“Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it.” — W.W. Jacobs.
“One of the greatest gifts I have ever gotten is my daughter.” — Ace Frehley.
Warning to the reader: The following words are full of the heart, sentimentality, and the emotion of a parent. While I originally planned to write part two of a travel piece, it will have to wait as I must, instead, write from a deep sense of gratitude. If sappy stories don’t appeal to you, then perhaps this piece of writing is not for you.
Friday mornings at my school, St. Joseph Catholic School, are devoted to church. Our weekly church service for students, staff and community is a part of our schedule to which I look forward. I love seeing students of all faith backgrounds, grades kindergarten through eight, come together for the sole purpose of quieting the heart and mind in order to hear God speak.
This past Friday was no exception. For whatever reason, my homeroom students and I were the first to arrive for Mass. As we made our way to the designated pews, we all knelt together. I was struck by a gnawing feeling I could not quite decipher. Normally, I can relax and slip easily into a prayerful mode, but it was eluding me. In fact, all morning, something felt off. Even a co-worker before Mass asked me if I was OK because she said I, “looked out of sorts.” At the time, it struck me as odd.
As the service began, my phone vibrated on the pew beside me with the beats of someone calling. I ignored it because I was in church. It stopped, but began immediately anew. I looked down and saw my daughter’s name on the screen, and I knew …
Since the last few days of July, Madelyn, my daughter, had been fighting an unknown illness. Bumps and lumps developed under her arms, and she complained of pain. She switched deodorant several times. She’d go without deodorant. She switched soap. She went to several different doctors. She was diagnosed and prescribed one thing after another over the coming weeks with varying diagnoses with little to no improvement.
As parents, John, my husband, and I felt helpless, especially once she returned to Bethany College, four hours away from home. I would find myself saying seemingly trite phrases such as, “Take care of yourself”; “Get some rest”; “Drink plenty of water”; and so forth. The only thing we could really do was listen when she called, offer our love and support, and encourage her to take action in whatever form she felt appropriate.
However, this past week, Maddie had called every day as her symptoms seemed to come to a head. She was frustrated, tired, and stressed. Nothing seemed to be working, and she felt like no one was listening to her. In her mind, she was seen as just another whiny, female college student seeking attention.
Finally, Maddie asked me to ask my health-care provider his opinion. She had been researching her symptoms, talking with a concerned professor, and was worried the bigger issue was being overlooked. All of her symptoms pointed to scary sounding words that mostly started with the letter L: lupus, leukemia, lymphoma and one random condition, called hidradenitis suppurativa.
Therefore, I reached out to Alan Maynard, the health care provider for John and me. He very generously and nearly instantly took time to look at the pictures and texts Maddie had sent my way. He told me to tell her to insist on blood work on her next visit to the doctor and possibly ask for an ultrasound. Then, the next day, out of the blue, Alan sent me another message advising that Maddie should ask about hidradenitis suppurativa.
When the phone buzzed the second time during church, I knew I had to answer it. I quickly stepped outside into the bright, clear sunshine. The blood work Madelyn had insisted upon at Alan’s urging revealed an elevated white blood cell count. A doctor from the local Med Express had just called her to say she needed to report to the ER immediately.
“But I am fine, Mom, really. Jill will take me.”
Oh boy. I looked up at the sky. Now what? She’s four hours away.
I slipped back into church and sat down by John, who also teaches at SJCS. “We need to go,” he said.
“You need to go be a mom,” said our principal, Carol Templeton.
“We’re a family. We got both of your classes,” stated Justina White, our assistant principal.
Without belaboring any more details, our minds raced from one thought to another during the time it took to quickly pack, gas up, and make the drive. Jill, one of Maddie’s roommates, sent me regular text updates when Maddie could not. With each one, John and I grew more worried: IV drip of antibiotics, several vials of blood drawn, and ultrasound on armpits…
Looking back, I know my story-writing mind went into hyper-drive from the moment I took the call, but when you’re a parent, your kid is your priority – even at college age. Still, I should have talked myself down. I mean, we did get through potty training, the middle school years, and numerous other illnesses, including a broken arm, right?
Barring a random issue showing up in her blood that is still being cultured as I write this, all tests indicate that Alan’s instincts were correct: hidradenitis suppurativa. And, while that is a lifetime condition for which there is no, per se, cure, it is NOT any of the L-words, and for that, I am grateful. It can hopefully be successfully managed, once infection and initial treatment have been completed, with a few lifestyle changes.
For the record, while I had secretly been wishing I could see my daughter for my upcoming birthday, but knew she was busy, I would have preferred to spend time with her under completely different conditions! Still, I feel it was a gift to have once more wrapped my arms around my beautiful daughter, listen to her banter, and see those green eyes dance as she chided us for making the drive up.
I was further blessed to interact with her friends who, thankfully, take good care of each other. Additionally, I am blessed with the love of a husband who said, “We need to go,” and the support of a school family who allowed that to happen. And, of course, I also felt blessed by the love, prayers, and support of family, friends, and loved ones.
P.S. Thank you Alan for listening to Maddie when she felt her complaints were falling on deaf ears! You rock!
P.P.S. Thank you Sandy Taylor, Amy Vanhorn, Jillian and Stu, Dr. Kitchens, Cathy and Stephanie as well as the staff of Hampton Inn Wheeling. We appreciate your extra efforts as well!
Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.