“Are you having trouble breathing?” the nurse asked over the phone. An hour after taking my first dose of antibiotics, my scalp felt itchy and my torso was hot. My first thought was, “Oh shit, the lice are back.” I left my laptop to look in a mirror. One giant hive stretched from head to waist. While I dialed the number for the family medicine practice, I guzzled as much liquid Benadryl as I could find.
After receiving a 125 mg steroid injection in the keister, I returned home in time to meet my kids’ school bus in a state of drug-induced euphoria. There was no need for a nap.
That was just the beginning. My physician ordered a 12-day course of steroids. Less than 24 hours after my shot, I took three pills Saturday morning. At the swim meet, I paced the deck, cheered on kids I didn’t know, volunteered to run disqualification slips for a stroke-and-turn judge, and chatted up anyone who would listen. Two mom friends marveled at the change from the previous week’s meet when an upper respiratory infection reduced me to a heap with Kleenex and hot tea.
By day three, I was unstoppable. While the kids were at school, I caught up on laundry. When they returned home, I stifled the urge to strip them and throw their clothes in the washing machine. There were no dirty dishes piled near the kitchen sink. Cereal boxes were returned to the pantry rather than loitering on the countertops. I had become my mother-in-law, a woman who cannot rest unless everything is tidy. We were all a little terrified.
Day four started with my volunteer gig at the kids’ elementary school. I’d picked the hottest day of the year to oversee kids dressed in medieval garb competing in jousting matches on the playground. Between the ‘roids and the heat, I felt like a menopausal woman. The first inkling of trouble arrived after I returned home. When panic about end of year set in, I messaged a friend: “I have exactly three days and roughly 2.5 hours until my kids are out of school for the summer.”
On day five, I swallowed two pills instead of three. Once I waved goodbye to the school bus, I sprinted home to create color-coded calendars: purple for swim practices, yellow for my daughter, red for my son, orange for the few camps that they would attend together. I knew my days as Steroid Mom were numbered, but the binder just might extend my ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Around 1 p.m., I felt the familiar urge to bury my head in a pillow. Someone had stepped on my cape.
I rebounded on days six to eight. When my kids got off the school bus on the last school day, I took them to see Inside Out. During the movie, I laughed and cried, possibly in part due to the ‘roids, but also because I had seen the type of parent I could be: pain-free, energetic and organized. Pre-steroids I was a mixed bag of Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust. With the help of some pills, I had temporarily become Joy. The ride was slowly coming to an end; sadness was eyeing the control panel in my brain.
Day nine meant one pill rather than two, but I had an extra cup of coffee to compensate. My kids and husband went to the lake without me. At church, I spilled communion wine down the front of my dress.
On the first official day of summer break, I packed swim and camp bags for each kid. I concocted a scheme to have my kids earn chore points toward the purchase of an Xbox 360. I recorded their progress in our Summer binder.
The last burst of steroid-induced energy powered me through a meeting on day 12. One woman said, “Wow, you are completely different from the last time I saw you.” I explained and added, “Tomorrow comes the crash.”
Nearly two weeks after erupting in hives, I woke up to an empty pill bottle. When my 10-year-old daughter started to complain about something at breakfast, I looked at her and adopted the kindest tone I could muster: “Remember the character Sadness in the movie?” She nodded. “Mommy feels like Sadness today. You could drag me across the floor. I’m trying really hard, but I need your help.”
It took a few days to even out. Now the swings between Sadness and Joy are a little less abrupt. The chronic pain returned. Most afternoons, I need naps. But the Summer binder remains. Perhaps best of all, I gained a common language about emotions to use with my daughter.