Three days out of the last seven, my boy has done something almost incomprehensibly brave.
The only way I can explain it is through an analogy. Imagine being terrified of heights. Your fear is blinding, it's cripplingly all-consuming. Six times a day you are taken into an airplane against your will, you take off, and gain altitude. You grip your seat and try to hold yourself together. The door is opened, and you're then expected to jump out. You're with a nurse who tells you that you'll be fine. You just have to jump. Go on, just jump. It's not so scary. You can do it. Just. Jump.
Would you jump? I doubt it. However much the nurse tries to reassure you, the fear paralyses you. Your brain is screaming at you, your limbs are weak, you know, just KNOW, that you're going to die if you leave the plane. So you refuse, and the door closes, the plane lands, and you're told to try again in two hours. If you keep refusing, you know that they'll take you up anyway, and you'll passively endure a tandem jump three times a day. Oh and the plane will climb 50% higher, so you'll have further to fall. At least you don't have to step out of the plane yourself. But you do have to fall.
Ollie has been through this just over two hundred times since being admitted to the unit. There are six rigid mealtimes a day - three meals and three snacks - and all are compulsory. All are in the dining room. Ollie has to dragged there by two nurses, six times a day, and takes his place at the table. He is encouraged to eat. To drink. It is the worst thing in the world for him. There can be nothing more terrifying.
If he doesn't manage to eat, he has to endure an NGT feed. That involves a tube being placed through his nose, into his stomach. He then knows that the calorific value of the meal replacement is 1.5x that of the food he has refused. This is a motivator for most patients to eat; after all, an anorexia sufferer will do just about anything to restrict calories.
Just about anything. But when that thing is to voluntarily eat, to choose to jump, it becomes the biggest battle imaginable. How can he betray the voice by actively putting food into his mouth? Is that worse than allowing himself to be tube-fed even more calories? Which terrible thing is least horrifying?
Two hundred mealtimes. A hundred tube feeds. Five weeks. My baby's life has become a nightmare beyond our understanding. Each day is constantly punctuated by endless mealtimes, so there is never any time to do much before the next meal looms. All the while the voice orders him to avoid food. There isn't any respite.
Yet somehow, Ollie has summoned up the courage to eat, three times in the last seven days. A yoghurt on Tuesday. Another on Wednesday. Then a whole lunch today, Monday.
We cannot congratulate him on his heroic effort. The anorexia would immediately punish him for that. So we hear these momentous news, in furtive whispers from the staff, and we can't show him that we know. He suspects that we know. But we can all pretend that no-one knows, and carry on as if nothing so impossible had happened.
It has not been an easy week for Ollie. Saturday saw him enraged, trashing his room, ripping down his posters. Sunday was our usual battle to get him into the shower. His school attendance has been sporadic. Yet he chose to jump. Three times.
I've tried to telepathically tell Ollie how much I admire his courage, so I could avoid the ever-vigilant anorexia that guards his brain. I hope he heard me, cheering him silently.
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