The Newest Normal

It has been more than a year since Rhia began losing weight, and we still don’t know why. What triggered weight loss, increased ataxia, decreased stamina, and vision loss? It began so slowly that I didn’t notice how thin she was or that her ataxia had worsened. It was like watching my hair turn gray; one day I realized I had more gray in my hair than I thought. When did the gray strands outnumber the brown? When did Rhia become so thin? Blood tests and an MRI hunted for answers but as usual nothing was found. Rhia is still the same medical mystery as she has always been.

One year later, Rhia has stabilized. She’s still too thin, but she is staying above 90 pounds. Her ataxia is so bad she rips the pages of her books when she turns them and she often pokes herself in the eye with a crayon when she colors. The only thing keeping her walking is will power. But since the beginning of the Summer she hasn’t gotten any worse. Usually she declines a little for a few months and then we all breath a sigh of relief and figure out how to manage her new normal. This decline lasted longer than ever before. Is that the new normal? Instead of a sudden crash lasting a few months her physical decline will be like a long, slow glide into looming rocks?

Welcome to the newest normal. Rhia has finally stabilized and now we both figure out how to manage the newest symptoms. She needs Physical Therapy to rebuild muscle so she can keep walking. She needs Occupational Therapy to help her learn to turn a page in a book without tearing it. She needs Speech Therapy to help her clearly speak so others can understand what she’s saying and she needs to relearn to chew her food so she doesn’t choke. She needs knee surgery to stop her chronic pain.

I need her to wear safety glasses to stop her from scratching her own eyes with color crayons. I also need her to tolerate a gait belt so I can safely transfer her from sitting to standing as well as getting in and out of the car. No matter how much I beg, or command, she won’t do either of these.

Today, this is the newest normal. Rhia is cheerful, determined, funny, and more stubborn than I, which I know is hard to believe. Her entire body trembles from ataxia now, not just her legs. Her color and contrast vision are much worse; she can’t tell the difference between orange and yellow anymore. Today she weighs 92 pounds. She’s trying to figure out how to keep doing what she likes to do and I’m trying to figure out how to help her do that.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is her smile.

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