Last month, I wrote a piece about our family’s experience with PANDAS, not only because I felt a need to write it, but also because I thought others might need to read it. But now there’s something else I need to write.
Toward the end of that piece, I said, “And now, after twenty-four hours on antibiotics, she’s acting like herself again. Just like that.” But things weren’t exactly back to normal. Not really. There was the emotional aftermath, the emails to teachers and guidance counselors attempting to explain. The exhaustion and you’re really lucky; it could have been much worse. Then more throat swabs and confirmed cases of strep. As the pediatrician wrote another prescription for amoxicillin, the third for our house that week, I joked with her about the little blonde in the paper dress on the examination table before us: should I expect this one to act crazy, too? The doctor smiled but didn’t laugh, and said only, What your other daughter has is incredibly rare.
What she has. Not what she had.
And even now, more than six weeks later, I still feel like it’s what she has. Because, really, things are a little bit different now. For Georgia, strep is not a sore throat, it’s “a disease that makes you think bad thoughts.” And there are new rules for Georgia and sore throats. Because something like this can happen again, the next time she gets sick.
There are nights, still, when she says something out of the ordinary, something that echoes that one Thursday night, and I shoot my husband a look that says, See?
All this week, she’s been complaining that her stomach is bothering her, and that she keeps burping. Always at night, just before bed. It frustrates her. It makes her cry. And last night, she became urgent, yelling through her tears at me that her stomach hurt, that she couldn’t stop burping. I thought she was going to throw up, so I directed her toward the bathroom, and she stood over the toilet, clutching her tummy and burping.
That’s when I realized she was panicking. She was gulping air, swallowing it, burping it back up again. And she couldn’t stop. Again.
I put her into bed, covered her up, and rubbed her back. With closed eyes, she said, “It’s okay. I’m okay now, Mommy.” She burped a few more times, and then she went to sleep.
Before, I might have thought it was something physical. Like indigestion. But now, my first response was that this was just another episode. This is just what happens now. Because now, everything is changed.
And I wonder if I have changed more than she has.
I watch her tug at the waist of her soccer shorts and tuck in her shirt, over and over during the game, and I wonder if this will turn into some kind of attack. I read a sentence she writes for her spelling homework (I like it when my work is finished, because then I don’t have to worry) and I wonder where this anxiety comes from. I overreact, I ask if we’ve pressured her (my husband says no), I don’t understand her innate desire to be perfect. And so I blame the strep.
The thing is, I’ll never know. I’ll never know if this is just how she’s wired, how she’s always been wired, or if it has something to do with having strep in January. What I do know is that this is who she is now. This is who we are.