Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Once and Future Caregiver

Yesterday was my annual skin cancer screening.

Since my cells don't have a good past history of healthy division, and since I had a largish portion of my upper body subjected to radiation, I have had to become good friends with a dermatologist. Oh, I needed one anyway. I have pretty awful skin and just last winter started my fifth round of intensive acne treatment since my sixteenth birthday. So I found a great doctor who generously subscribes Retin-A and has a hawk eye for abnormal growths.

It's a given that every year a suspicious mole will be found. And said mole will get sliced off and three days later the doctor will call and tell me the mole had "moderate dysplasia with clean margins," which means my fair skin and former love of sunbathing with baby oil have caught up with me but not quite yet in a fatal way.

Yesterday's atypical nevus (doctor speak for "ugly-ass mole") was the first suspicious mole to crop up completely from scratch in my radiation zone (all the others I've had removed I could remember making their debuts pre-radiation or in parts of my body far away from ground zero) so I am more nervous about the phone call I'll get than usual. I am also worried about how I am going to Polysporin and bandage the post-biopsy wound because it is in the dead center of my back in the no-man's-land most humans can't scratch.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Jason will still be home when I get out of the shower and can do the honors. But on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, he's gone by the time I start the water. And for 7-10 days, that little punched-out bit of Cranky flesh has to be swabbed and covered lest I add skin infection to my long list of worries.

The solution I've come up with: Ainsley is going to have to play caregiver for her mom.

I asked her about it, and of course she said yes. She thinks it will be cool. We'll see tomorrow morning when she has to get up close and personal with a really gross and partially bloody boo-boo.

The minute after I asked her, I felt weird. Here I am already relying on my kid to take care of me in my hour of need. Today it's mere flesh wounds. Tomorrow, she'll be helping me choose the right hearing aid and making sure my Hoveround is charged.

Oh, I know. Those days are a long way off. But child-parent role reversal is the nature of things. We change our kids' diapers; unfortunately, a day may come where they have to change ours. It's the Circle of Life. It's not as pretty as portrayed in The Lion King (Simba never had to tell Mufasa to "Put your freakin' teeth in, Dad, for crying out loud!") but it is a fact of life on this earth. It's one of the reasons why ultimately we aren't meaner to our kids; we want them to choose the nice nursing home, not just ship us off to Elders R Us.

These thoughts were depressing me until Ainsley got off the bus today, face pale, throat sore, temperature a couple of degrees above normal. I comforted her with hugs and a cool bath and a popsicle and a promise to stay home with her tomorrow and see her off to the doctor for a strep test. As she got comfortable and dozed peacefully in front of the Backyardigans, I felt better about my place in the world. She might have to help me heal myself once in a blue moon now, but my place is still as her caregiver, her source of health and nourishment and comfort. For now, it's me who dries tears, doctors boo-boos, makes her favorite Goldfish soup, gives the medicine and the spoonful of sugar to go with it. Just like I remember my mom's hands on my back to rub away the ache of a fever and holding back my hair when I emptied the contents of my stomach, she'll remember the little things I do to help her feel better.

I just hope she doesn't remember that nasty thing on my back.

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