Tales From The Sickbed: I Choose Tattoos

Happy Hump Day, everyone! How are you?

Me? I’m still sick. That is, I keep getting sick, it seems while my immune system is recovering, but still vulnerable (Thanks, Rebif!). It’s been over a month of cyclical sickness, punctuated by the normal post-injection “flu” (No, seriously…thanks, Rebif!).

So, here I sit.

My complexion: pallid. My eyes: glassy. My hair is a mess and my puffy, leaky face is covered in goo.

Let’s talk about beauty!

I’ve struggled a little bit over the last year or so with my physical appearance. My brief, painfully itchy fling with Tecfidera (more about that in a future post) left me bloated to the point where, sometimes, it looked like I was pregnant–even when I was sucking in my gut. At that point in my journey, I was very discouraged. Several treatment options had been presented or sampled, but each one resulted in poor candidacy, incompatibility, adverse effects, and even a late night/early morning trip to the emergency room. Take that, add a perpetual feeling of confusion and helplessness, a resentment of your physical body (and no energy to actually do something about  it), and you wind up with some weight gain.

My husband says he doesn’t notice it at all, but I think he’s just strategically avoiding a night on the couch. Granted, it’s not super obvious and I hide it well. But I can feel it. I don’t feel like me. I feel uncomfortable in my skin. And I’m self-conscious.

Microscopic cells attack my body on the inside, manipulating, limiting, and eliminating function. Treatment options yield side effects, impacting my body on both the inside and the outside. Where is my control?

I’m driving this meat suit, dammit. I only have it for a limited time, but it’s mine.

That is what has driven me to stop sitting on the fence and get three large tattoos in the past year. It might sound silly or frivolous, especially to those who tend to subscribe to more conventional beauty standards, but to me, decorating my body has given me strength and joy.

So, let me share with you the stories behind my three most recent additions:

If you’re a regular visitor of this blog, you’ve read about my Yiayia and know how much she meant to me. When I was very young, I’d stay up so late at night when my grandparents would visit, listening to my mom and Yiayia play 500 Rummy by their own set of rules. They were so loud and laughed for what seemed like hours. I dreamed of the day I might be included in this sisterhood tradition.

Years later, my mom taught me how to play that game by their rules. I loved playing with my mom. She’d urge me to play “fast, fast, FAST” (she still does!) and “best of three games” would quickly escalate into “best of five….best of seven…” mini-tournaments. But it was just the two of us–my Yiayia’s dementia had started its course, you see, and she just wasn’t the same.

But one day, months before Yiayia passed away, she and my Papou came to our house and something prompted us to pull out the deck of cards and play. Despite the blank, faraway look in her eyes and her mind well gone, she played, and she played smart. It was like nothing was wrong and she was Yiayia again.

It was the last time the three of us would ever be together outside of a hospital room and it was the first, last, and only time the three of us would play 500 Rummy.

That day meant so much to me and is so sacred, I don’t think I will ever play Rummy (with my Yiayia’s set of rules, at least) with anyone other than my mom.

One Christmas, perhaps the one right around the fifth anniversary of Yiayia’s passing, my mom gave me a deck of cards with a photo of the three of us printed on the back of each card. It’s probably the best gift I’ve ever received.


This tattoo is on the front of my right thigh and is a memorial piece for Yiayia. It features a Queen of Spades, the card with the highest point value (aside from the wild Joker), as spelled out by my Yiayia’s special set of Rummy rules. She is holding a sprig of lily of the valley, her birth month flower. In the background is holly–she died a few days after Christmas. On the banner through the middle are the Greek words translating to “Memory Eternal.”

After Yiayia died in 2005, my Papou and I began going on pretty regular dinner dates. We’d always go to the same Greek restaurant and usually order the same food and he’d usually share his mixed opinions on canned avgolemono. We’d make it a point to do this for special occasions–holidays, our birthdays, Father’s Day, etc. He’d tell stories and jokes and I think he really appreciated our time together.

In February 2010, I got into a bad car accident on the way to work. I was on the freeway, lost control of my car and smashed head-on into the concrete median, before flipping over. Papou tried calling a couple times in the days following the accident, but we didn’t get a chance to connect until the following week. He called to make sure I was okay after the crash. We chatted for a few minutes and we agreed to go out for dinner that weekend to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I asked him to share stories about Yiayia–things that only he, as her husband would know–on our upcoming date.

Just hours after our phone conversation, Papou had a stroke and was found in his apartment the next morning, unable to speak and without the use of half of his body. He spent about a week in the hospital before he passed. The night before he died, his ICU nurse said that she dreamed he had come to thank her.

We never had our final Valentine’s Day date and I never got to hear those unknown stories about my grandmother. I struggled with this lack of closure for several years.

This tattoo is on the front of my left thigh (I originally wanted it more on the side, but had to be mindful of where I inject my medication) and, like the one for my Yiayia, I came up with the design concept.

I decided that I didn’t want to view the lack of closure I felt as a tragic missed opportunity that I’d never get back. Instead, I wanted a reminder, a sense of anticipation of things yet to come. So, I chose an unopened Valentine’s Day gift–something I will forever have to look forward to.

And that tag on the gift? It’s what provokes the most conversation about this piece and is what makes this tattoo absolutely perfect. For as long as I can remember, whenever my brother and I parted from our grandfather, he’d always exclaim, “Stick to the union!” EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I didn’t know what those words meant when I was a child. I still don’t. I don’t think anyone does. But, to me, they always meant: “I’ll see you later.”

This one here (click individual images to enlarge) wasn’t planned. It was completely impulsive. As you’ve read in a previous post, my husband and I recently went on our belated honeymoon to Maui. Maui really changed me, as you’ll remember me saying. I felt limitless and so very humbled at the same time–a strange balance. I felt strong. We decided to celebrate our honeymoon with souvenir tattoos in Lahaina. I’ve always loved Polynesian tattoos and what better place to get one? Initially, we were thinking of getting matching tattoos, but settled on different designs in the same style and we had them done at the same time.

Helloooooooo, nurse!

Mine, a feminine, modernized Samoan shoulder cap tattoo, is loaded with symbolism and folklore. I didn’t necessarily get it for the symbolism, though. Unlike my other tattoos (including the one I have that is not featured in this blog post), there is no real story behind this one. It’s mostly just a permanent take-away from the best week of my life with the man I love.

My Samoan tattoo, I think, means something more special to my husband than it does to me (at first it did, at least). He loves it because he says it makes me look strong. When I asked him how so, he explained that not only does it take a certain level of confidence to rock something so visible, but it also requires an even higher level of badassery to sit in the chair for several hours to get it done in the first place. I pointed out that plenty of people sit for the same amount of time (or longer) to get large or intricate pieces, but he said the thing he loves most about this tattoo is that all of that confidence and badassery is concentrated on my left arm–the part of my body where my MS symptoms are most noticeable, where they made their first and most consistent manifestations. Without knowing it, I turned a part of me that has been a discouragement, a reminder of something I cannot control…into something beautiful.

And you know what? He’s right. Strength is beauty. Confidence is beauty.

I am beautiful.

I am a badass.





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8 thoughts on “Tales From The Sickbed: I Choose Tattoos

  1. This is AWESOME! The tattoo in the picture on my blog isn’t mine…yet. I plan to get it on my 10th MS Anniversary. I’m sitting on the idea BC I want to make sure it means something and I’m really sure about it. Your tattoos are beautiful and your husband is right that the confidence to rock the shoulder cap is beauty in its truest form. You go girl!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan Lesperance

    Cat, you had me laughing and crying while I read (and thoroughly enjoyed) today’s “Tales from the Sickbed: I Choose Tattoos”. In addition to being one of the bravest persons I know, you are also definitely the Queen of Badassery! Your Yiayia and Papou are smiling down on you from Heaven above…the tattoos in their memory are so meaningful and lovely. Your storytelling is fabulous. You are making a difference with each story you tell. Thank you. p.s. Sending prayers and healing wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mary Mann

    I know exactly what you mean. My first (and only) tattoo came after the death of my father, my RA diagnosis and additional heartbreak. I’d always loved them on other people but just never thought I could commit to something so permanent. Well, it turns out something permanent is kind of nice in a world of uncertainty. It’s an antique compass rose with an O for ouest instead of a W. It combines so many things I love. French, maps, geography, my father, my daughter, me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Monica

    This is fantastic and so important. I feel like inking ourselves is like settling into the place we call home and adorning it the best way possible. I love the works you have. (And you must have a great artist to execute the work!)


  5. Tisha

    I fully enjoyed this story. And loved the tattoos. As yours has manifested on your left, mine is on my right and I wear a bracelet on my right wrist till I can get my tattoo done on my wrist. You truly are an inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

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