling any time soon.