White Blood Count 0.11
We were told this would happen, a side effect of chemotherapy, he’s experiencing a bizarre, yet painless molt. The skin has begun shedding from Nicholas’ hands and feet. Sitting up in his bed, feet pulled up and head bent attentively over his task, he peels the skin from the bottoms of his feet as he would an orange.
He starts with a small flap, then carefully loosens the edges with gentle tugs. As the piece grows he makes a game out of it, trying to remove the largest peel possible without breaking it.
At first he just dropped the pieces onto the floor, so I gave him the endlessly versatile we-use-‘em-for-everything cardboard puke tray. He fills the tray with bits of skin, light little wafers no bigger than a jigsaw puzzle piece. As the skin dries it becomes feather light, and when people move about the skin blows and then floats around their feet like the delicate white spores of a germinating dandelion.
The nurses walk briskly into the room, and it seems the floor is moving with fluff. They will stop, look about until realization sets in, and then a grimace grows upon their face, and they exclaim, “Nick, stop! Gross!” Freaking out the nurses is Nick’s amusement right now. He glances up quickly with a gorgeous grin, then he grunts, “Uh Uh” and continues with his project. The new skin he reveals is very soft and I stroke the velvet bottom of his feet as he peels his hands.
The room is quiet except for the perpetual white noise of the pumps on IV poles, standing like tall, thin sentinels, beside his bed. The world is far away and has been reduced to this room, with my child in this bed, and my place in this chair at his side. I rest my sleepy head upon my hands, and gazing upon his beautiful face bent over his task I contemplate taking up his hair, which is growing in since he hasn’t had chemo in weeks, and weaving a thread, then gathering the discarded skin and sewing a patchwork sweater to wrap myself in.
All of it: skin, puke, diarrhea, blood, and tears, are a part of him, so then, it must be beautiful. There is nothing disgusting or vile enough that he could bring up, project or produce that I haven’t formed a mild attachment to.
Nick’s speech has digressed. He takes his time when he speaks, as if his mouth is slow to get the messages sent by his brain. He will chug words, sometimes dragging the vowels: “Aaare you going baaaack toooo the House?” (Ronald McDonald House.)
As he labors to put his words together he speaks in a very child-like and endearing singsong voice. He’s exhausted, always short of breath, pausing while speaking to make a deliberate effort to fill his lungs with air, and the words slowly ride on each expelled breath. His lungs must be clear or the staff would have said something in their daily listens to this chest. The evil (but not as evil as the cancer) chemotherapy is the cause, and I worry about what it is doing to his brain. I take huge comfort in his conversation and that, even though he struggles getting out the words, what he says is still just as insightful and intelligent. I’m told his speech will return to normal when the chemo ends.
Sunday May 30, 1999