The Humbler

I was watching a TV show rerun with my mother. We were flopped in the living room in our pajamas, our emergency frozen pizza dinner finished and cleaned up, and thank goodness for that because it had been one heckuva day.

After doing some chores around the house, we’d gone out to lunch with my 80-year-old aunt and two of her friends. It was 102 degrees outside, and as we left the restaurant, the four ladies stopped in the unshaded, blistering-hot parking lot and chatted happily, finding it hard to end their conversation.

Although the pain in my hands and wrists wasn’t too bad at that point, my ankles and feet were another story, aching more and more furiously as the day progressed. I waited, trying to be patient, for the ladies to say their good-byes, even as I broiled beneath that relentless sun and had to shift from foot to painful foot like a desperate 6-year-old in need of a bathroom. I didn’t want to rush them. These sweet ladies are all in that stage in their lives when they never know when one of them just won’t wake up one morning, so they’re always aware that each time they see each other, it could be their last.

Now, maybe that sounds all drama-queenie, but in the four years since I’ve lived with my mother as her full-time caregiver and companion, she’s lost several dear old friends just that way. It’s heartbreaking--and perfectly normal when we reach the last couple of decades of our lives. So, as I baked, I smiled and laughed with them and wished that I could be somewhere--anywhere--else. Antarctica sounded wonderful.

Finally, they said their good byes and we left the Parking Lot from Hell. Mom and I still had errands to run, though. I walked up and down the grocery store aisles with her, feeling like I had shards of gravel in my shoes. Then there was a stop at the cleaners, and another at the drugstore to pick up a prescription. In between stops, the car sat in the sun, turning into an oven. Traffic was heavy everywhere, the drivers impatient in the heat. But eventually, tired, sweaty, and laden with bags of groceries, we made it home.

Which leads me back to where I started: watching evening TV and a cacophony of screeching commercials. I was OK, zoning out, when suddenly, the pain in my left foot exploded. It was like someone was firing a red-hot roofing-nail gun into the ball of my foot and heel. Poomft! Poom-poom-poom-poom-poomft!

Shocked and overwhelmed, I leapt out of my chair, stepped down too hard on my gravel-filled, hot-nailed foot, yelped like a kicked dog, lost my balance, and caught myself before I could fall by grabbing the chair-back with one now furiously aching hand. I yelped again and abruptly released my grip. Bit-back angry, resentful curse-words one does not say in front of one’s mother.

“I’m going to bed!” I gasped at my astonished mom.

“What? What time is it?” She frowned.

Who cares? I thought wildly. My foot’s exploding! “It’s--” I looked at the kitchen clock “--Eight-thirty.”

Mom was snuggled under a blanket on the sofa. Now she tossed it off and sat up. “Honey, what’s wrong?”

“No, don’t get up, Mom. It’s just my arthritis again,” I said. “I’m OK.”

Just my arthritis. It was true, of course. RD is an angry wasp of a disease sometimes, and I was hurting like you-know-what, but it doesn’t kill suddenly. I knew I’d live through this particular misery, just like I’d lived through every other bad moment I’d had, courtesy rheumatoid disease, over the last 28 years.

Mom settled back on the sofa, eyeing me skeptically. I limped over and gave her a kiss on her forehead. “Will you be OK if I go to bed now?” I asked.

“Well, sure I will! Don’t worry about me.

“OK. G’night, Mom.”

I didn’t actually go right to bed that night. I knew, with the pain in my feet and hands as bad as it was, I’d never get to sleep anyway. But back in my room, with the door closed against the noisy TV, I put ice-packs under each foot and, sitting comfortably in my old recliner, lost myself in a book on my Kindle. Without that distraction, I knew I’d just sit there and cry.

Now, I hate doing that. Crying just clogs my sinuses, makes my eyes all hot and swollen, and gives me a pounding, miserable headache. It doesn’t release my stress and heal like it does for some people. It just makes me feel cruddier.

Damn, living with this monster of a disease is hard sometimes, isn’t it? Just when I’m sure I’ve got it all figured out and feel like I’m handling it with more than a little savoir faire, it does something like this and puts me back in my place. It makes me feel every molecule of my humanity, acutely aware of my very small, very tenuous existence. Control? Hah! It humbles me.

But hey. Life is pretty darned good anyway--a miracle, if I think about it. One of the best lessons I’ve learned, living with rheumatoid disease, is that I should never take myself too seriously. I may need the occasional lesson in humility, but there’s always a good chance that things will be better tomorrow.


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