Camp After a Transplant: Harder on Mother Than Daughter


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Credit Illustration by Abigail Gray Swartz

Yet again, I debriefed Paula, the head nurse who stood before me with a ream of medical records.

“Please, give her Prograf at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. every day to help prevent rejection,” I said.

My heart raced; I was worried about my 12-year-old daughter Daisy. She was born with gastroschisis, a birth defect of the abdominal wall in which her intestines were outside her body. Nine years had passed since we moved from New York to Omaha, where a small bowel, liver and pancreas transplant when she was 3 saved her life.

I have been a single mother since four months after the transplant, which propelled me further into being not a helicopter parent, but a fighter pilot; squirting her little hands with sanitizer every time she touched a foreign object, like a human or an elevator button (“Yes, sweetie, you can push it, but remember, only with your elbow”).

Though I no longer hoard stockpiles of Purell, my eyes still dart, owl-like, for predators.

“We’re on it,” Paula said. “She’ll have a blast; I’m more worried about you!”

Out the window, I saw chatty parents, and heard the unmistakable shrills of excited girls.

“Mom, pleease let me go. I beg of you. They have Fruit Loops!” said Daisy, who campaigned for OSRUI, a sleepaway camp in rural Wisconsin –– eight hours from home –– for a year. The longest we had ever been apart was one week, when she vacationed with her dad in the mountains. Instead of sitting at home, obsessing over whether she took her medications, I camped out at a friend’s Kansas City condo and obsessed over her falling off a cliff. She wasn’t homesick. I was.

But camp was two weeks of no phone calls, only letters. We had been a glued duo after her father and I divorced and she was still ill. How could I let her go for so long? But beneath my dread was a greater desire for Daisy to bloom. I knew I would relent. How could I not? The entire point of her transplant was not just to save her life, but to give her a full one, with zip-lining, cookouts and summer crushes.

So last July, we coasted through the entrance. A tent of pines swayed us in. We unloaded her body bag-size duffle, and tossed it atop a growing heap outside her bunk.

After meeting adorably over-caffeinated counselors, Daisy formed a new clutch of girls. Entwined in our final hug, I wiped her tears. She made a bee-line for the lemonade, and I to my car, fooling myself into the same straight-spined, faux-brave gait I managed when my parents drove off the first day of my freshman year of college.

I got out my keys.

“Uh, Mom!” Daisy shouted, as I reached the car door.

I turned.

“That’s not your car.”

We doubled over laughing, and blew each other one last kiss. With her little ghost still sitting in the backseat listening to “Imagine Dragons” on her iPhone, I sobbed.

“Dear Mom, it’s so much fun, there is no way I’m leaving,” Daisy wrote in her first letter home. “We have to meditate before bed. Grrr…Fiona, Hannah and I are doing the talent show together. I don’t know what we’ll do. I miss you but this is amazing and once again I’m not leaving. Love, Daisy.”

Being virtually incommunicado, grueling as it was, helped me understand that our separation was necessary and part of Daisy’s –– and my –– growth. The universe had our backs, I knew. It had carried us this far.

Daisy will return to camp in June, this time for an entire month. Though I’ll receive her happy dispatches and will check photographs and videos via the camp’s website, I still have to remind myself that this is a good thing. She’s not a toddler anymore with wild, curly hair connected to IVs. But I can’t help fear that she’ll pull an all-nighter, purposely forget to wear SPF or pierce her eyelid on a dare.

After all, she’s like any other 12-year-old. And I’m like any other worried mom –– as I always dreamed it would be.



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