The last time I felt like this, my mom shined a flashlight on my throat and declared there were blisters. Perhaps, she wondered aloud, I had strep throat. Well, that would explain why it felt like tiny people with tiny ice skates were doing figure eights on my throat every time I swallowed. Mom drove me to the minor emergency clinic, where I was diagnosed with streptococcal pharyngitis and given a shot in my derriere. I was 40, by the way.
The last time I felt like this, I stayed home from school, and my mom made me tea with honey and fed me warm chicken noodle soup and milkshakes for lunch. I don’t remember having strep throat as a child, but having it as a teacher gave me more sympathy for my students who suffered from it. Strep is not your garden variety sore throat; it hurts like hell and doesn’t go away unless you take antibiotics or get a shot (which is more painful than you might think but does the trick faster than 10 days of pills.)
The last time I felt like this, my mom was here to take care of me, to make sure I went to the doctor and got treatment.
This time, I keep thinking if I just take enough Mucinex and Sinex and Advil, my sore throat will magically disappear. This time, I can’t tell if there are blisters, but it sure feels like the tiny ice skaters are back, slicing their way down my throat.
This time, I feel more sympathy for my mother, who endured painful side effects from the study drug that prolonged her life. Her biggest complaint was about the mouth sores. Sometimes her throat hurt so bad she didn’t want to swallow anything, not even a milkshake. I didn’t have to shine a flashlight to see her blisters – they were visible when she stuck out her tongue, which she often did to elicit sympathy, which I usually gave her. I should have given her so much more.
This time, I cried as I took Coco out for her last walk before bed. I cried because my throat hurt so damn much. I cried because my mother’s throat hurt so damn much for two-and-a-half years, and I didn’t give her the sympathy she deserved. I cried because who was going to shine a flashlight on my throat, tell me I had blisters, and drive me to the clinic for a strep test and a shot? Coco??
There were so many low moments over the last three years, but one of the lowest for me was when my mom and I were staying at a bed and breakfast on Vashon Island in Washington. Something happened overnight that embarrassed her, and she broke down and cried as I comforted her. She was so brave, staring down terminal cancer, but in that moment, I saw a flash of the little girl who needed her mommy to take care of her, and it devastated me. Who takes care of you after your mommy is gone?
My sore throat – strep or not – will heal. It won’t always feel like tiny ice skaters are doing sit spins when I swallow. But I miss my mom. I miss her taking care of me. And I wish I had been more sympathetic when she showed me how bad her mouth sores were. She felt as bad as I do right now all the time.
Sometimes, the reality of what she went through is so clear, and I ache for her. I ache for the little girl who was sick and sad and didn’t have her mother to comfort her. I ache for the woman who endured excruciating pain so she could spend more time with the grandchildren she’d longed for. I ache for the woman who, with her tender heart, took care of me when I needed her, even though I’m old enough to take care of myself.